Saint Malo (St-Malo) is an elegant little village, perched upon a rocky outcrop of the Brittany coast, northern France.
Many Brits do not realise how lucky they are. From Portsmouth, on the south-east coast of England, you can take the fabulously stylish Brittany Ferries voyage to St-Malo port. Rather modestly named, the ferry is more than you will expect- it is in fact a small cruise ship that welcomes you warmly. From fine dining, to the in-house cinema, the ship creates an atmosphere of comfort for the 8-or-so hour journey.
Getting to Saint Malo from the UK:
We departed the Portsmouth International Port at 7:30pm (GMT) on the Friday, soon to be shown our 4-berth outside cabins (2 beds packed away, each also includes a private en-suite) and then were delighted with an ‘A la Carte’ meal on board. We were cruising with the Bretagne, one of the best ferries in the fleet, which proved to be a great choice. For someone like me who is prone to sea-sickness, the ferry remains pretty steady and the cabins allow you to relax, shower and have a cup of tea to calm any nerves. Sleeping through the majority of the journey was also a bonus, as we arrived in St-Malo bright and early the next morning.
Return journeys (such as this Fri-Sun trip from Portsmouth) start at just £134pp (seasonal), including cabin on-board. Meals can be purchased from the multiple restaurants and cafes or you can bring along snacks.
Where to stay:
There are a number of hotels you can choose within the township itself, but one of the best and most central is the Le Chateaubriand Hotel. The hotel has 80 bright rooms, most with sea-view and modern facilities. The hotel is beautifully accented, from its authentic French design to the sweeping views over St-Malo beach. The breakfast is served in an elegant dining room and was very pastry-rich, a French classic, with the standard continental offerings.
Rooms in the Chateaubriand start from around £90 per night.
St-Malo is also known for its abundance of holiday rentals. Those opting for something cheaper, or for a larger family, can find something lovely on Air BnB.
What to do:
Our full day itinerary was perfect for those who enjoy both food and fun. Brittany Tourism customised a great itinerary for us, which included a foodie tour of St-Malo and an adventurous segway excursion. For those looking to do a foodie tour in town, we met with Corrinne, a local guide who has a vast knowledge of not only the settlement, but the whole Brittany region. We walked through the cobbled streets, both tasting the culinary specialties and learning of their unique origins.
For those with a sweet tooth, be sure to try Kouign Amann (pronounced like Queen Aman), a croissant-style pastry consisting of layer after layer of butter and sugar (mmm, healthy!) and local salted butter caramel. Delicious.
Being a predominantly aquaculture and fishing village, St-Malo has a number of gastronomical delights which use oceanic produce. The Bordier butters have a wide range of flavours, we tried seaweed! Surprisingly subtle and salty, they use the best ingredients around and are simply scrumptious. To quench our thirst, we tasted Breton beers and cola, both made locally to avoid the commercialisation of the cities food scene.
We then headed into a very well known spicery, owned and run by Michelin star chef, Olivier Roellinger. Olivier is famous for his unique knowledge of both pepper and vanilla, as well as his range of curry mixes. His enthusiasm and passion for his trade ‘spiced up’ our tour perfectly, and we were all left with bright smiles.
These tours are only available in small groups costing €158 (including samples). This is available by calling +33 (0) 299409344. Alternatively you can also do a DIY tour, simply by purchasing an audio guide for €12, from St-Malo Tourism board, located in the building just outside the city walls.
In the Afternoon, make sure you fuel up with some famous Breton buckwheat pancakes from Crêperie du Corps de Garde. The restaurant looks over the bay of St-Malo and is always full of friendly faces.
Next up, it is time to explore St Malo beaches on a segway! I have had the pleasure of segwaying around both Paris and Florence before this (self-admitted pro right here, haha), but trust me, learning is half the fun. Expect a flow of adrenaline (mixed with a little fear) and a lot of laughs along the way. The segwaying is only €34pp for 1 hour session, and can be booked on http://boutique-gyrotraining.fr/?product=saint-malo (website in French) or by calling Sergio de Gyrotraining on +33 06 4298 5056.
After this busy morning, you will be in need of a decent rest. Head back to the hotel and chill out, but be prepared… some of the best views, sights and tastes come out in the evening!
Saint Malo beach is very unique and a stroll down by the moss-covered wooden water level markers is a must. With some of the strongest tides in Europe, the fortresses jutting close to shore seem like an easy walk across the sandbank, but once the tide hits (around 6pm – check tide charts!) they are completely isolated.
You can follow the city walls around, but be very careful, the tides can come up from over a mile away within ten minutes, so always have an escape route.
Next up, it is time to dine like a star, with dinner at Le 5 Restaurant. Located on the rooftop of the Le Chateaubriand Hotel, you will be able to taste the local cuisine, with a modern and fresh twist. The menu, spectacular views and world-class seafood are to die for and a great way to end the evening.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, you can wake early to check out the town center before the masses, or lie-in. The 10 :30 departures back to Portsmouth was ideal, as you can make yourself comfortable on board, have a nap in your room and dine in the restaurant. We also checked out the on-board cinema which proved a great way to kill time and watch a newly released film.
My biggest tip is not to be discouraged by the ferry (mini-cruise I should say!) journey. The ships are very well equipped and having your own cabin is a great way to save money on overnight accommodation. It truly added to the whole experience, with some of my favourite memories happening on-board.
For those heading back into London, the two best options are the National Express coaches, or the National Rail. (Coach cost approx.. £15 return, 2.5 hour journey to/from Victoria coach station).
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I was welcomed as a guest on this weekend excursion with Brittany Ferries, however all opinions, as always, are my own.