Saint-Malo and Le Mont-Saint-Michel

November 20th, 2008 by Paul

St-MaloThe walled city of Saint-Malo, in the French region of Bretagne, was once home to privateers, pirates, and the French writer Chateaubriand. The hotel in which we stayed was once the mansion where he was born.

Today, Saint-Malo is a great place to walk along the beach or watch the ocean atop the ramparts that surround the inner city. After that you can pop into a café for moules frites or a galette, a type of savory crèpe made from buckwheat flour.

St-Malo

It’s also a great place to get a plateau de fruits de mer. To give you a sense of this dish, imagine taking a boat into the ocean nearby, letting out a net, and pulling up whatever living thing you found, then placing that onto a multi-tiered platter. What you get a huge pile of oysters, langoustines, pink shrimp, grey shrimp, multiple types of sea snails, clams, some lemon and mustard sauce on the side, set into piles of kelp and topped with a whole crab.

We managed to finish most of it, although I don’t think I would consider sea snails “every day” fare.

The next day we took a bus Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

Le Mont-Saint-Michel is one of those iconic images of Northern France, and perhaps of France in general — a spire of stone jutting out from the sandy beaches of the Bay Saint-Michel.

Le Mont-St-Michel

The site was first developed into a monastery in the 10th century on the small tidal island, surrounded by water and sand. It eventually became a fortification and defense stronghold: there’s a panel in the Bayeux tapestry that shows horses of William’s army sinking in the quicksand. Over the course of centuries it was built out and up along the bare rock until the place ended up resembling a real world Minas Tirith. (Of course it was the other way around — the model of Minas Tirith in the the Lord of the Rings films was based on Mont-Saint-Michel.)

I would have loved to walk out on to the beaches, but the sand had the consistency of wet cement and it didn’t seem that safe to take a leisurely stroll. Perhaps it’s safer in other parts of the year; however, considering the number of people who were filling the small winding streets and ramparts, had we gone in a less wet part of the year, we might not have been able to walk anywhere.

Le Mont-St-Michel
Le Mont-St-Michel
Le Mont-St-Michel

After spending a few hours there, it was back on the bus to St. Malo. No strange platters of sea creatures for dinner this night. The next morning, we’d go to a café for a petit déjeuner, a short walk around the city and the beach, then hop back on the TGV headed for Paris.

There’s an island just off the beach from Saint-Malo: the Grand Bé, accessible by a short foot bridge, only while the tide is out. On the side of the island opposite the city, one comes across a small tomb and plaque bearing this inscription:

Un grand Écrivain français a voulu reposer ici, pour n’entendre que la mer et le vent. Passant, respecte sa dernière volonté.

This is the tomb of Chateaubriand. Loosely translated, it says, “A great French writer wanted to rest here, to hear only the sea and the wind. Passerby, respect his final wish.” Letting the brisk wind blow through your hair and listening to the waves, it’s not difficult to be stunned into silence here.

St-Malo

St-Malo

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