The ancient port of Saint-Malo is one of the jewels of France's Brittany region. It's the kind of achingly beautiful city where romance, history and beaches combine to create an irresistible combination.
Once a pirate haven, Saint-Malo's medieval walled center is now tourist heaven. Wander the ramparts, visit the chateau and relive centuries of maritime history.
Saint-Malo's beach is gorgeous. With the ramparts and the rocks as a backdrop, it's a great place to sunbathe.
Every July, Saint-Malo hosts folk performers from all over the world, as the Festival des Folklores du Monde swings (and sings) into town.
If you want to hire a sailing vessel, Saint-Malo or nearby Dinard are great places to do so, and it's an enthralling experience.
Sample local delicacies like galettes (pancakes), mussels and oysters as well as potent Breton cider. Saint-Malo is a gourmet paradise.
Fort National, a military fort on l'Îlette rock off of Saint-Malo, was designed by architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban in 1689 to defend the port of the city. During World War II, German bombs destroyed part of the stronghold, though it was later rebuilt. The granite fort can be visited only at low tide by foot, and from April to September, the interior is available for guided visits, which run for forty minutes. But fear not: during the off-season, hikers can still enjoy spectacular views of Saint-Malo and the surrounding islands.
Built in in 1708, Porte Saint-Vincent connects to a sandy beach named Le Sillon. The main portal to the citadel, visitors will find the Place Chateaubriand upon entering, which houses many hotels and restaurants near the Port. But the gate itself is something to marvel at, decorated with orate escutcheons which give a glimpse into the city's past. There are two coats of arms on the front gate, including the coat of arms of the city and the coat of arms of the Duchy of Bretagne.
The most extensive sandy beach in Saint-Malo, Grande Plage du Sillon features three separate beaches, the Grande, the Hoguette, and the Rochebonne. One of the city's most popular tourist attractions, the beach, which stretches from Intramuros to Parame, is lined with a dyke built in 1883. The walkway is bordered by stately 19th-century villas. Oak breakers, designed by Ponts and Chaussées Robinault from Saint-Servan, protect the dyke from the waves. The beach draws swimming, yachting, and windsurfing enthusiasts.
The Grand Aquarium de Saint-Malo, the second-most-visited site in Bretagne, was founded in 1996 and is managed by Compagnie des Alpes, which owns many parks throughout France and Europe. Housing 11,000 marine animals from 600 different species, the aquarium features a variety of underwater rooms, which showcase the cold and temperate seas, mangroves, tropical waters, a shark infested ship wreck and a touch pool with local species such as sea stars, bats, rays and spiders. Visitors will also find a shark ring with four species of sharks, and a basin with four sea turtles, as well as the Nautibus, a small submarine which explores the underwater habitat of more than 5,000 fish.
Grand Bé, a tidal island near the city, is situated near the mouth of the Rance River, close to the walls of Saint-Malo. The island can be accessed at low tide on foot from Bon-Secours beach. Grand Bé houses the remains of an ancient fortress built in 1555, as well as the gravesite of François-René de Chateaubriand, a local writer who was buried on the islet on July 18, 1848. In 1360, a chapel was built in honor of Our Lady of the Laurel.
Summer is the best time to visit. Between June and August, the beach is at its best, the Folklore Festival comes to town and Brittany is alive with energy.
Low-cost airlines operate flights from London and Paris to Dinard-Pleurtuit-St-Malo Airport. A taxi from there will cost around EUR25.
TGV trains run into Saint-Malo from Paris (3 hours, around EUR20). From the station, it's a 20 minute walk to the city center.
From Paris, take the A11 to Le Mans, the A81 and the E50 to Rennes, then the N176 to Saint-Malo.
Buses from Rennes are operated by Illenoo and run hourly, costing around EUR5.
The best hotels in the Old Town include the Hotel Maison des Armateurs and the Le Grand Hôtel des Thermes, which has a luxury spa attached.
Intra Muros - Literally meaning "inside the walls", Intra Muros is the Old Town of Saint-Malo and is a wonderful place to wander around.
Dinard - Located just across the Rance estuary, Dinard is a beautiful beach resort with great activities for sailors and water sports fans. From here, there's easy access to Saint-Malo via the D168.
Paramé - Once a resort in its own right, Paramé still has its own seemingly endless beach as well as an assortment of luxurious spa hotels.
Saint-Malo's bus network is excellent. Tickets are purchased in 90 minute blocks and cost EUR1.15 each.
Taxi costs vary, but expect to pay EUR6-8 per mile inside the city. A taxi to Mont St Michel will cost close to EUR150 for a return trip.
Car rental options in Saint-Malo include Avis, Hertz and Enterprise, and rates should be around EUR15-25 per day.
Central Saint-Malo is full of classy boutiques, like the shoe retailer Bessec or wine merchants like V and B. There are also outdoor markets on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Intra Muros neighborhood.
Saint-Malo's supermarket options include E. Leclerc and Carrefour, where you should be able to find a gallon of milk for around EUR3.50.
Great food is everywhere in Saint-Malo. Standouts include Le Chalut, which caters for seafood fans, Autour du Beurre, who make their own range of butters, and Bistro de Jean, which specializes in poultry dishes. Prices should be around EUR20-25 per head.