- Airport – Dinard–Pleurtuit–Saint-Malo Airport
- Currency – Euro (EUR or €)
- Language – French
- Population – 47,000
- Region – Brittany (Northwestern France)
- GDP (France) – $2.4 trillion (6th overall)
“At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very centre of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea. For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this.“
-Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Saint-Malo: An Oasis by the Sea
The coastal city of Saint-Malo serves as the backdrop of All the Light We Cannot See, a novel set in occupied France during World War II. Saint-Malo is steeped in rich history and radiates a sense of nostalgia. Strolling along ramparts that have been kissed by the sea and by time, you are treated to a panoramic view of the emerald ocean and charming city streets that are dotted with specialized shops, recalling another era.
This walled city is brimming with hotels, restaurants, crêperies, and tiny shops that honor the area’s seafaring history with nautical gear. Outside the city walls, the powerful tides reveal and conceal stretches of beach at spectacular speed. Witness the highest tides in Europe and marvel as the retreating tide allows passerby to glide across the soft sand and to reach isolated islands in the distance.
Enjoy the magical power of the crisp salt air, cobblestone streets, fresh seafood, and lively atmosphere for a weekend. This trip will be a beach vacation unlike any other!
How to Get There
Saint-Malo is one of the most visited cities in the region of Brittany. Given that the city is a major ferry port, travel by ferry is quite easy and ferries depart from several locations, including the south coast of Britain and the Channel Islands. If you choose to fly into the Saint-Malo Airport, be sure to pre-book a taxi to your hotel, as there is no public transportation to and from this airport.
Rail users can change at Paris or Rennes for a seamless ride to Saint-Malo. The trip from Paris Montparnasse to Saint-Malo is around three hours, using TGV. Buses are also available and connect to another notable city, Mont Saint-Michel.
Grab a pair of sturdy shoes because Saint-Malo is a walkable city. If you would like to give your feet a break, there are small “tourist trains” that traverse Saint-Malo. The bus system in Saint-Malo makes it easy to explore the area, but keep in mind that these buses do not run in the evening.
Les Remparts de Saint-Malo
Walk around the ramparts of this walled coastal city for breathtaking views of the ocean, the ports, and the quaint streets. The well-preserved walls encompass Saint-Malo, and a leisurely stroll around the city is both relaxing and free. Fans of All the Light We Cannot See, a novel about occupied France during World War II, will enjoy making connections between this popular book and its setting of Saint-Malo. The ramparts serve as both a history lesson and an excellent backdrop for pictures. To put it simply, a walk on these ramparts is an absolute must-do during your visit.
Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Saragosse de Saint-Malo
Visit this cathedral for a glimpse of its breathtaking stained glass. Nestled between the cobbled streets of Saint-Malo, this cathedral is a hidden gem in the historic city. Although the cathedral might not appear impressive at first glance, you will appreciate its interior architecture, extraordinary stained glass, and rich history. Built in the 12th century, this cathedral was destroyed by bombardments during World War II. A remarkable and intensive restoration process faithfully reconstructed this place of worship. Inside the cathedral, you can find the tomb of Jacques Cartier, the French explorer who discovered Canada.
Plage du Sillon
This beach boasts the best view of the sunset in Saint-Malo. As the tide retreats, traverse the smooth beach to visit various islands and to enjoy the stunning scenery. Beware of the quickly changing tides to avoid an unplanned stay on one of the tiny islands! During the day, head to this beach to fly kites, walk along the water, or even swim – if you don’t mind the cold saltwater and stay in sight of the lifeguards.
Tip: Remember to watch the tide, as Saint-Malo has the biggest tidal height difference in Europe. Look up the tide times before heading to the beach for the day. During high tide, the water occupies the vast majority of the beach, leaving little room for visitors.
Buckwheat crêpes, or galettes, are to the region of Brittany as bagels are to New York. Galettes are typically served with a savory filling, including my personal favorite combination of an egg, cheese, and ham. You will find no shortage of crêperies in Saint-Malo!
As the picturesque coastline suggests, fresh seafood is popular in this city by the sea. Be sure to check out the many seafood restaurants in the area.
Looking for a gift for the foodie in your life? Salted butter caramels (caramels au beurre salé) originated in Brittany, and a few caramel makers still craft them by hand, a laborious process with indescribably delicious results. After trying this traditional treat, stop by shops that sell a variety of caramel sauces in glass jars – you won’t be disappointed by the unique flavors and creamy texture.
La Licorne – Maison Hector
Waiters in black and white striped shirts and crisp white overalls dart around this restaurant’s pink interior. While the waiters’ outfits might be cheesy, the food is certainly not a joke: the crêpes are nothing short of fantastic. Start with a savory galette, which is a pancake made of buckwheat flour with a savory filling. For dessert, try a sweet crêpe – I recommend a crêpe with caramel, which is traditional to the region, and strawberries (pictured below). Don’t leave without sipping a mug of their famous cider!
No seaside trip is complete without some “fruits de mer” (seafood). Stop by L’Ancrage for its delicious food and friendly service. To save a few euros, try the fixed price menus, which are an excellent value. Don’t miss out on the incredible oysters! This quaint restaurant is a great spot for fresh seafood in a relaxing setting.
Bar at l’Hôtel de l’Univers
For drinks, visit the most popular bar in Saint-Malo at l’Hôtel de l’Univers. This spot, known for its busy nightlife, is located close to the beach and harbor. Come for the drinks and stay for the people watching!
Day trip to Mont Saint-Michel
Topped by a medieval monastery, this dreamlike island is a must-see site in France. At this recognizable landmark, life is governed by the ebb and flow of the tides. This island and its spectacular bay have gained the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Climb the winding village streets to access the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel and breathtaking views. To explore the bay, take a guided walk across the sands.
Tip: Park in the visitor car park a mile and a half away from the island and take one of the Passeurs (shuttle buses) to the site.