About St Malo
Saint-Malo is a port city in Brittany, in France’s northwest. Tall granite walls surround the old town, which was once a stronghold for privateers (pirates approved by the king). The Saint-Malo Cathedral, in the center of the old town, is built in Romanesque and Gothic styles and features stained-glass windows depicting city history. Nearby is La Demeure de Corsaire, an 18th-century privateer’s house and museum.
Area: 36.58 km²
Population: 47,045 (2009)
The beautiful city of St Malo in Brittany curves out to sea on a stunning natural harbour that has created some of the best sandy beaches on the Emerald Coast.
Rising out of the granite rock, St Malo is a maze of medieval streets bursting with history and culture. The legacy of the dastardly pirates of the 19th century and the siege during the Second World War entwines with the bustling array of arty shops and the delicious smells from restaurants, outdoor markets and cafes, for a romantic atmosphere. Oysters and crêpes are local delicacies to be enjoyed throughout the restaurants and markets of the town.
Intra-Muros, the ancient walled town, forms the heart of St Malo where the stunning Gothic and Romanesque Cathédrale de St Malo dominates the skyline. Walking along its ramparts, visitors can see spectacular views of the town and harbour, including the islands and forts scattered just out at sea. The pretty islands of Grand Be and Petit Be can be visited on foot at low tide, with the Fort National reachable on foot from St Malo’s longest beach, the Grand Plage. If you enjoy hiking, the GR 34 coastal path travels right around the Emeral Coast and extends across most of Brittany’s coast from Mont St Michel to Le Tour-de-Parc.
Just outside of the city is the town of St Servan where the imposing Tour Solidor contains a museum dedicated to the French sailors who first negotiated Cape Horn. The Grand Aquarium is home to the Shark’s Ring, an immense tank containing 3 metre long sharks, and the Nautibus submersible and is also not to be missed. Travel a little further out from the town into the surrounding countryside and you’ll find the Malouinières, the mansions of the shipbuilders and corsairs who made the town rich and famous in the 18th century.
With so many crêperies in the town, you’ll be sure to find somewhere to try Brittany’s famous galettes, savoury pancakes made with buckwheat and filled with ham, sausage, cheese, scallops and whatever you else might choose, as well as the sweet crêpes. Thin and crispy gavottes covered in chocolate and caramel au beurre salé are also popular tasty treats. Don’t forget to try some locally brewed cidre!
A bit of history
St-Malo was founded in the 1st century BC a short distance south of its current location. The fort at Aleth, in what is now St-Servan, was built by Celtic tribesmen to guard the entrance to the Rance River.
The Romans further fortified this site and it was here in the 6th century that the Irish monks, Brendan and Aaron, established a monastery. At around the same time, the rocky island to the north was named after the sainted celtic bishop Maclou (or MacLow).
The rock of St-Malo was only connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway of sand and it was this natural defence that induced the population to move away from Aleth during the period of Viking raids. The solid ramparts seen today were added by Bishop Jean de Chatillon in the 12th century.
The citizens of St-Malo have traditionally displayed a fiercely independent spirit which over the centuries has found them in and out of conflict with the rulers of Brittany, France and England. Nobody typified this more than the city’s sailor merchants who grew wealthy from pillaging foreign ships out in the channel. In 1403, during the Hundred Years War, they even ventured as far as raiding Plymouth and Yarmouth on the English coast.
The corsairs of the 17th/18th centuries acted as official pirates. The King of France granted them licence to go “coursing” after enemy vessels in return for a percentage of the profit from captured ships, hence the name corsairs.
Jacques Cartier, one of St-Malo’s most famous sailors, is credited with the discovery of Canada. Backed by Francois I of France, he made three voyages to North America in the 16th century and was the first European to travel down the St Lawrence Seaway in addition to landing at what is now Montreal and Quebec. He named the new lands Canada after the Native Indian word for “Little Village”.
The 20th century saw disaster overtake St-Malo, when the city was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. In late 1944 General Patton’s US 3rd Army, advancing into western France, laid siege to the town and it was only through a large scale bombardment that the last stubborn German defenders were dislodged.
Nearly 30 years of painstaking reconstruction has returned St-Malo to its former glory and transformed it into one of the most popular places to visit in Brittany.
The wealth of world-widely recognized heritage and the beautiful Emerald Coast landscapes make Saint Malo and the surrounding area a famous destination that stays in the minds and spirits of visitors from round the world.
Around the 6th century B.C., a Welsh monk named MacLow, disciple of Aaron, moved to Alet, the beginnings of the Corsair City, and became its bishop. The city owes its name to him and later became one of Brittany’s nine bishoprics.
As if in honor of their pride and independence, the forts and ramparts of the Corsair City face the sea, adding to the city’s charm and its exceptional setting. To visitors and event-goers, the city offers the beauty of its maritime views and the wealth of its historical heritage.
A city of 52,000 inhabitants that is lively all year round, Saint Malo’s heart beats to the rhythm of the major event it hosts, festivals as the Etonnants Voyageurs or internationally renowned regattas such as the Route du Rhum.
In cooperation with local service providers, the “Palais du Grand Large” organizes guided tours of the Corsair City and excursions to all the neighbouring sites, such as the Mont-Saint-Michel, Cancale and its oyster beds, the medieval city of Dinan, the seaside resort town of Dinard, Cape Fréhel, the Anglo-Norman islands, and so on.
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