- Travel in France
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What to see and do
the connoisseur's guide to France
Malo - historic port city
On this page
is plenty of paid
parking off-street and on-street. The blue P markers on the map are
short-stay, the green P marker is a long-stay car park. There is no
free parking close to the old city,except on Sundays and public
A bit of history
Built on a rock standing
in a naturally defensive position at the mouth of the River Rance,
Malo is a city whose roots go back to before Roman times.
Today's city got its name from a monk
from Llancarfan Abbey
in Wales, by the name of Maclovius, a disciple and fellow-traveller of
Saint Brendan. Maclovius was one of the many Celts who came
to Brittany - then known as Armorica
during the troubled times of the late Roman era in Britain.
Saint Malo's importance as a seaport developed in the
century. The city is located in a strategic part of the French
coast, the last main Channel port before the tip of Brittany round
all merchant ships from the North Sea and the English Channel
to pass, on their way south. For many ships entering or leaving the
Channel, St Malo was a convenient port of call for taking on
dropping off supplies or merchandise; but St Malo was also known for
two sefaring specialities.
The port of Saint Malo, with the castle and
the Etoile du Roy tall ship
Corsairs and explorers
On the one hand it became notorious as a den of pirates, or
corsairs ; on the other hand, it became France's leading port for
voyages of discovery to the New World.
At a time when piracy
was pretty much of an accepted way of life on the high seas, St. Malo's
corsairs were rightly feared by English or Dutch merchant ships. Just
as Queen Elizabeth encouraged Sir Francis Drake to pillage and plunder
Spanish ships, French Kings were happy to give the same sort of
encouragement to the corsairs of Saint Malo, many of whom became
wealthy men thanks to the spoils of piracy.
But St.Malo's most famous seafarer was not a corsair but the
explorer Jacques Cartier
in Saint Malo in 1491, it was from his home port that Cartier set out
April 20th 1534 on his first voyage of discovery to the New World,
where he was to establish "New France" on the Gaspé peninsula of the
North American continent, now a part of Quebec. On a second voyage,
Cartier sailed up the Saint Lawrence river, as far as a point
a hill rose up on the north bank of the river. He named it "Mont
Royal"... or to use the phonetic spelling of the age, "Mont
Réal". Cartier is buried in the cathedral at Saint
and today in the old town there is a museum, la Maison du Québec,
dedicated to the discovery of Quebec.
In the 17th century, the city's medieval ramparts
consolidated and extended, to protect Saint Malo from attack from land
or sea, giving the old city the fine walls that surround it to this day.
Unfortunately, St Malo's defensive walls were quite
to protect the city from bombardment during the Second World War, both
by the Germans and by the Allies, and a large part of the old city was
reduced to rubble - though not the ramparts. The rebuilding
old Saint Malo was one of the great heritage restoration projects in
the aftermath of the war, and while the old city centre was not rebuilt
as it was before, it was built in the same way and the same style,
without any inappropriate modern developments to change its
ten things to see and do
Saint Malo - beach at low tide, ramparts and old city....
- The beaches of Saint Malo
The number one tourist attraction of Saint Malo,apart from the historic
city, are its fine sandy beaches
- The ramparts.
A walk round the ramparts of Saint Malo, a distance of about 2 km, is
one of the great urban walks of France. Access is free, and the
walkways on top of the ramparts give wonderful views out over the
beaches, the sea, the estuary and the harbour. There are steps up to
the ramparts at each city gate and by the castle.
- On your way round the ramparts, stop in at the Maison du Québec, telling the story
of St Malo's role in the founding of Canada.
At the northeast tip of the old town,the ducal and royal castle of St.
Malo houses the city's historical museum. Climb up to the top
the great keep (le grand
dongeon), for the best panoramic views over the city and
of Saint Malo is a living city, with residents, shops and services, so
it is not entirely traffic free. Access however is strictly
limited to the narrow cobbled streets which offer a good selection of
small shops, cafés and restaurants.
- The forts.
Away from the historic centre, Saint Malo has a number of other sights
and attractions. Among these are the 18th century island forts, which
are part of the national Vauban UNESCO world heritage site. The Fort du Grand Bé
and the Fort National
are accessible on foot when the tide is out.
- Boat trips : When
the tide is in, the inshore forts are among the destinations of the
popular boat trips that operate out of Saint Malo.There is a wide
choice of pleasure cruise options, including mini-cruises around Saint
Malo, longer cruises along the coast, or simply a trip across
mouth of the Rance to the resort of
the other side. There are also excursions up the river via the unique
Rance tidal power dam, and beyond to the picturesque small town of
- The Etoile
du Roy. Fora more historic experience, one of
Saint Malo's other big attractions ... as long as it is in port.. is
the Etoile du
the second largest replica tall ship in France. For most of the year,
she is moored in the port, close to the tourist office. The Etoile was
originally built as the Grand
Turk for the British ITV series Hornblower, and has
appeared in several films and TV series.
A little bit further from the historic centre is the Tour Solidor,
a fine 14th century keep that now houses the Museum of Saint
and its area.
- The Great Aquarium
Finally, last but by no means least – indeed the
biggest tourist attraction in Brittany – is the Great Aquarium. With a
total capacity of 2.5 million litres, and with 600 species, it is one
of the largest aquariums in France, and considered as one of the six
best. ► Save time
and book online..
in 1966, the tidal power plant on
the Rance was the world's first, and for almost 50 years the world's
most powerful, tidal power station, with a production capacity of 240
Mw. The Rance estuary has the greatest tidal range in France, an
average of 8 metres, with a maximum of 13.5 metres with spring tides.
Fort la Latte, near
The Brittany coast is the region's main
tourist attraction. To the east and west of Saint Malo, the Emerald Coast
a succession of small resorts, with fine sandy beaches separated by
lengths of rocky coastline.
At the eastern end of the Emerald Coast, about
50km from Saint Malo, is le Mont Saint Michel
a fabulous medieval city perched on a rock connected to the mainland
by a causeway. One of the most visited tourist sites in France outside
Paris, le Mont Saint Michel is classed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The western end of the Emerald coast is Cap Fréhel
of Brittany's great beauty spots. Just before Cap Fréhel is the
spectacular clifftop castle of Fort la Latte
parts of which date from the 14th century. Fort la Latte is France's
equivalent of Cornwall's Tintagel Castle, though much less of a ruin.
across the estuary from Saint Malo, is one of France's classic
up-market resorts, which became popular in the nineteenth century.
It is very different from Dinan
historic small town with an impressive medieval castle.The historic
fortified old town of Dinan sits on a rise overlooking the valley of
the Rance below, to which it is connected by a narrow winding
cobbled pedestrianized street lined with old stone and half-timbered
houses, including plenty of craft shops, boutiques or restaurants.
Twenty km southeast of Dinan, the chateau and park
worth a visit, particularly for families. From April to September,
there are guided visits of the chateau, a 16th - 17th century stately
home seven days a week, mostly in the afternoon ; however the gardens
and the zoo are open all year. The Bourbansais zoo
heavily committed in programmes for the protection and breeding of
Click here for a ►choice of hotels in
best online rates, and the About-France.com hotel selection for Saint
Malo and its area.
popular seaside resorts, both
Saint Malo and Dinard offer a plentiful choice of hotels, including
many located on the sea front. There are several hotels located within
the historic centre of SaintMalo, including two
hotels and several well-rated two-star hotels. Then
are lots more hotels, of all categories, along and behind the
seafront to the east of the historic city facing Saint Malo's principal
beach, the Grande Plage du Sillon.
or close to the centre of Saint Malo that have their own private
parking tend to charge for it; the alternative is paid public
parking, which is never too far away.
Malo, towns and villages along the Brittany coast offer plenty of
accommodation choices; another popular choice in Brittany is to book a
gite, or holiday cottage. For a selection of gites in the area, check
on Gitelink.com .
Saint Malo is Brittany, on the northwest coast of
- By air: Nearest airports:
Dinard, Rennes. see Fly to
- By train: Saint Malo can be
reached from Paris by direct TGV (high speed train) in under 3
For timetables and online tickets, see Trainline.com .
- By car: Saint Malo is a
little under 3 hours' drive from Cherbourg; it is and about 5 hours'
drive from Calais, using the motorway via Le Havre and Caen.
It is four and a half hours' drive from Paris, via Rennes (A
or via Caen (A 10).
- By ferry: there is direct
access to Saint Malo by ferry from the Channel Islands and in season by
Ferries from Portsmouth (1 crossing a day).