THINGS OF INTEREST CLOSE BY
When people think of holidaying in France they tend to head for Paris or the south, but Brittany is a well kept secret.
The ramparts to walk around, islands dotted around the walls, Mont St Michel – regular buses, Dinard – ferry in season, or bus, or walk. The river Rance for boat trips and restaurants. St Servan – Tor Solider etc walk. Buses run to – Combourg, Dol de Bretagne, Cancale (oyster capital) Dinan medieval town.
Wonderful walks, interesting markets (Rockabey, St Servan, Parame, Dinard, Combourg), rock sculptures, fishing, sailing, boat trips, sea pool, wining, dining, bikes for hire, music, theatre, cinema.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ST MALO
A small walled town in northern France, St Malo (intramuros) perches on the English channel and the mouth of a river. This breathtaking location belies its gritty history.
The sea pool diving board
Having Mont St Michel and Cancale (an oyster capital) just along the coast day trips are easy to plan. Then there’s the long and winding river Rance, boat trips, Dinard, Dinan (a medieval city), spectacular coast, wonderful walks, Monsieur Bordier butter – the list of attractions goes on.
Anthony Doerr’s book “All the Light We Cannot See” (2015 Pulitzer fiction winner) has most recently shone a light on St Malo and in particular the World War II period. However the history of this rock in the ocean goes way back to the 4th century.
During the middle ages St. Malo was a fortified island at the mouth of the river Rance. From there its story involves a monastic settlement and a bishop who gave refuge to anyone who was looking for sanctuary so long as they went to church – just the once. Not too demanding. Then it was all but burnt down in the sixteenth century. And of course thank you General Patton for bombing the town, in error, during the Second World War.
La Grande Porte
Amongst the tales which whirl around its granite ramparts and rocky coast there is a long tradition of St Malo asserting its autonomy when dealing with French authorities. Between 1490 – 1493 St Malo declared itself to be an independent republic with the motto “Not French, not Breton, Malouins”. The French authorities of the time could not (or did not want to) do much about all this anarchy, they were torn. One, because St Malo was so well fortified by the ramparts and the sea. Secondly the French didn’t want to annoy the Malouins too much as this little community was phenomenally wealthy thanks to their canny trading. The French satisfied themselves by keeping an eye on the city from a castle just outside the city walls. This castle has now been incorporated into old St Malo and houses the Mairie, museum etc.
A majority of St Malo’s wealth came from her residents abilities at sea. Thanks to the complex and treacherous reefs along the coast, and coupled with the thirteen metre (plus) tides, the Malouins necessarily had to be excellent sailors. As a direct result of their skilful navigation some of her captains became famous as corsairs or privateers, and this piratical notoriety was portrayed in Jean Richepins play “Le Filibustier”. Mind you it is recommended that you do not suggest to a Malouin that their history includes pirates. They object quite strongly to this rumour insisting the life of a “corsaire” is honourable.
Looking back at the town from the mole
Maritime based trade came naturally to them. One of the first commercial successes was taking salt to England and exchanging it for wool. Salt is plentiful here so sailors headed out fishing with hulls full of it to the waters off Newfoundland. Then on to Spain with their stinking salted cod load and trade with the Spanish who apparently couldn’t get enough of it.
Sailors from St Malo are also credited with opening up the French Spice Route, discovering Canada (thank you Jacques Cartier) and being the first colonists to settle the Falklands (hence the islands’ French name “Iles des Malouines”).
Not all St Malo’s history has risen from the waves. There is a story around every cobbled corner. Chateaubriand for example, not the steak but the romantic poet, Francois-Rene Chateaubriand (1768 – 1848) was born here, wrote here and is buried on one of the little islands which you can walk out to when the tide is out. When the tide is in, if you haven’t timed it right, you may find that you’re temporarily stuck out there with Chateaubriand until the tide turns again.
Man on the beach in winter
Marie de France also lived within the walls. A medieval poet whose most famous work “Laustic” is about two knights who live next door to each other in the city across a narrow alley. One is married, the other not. Mr. Married Knight’s wife then falls in love with the unmarried knight next door and they spend hours each night conversing through a window across the gap between their two residences. The husband, (suspecting foul play) asks his wife why she spends so much of the night hanging out the window? She says she finds the nightingale’s song so irresistible she cannot stop herself. Mr. Married Knight gets his servants to set traps for the bird amongst the hazel trees and then presents his wife with the bird. She is devastated because her ruse has been foiled. Her husband, irate at her lack of gratitude, kills the bird then hurls it at her splattering blood across her chest. (All very symbolic; the nightingale, the hazel, the blood). Distraught at the end of the affair the wife wraps the dead bird in a bejewelled cloth and sends it over to her lover via a servant. Understanding the message Mr. Unmarried Knight buries the bird with great pomp. Aw.