An April 2004 trip
to St. Malo by Re Carroll
Quote: Located in the Normandy region of France, St. Malo was once the home of pirates and explorers. Most of the historic sights are located within the old town called Intra Muros. St. Malo also makes a good base for exploring nearby Mont St. Michel, one of France's best-known abbeys.
The most interesting part of St. Malo is the old walled town called Intra Muros. It is an area best explored on foot, and after a quick overview from Le Petit Train I did just that. One of the most scenic walks is along the stone ramparts that overlook the bay.
The highlight of my visit to St. Malo was actually located a few hours away at the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St. Michel. This extremely picturesque and historic abbey is one of France’s premier sights, and even the crowds couldn’t detract from its appeal. Mont St. Michel had been on my must-do list for 25 years, and it was definitely a sight worth waiting for.
Internet is available in a few locations around town, including 68 chausee du Sillon, near L’Artimon Hotel. The cost was €4 per hour.
Dining: Most restaurants don’t open until 7pm or later. Intra Muros doesn’t have any fast-food chains – if that’s your poison, look outside the walls in the more modern area of St. Malo.
Lodging: Some of the smaller budget hotels close during the winter and early spring, so confirm availability before arrival. Definitely make reservations in the summer, as this seaside resort is very popular.
Mont St. Michel If you are planning on staying overnight, reservations are highly recommended, as rooms are limited. Prices are higher than St. Malo, but you are rewarded with views of the Abbey floodlit at night. Also check the nearby towns of Avranches and Pontorson for accommodations. If you plan on doing any walking on the sand flats outside the Mont, make sure you check the tide tables carefully – high tide can be a dangerous 50+ feet.
Ferries operate between St. Malo and Portsmouth or Poole in England. Within France, the easiest way to get to St. Malo on public transportation is by train. From Paris it’s a 3.5-hour trip with a change at Rennes and costs approximately €50. The portion from Paris to Rennes is via TGV, France’s fast train. The closest train station to Mont St. Michel is Pontorson, where public buses make the 15-minute trip to the Mont.
Buses from St. Malo go to Mont St. Michel several times a day, and the 1.5-hour journey costs €9.20 each way. Catch the bus in St. Malo at the train station or in front of the Tourist Information office near Porte Saint Vincent. If you are driving to Mont St. Michel, there is lots of parking (minimal charge) outside the entranceway.
If you are pressed for time, there are organized bus trips from Paris that cover St. Malo and Mont St. Michel in one (long) day.
The interior was not quite as cute. To reach the rooms, you climb a narrow, dark, curving stairway that lead to equally dark hallways lined with worn, dark carpet. Even with the lights on the hall was still dark and gloomy. The rooms were very old, with high ceilings and wallpaper that have definitely seen better days. The one small window in the room only opened a few inches and the table and chairs were mismatched but serviceable. The TV was mounted on a wall bracket either to save space or furniture. The double bed was covered with an old but clean bedspread that looked like it was from the ‘70s. Fortunately, the room was clean, the bed was comfortable, and there was a new glass-walled shower tucked away in a corner of the room. The towels were small and thin but water was hot and plentiful. Although some of the bigger rooms had an ensuite bathroom, mine didn’t, so I shared the communal one down the hall.
L’Artimon is owned by a young couple who live on the premises. The husband is the schmoozer – he manages the hotel, restaurant, and bar – while his wife seems to be the one doing the behind-the-scenes work, like cooking. I didn’t eat at the restaurant, but the menu looked interesting, with regional specialties, including mussels and seafood. The bar is a quiet little spot to enjoy a Calvados, the regional apple brandy that deserves its reputation as "fiery."
Behind the hotel is a waterfront boardwalk where you can watch surfers braving the high winds and heavy surf to do a little water ballet. A word of caution – don’t stand too close to the edge on a windy day, as the waves break over the boardwalk on a very regular basis.
A city bus stops just a block from the hotel and there are a number of small restaurants and a little market within easy walking distance. My single room was €30 without breakfast. Although L’Artimon is a one-star budget hotel, it appears to be undergoing some renovating and upgrading. It is open year-round and is worth checking out, especially if the renovations are continued.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 16, 2005
61 Chaussée du Sillon
St. Malo, France
02 99 56 11 98
The night was cold, rainy, and windy, so this restaurant’s heated terrace chauffee covered with a clear tarp was too good to resist. The décor was simple and welcoming – two-tone blue and white with fresh flowers and quirky fish-patterned china. As well as á la carte, they offered a prix-fixe menu, which was a budget traveler’s dream. I had a three-course meal for €12.50, the same price as some of their entrées.
The appetizer was an easy choice, Moules Moulienere, mussels steamed in a white wine and garlic sauce, but appetizer size it wasn’t – there must have been four to five dozen mussels. It would have quite easily fed two or three, especially with the slices of fresh bread to sop up all the flavourful broth. My server, a very pleasant young woman, smiled smugly as I apologized for not finishing the mussels – "This happens all the time," she said.
My main course was equally delicious - escalope de poulet (chicken breast) in a brandy cream sauce, covered with sautéed mushrooms and served with a choice of rice, mashed potatoes, or frites and a small green salad.
I really like the French style of eating – nothing is rushed and dining becomes the highlight of the evening. As I savoured my meal and a glass of wine, I watched some of the other meals come out of the kitchen. One family shared a seafood platter that was close to a foot high, piled with crabs, giant prawns, oysters, wilkes, snails, mussels, and more. It was definitely a bounty from the sea.
Well, by now I was full, BUT how could I resist the dessert menu?? Chocolate mousse, apple tarte, prune cake, fresh fruit, and, my choice, crème caramel. I had to loosen my belt a bit, but this wonderfully light, smooth custard topped with delicate caramel sauce was worth it. Oh dear, isn’t gluttony one of original sins? Luckily I had a long walk back to my hotel and a glass of Calvados to top off the night.
The restaurant is open daily from 7pm. Note that the restrooms are up one flight of steep steps, which could be a problem for those with mobility issues.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 16, 2005
Restaurant des Ramparts
17, rue Jacques Cartier
St. Malo, France
02 99 40 91 23
I was looking for a light lunch and wanted to sample some of the local cuisine. In a moment of madness, I ordered crème de marrons crepes and cidre au Bretonne, each costing approximately €4. Both had very distinctive flavours that would have been better enjoyed by sharing with another person, as a small taste went a long way. It wasn’t, however, a combination that went that well together – very sweet and rich chestnut cream crepes and very potent, tart cider.
The best thing about this restaurant is the outdoor terrace, especially on a sunny day. That seemed to be the opinion of most, since the terrace was full, so I sat inside. Fortunately, the large picture windows still provided good views of the countryside as well as giving me the opportunity to people-watch in comfort.
The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner and makes a nice place to take a break after exploring the Abbey.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 16, 2005
La Nouvelle Terrasse
St. Malo, France
33 60 14 40
Attraction | "Mont St. Michel"
Access to the Mont during low tide was a walk from the shore through damp sand, but during high tide, the surrounding area became flooded and the Mont was inaccessible except by boat. Those who miscalculated the tides timetable were either stranded on the Mont or, the really unlucky, drowned. Even with a boat, the rock walls were so steep and shear that it was easy to keep out unwelcome guests, and during the Hundred Years War, the Abbey became a source of national pride due to its impregnability.
Over time, the retreating water levels and encroaching sand narrowed the distance to the Mont to just 1 mile from shore. A causeway was constructed to allow tourists and pilgrims to visit both the Mont and the village located at the base of the rock.
The Abbey is reached by climbing Grande rue, a narrow cobblestone street that is lined with shops, restaurants, and a few hotels. I don’t think this extreme excess of commercialism was what Aubert intended, but the 15th- and 16th-century buildings crammed together are a picturesque introduction to Mont St. Michel.
Highlights of the Abbey include thechurch, constructed in the early 11th century; the cloister, where monks came to pray and meditate; the refectory, where the only sounds during meal time was from one monk who read scriptures to his fellow monks; the Guests Hall, where royalty was received; and, below that, the almonry, where the monks welcomed the poor and the pilgrims who travelled from all over the world to visit the Mont. Most of the rooms are bare, but the ossuary contains a giant wheel from the period of the French Revolution, when the Abbey was converted to a prison. The wheel was used to hoist supplies to the prisoners.
The Mont is floodlit at night, and on summer evenings there is a music and light show (additional charge). Over 3 million people visit Mont St. Michel each year, so be prepared for crowds. The Abbey is open from 9am to 7pm between May and August and 9:30am to 6pm from September to April. Adult admission is €8.
Visitors are welcome to attend mass held daily at 12:15pm.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 16, 2005
Mont Saint-Michel Abbey
Abbaye Du Mont-saint-michel
Mont St. Michel, France
02 33 89 80 00
We entered Intra Muros at Porte Saint Vincent. Above the entrance is the Breton coat of arms as well as St. Malo coat of arms, with the motto always faithful. The train made its way slowly through the narrow streets, past Saint-Vincent Cathedral with its pretty rose window. Construction of this cathedral started in the 11th century and continued, along with renovations, for over 700 years. The church spire was not fitted until 1987 – talk about a long wait! Inside the church is a memorial to Jacques Cartier, who is credited with discovering Canada, although aboriginal peoples already living here at the time hotly contest that point.
We also went by the French East India Company building and houses where merchants, ship owners, and corsairs lived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
During the tour, we learned little tidbits of St. Malo history, including the fact that during the 17th and 18th century, approximately 25% of the royal wealth was amassed through St. Malo and its corsairs. That doesn’t mean it was a sophisticated, genteel place – in fact, night watchman used packs of guard dogs to protect the city and harbour at night and their kennels were built right into the town walls. During WWII, much of St. Malo was destroyed and most of what exists today is the result of a painstaking restoration project.
The final part of the tour was outside Intra Muros, with a drive along the harbour and Saint-Malo Bay. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and finished back at Porte Saint Vincent. The train was a nice way to get a brief overview of St. Malo and also gave me lots of ideas for further exploration on foot.
The train runs daily from April 1 to November 11. Hours and frequency depend on the season. Times are posted on the information board at the departure point across from Porte St. Vincent.
Le Petit Train de Saint Malo
St. Malo, France
33 (0)2 99 40 49 49
Abbotsford, British Columbia