Our Camino friends Jean-François and Josette showed us highlights of St. Malo and the surrounding area. We stopped to see the statue of Jacques Cartier, the St. Malo sailor who, in 1534, claimed Canada for France. His statue points towards the Atlantic towards Quebec.
Afterwards we toured the St. Malo, the walled port city of Brittany notorious for its pirates. The weather was overcast, but the occasional sunshine brought the temperatures into the mid 60s F. which made it comfortable for us to walk the 1.2 mile circuit (1.754 km) on the ramparts around the city. The original medieval walls were extended in the 17th century to accommodate the expanding city. From the top of the 12-foot wide walkway, we could see the bay and the islets at the mouth of the Rance estuary.
Tall granite edifices with enormous windows provide the homes on the west side of town with a great view of the sea. The western exposure and tall buildings prevent sunlight from entering the rooms; this might be ideal in summer, but I imagine the rooms are damp and chilly in the cooler months. Many of the apartments are rented for the tourists, mostly from the UK.
Dennis was amazed by the hugeness of this well-preserved medieval city. Everything is big and heavy. We later learned that the city was destroyed in WWII, and then reconstructed from the rubble, following the original plan and spirit of the ancient city.
Since the port receives many ferries from Portsmouth, Poole, and Weymouth, there are many shops that cater to the tourists and the town has one of the highest concentration of restaurants in Europe. In spite of the tourism, the prices for eating and clothing were reasonable. During the summer, the town’s population increases to 200,000.Other parts of the city have small and colorful buildings.
Next, we visited the promontory fort of Cite d’Alet, an ancient Celtic city. During WWII, the Germans built concrete bunkers and defenses here. We did not visit the memorial museum, but walked around the site, seeing signs of the struggle here. I imagine how frightening the bombardment must have been for the solders in the tunnels and underground bunkers.
It felt good to walk on the grounds and along the bay. There we saw jelly fish and various shells strewed on the pebbly beach. There are also remains of an ancient stone church, dating to pre-Roman times.
The Tour Solidor (Solidor Tower) was built between 1369 and 1382 to control access to the Rance Over the centuries the tower lost its military importance and became a jail. It is now a museum celebrating Breton sailors exploring Cape Horn.
We returned to our friends’ home to enjoy a traditional regional meal: Galette au Blé Noir. These are thin buckwheat pancakes, fried egg, ham, and grated Swiss cheese sandwiches served with a salad and sparkling apple cider. I can’t wait to make this recipe for my parents, I am sure they would enjoy it.
After lunch we visited San Suliac, a typical fishing village. Nets still hang on the front of the homes as in the olden days. Flowers seem to grow from every crack in the slate making the town very inviting.
In the harbor stands a statue, La Vierge de Grainfollet. Ships leaving the harbor would pray for a safe return as they passed by.
A stain-glass window in the church reflects the fisherman’s life with a boat, a lighthouse, and a pilgrimage to the neighboring town.
Due to its location, The “Bay of Saint-Malo” has the biggest tides in Europe. The tidal range – the difference between high tide and low tide – is on average, more than 40 feet (12m) at the full-moon, the greatest for all Europe.
When we got to Cancale, the largest oyster farm in France, the tide was out. As we had supper in a restaurant overlooking the bay (yummy oysters and fruits de mer), we watched how quickly the waters returned. In no time, boats that were grounded, were able to leave, and the oyster beds disappeared.
It takes three years for the oysters to mature and they must be turned daily.When the tides recede, trucks and farm implements drive out to tend to the oyster beds.
In the past when the men were at sea, it was the women who harvested and sold the oysters. Based on this tradition, only women are permitted to sell the oysters.