We can easily get by train from our part of the south of France to the Normandy coast several times a day but the ferry from there to the Channel Islands only goes once a day outside of the summer season. Since we can choose when to travel, we leave July and August to the families who can only travel together when schools are on vacation. That meant arriving in the port city of St. Malo after the boat had departed for the day but it gave us an opportunity to overnight in a city we’d only seen for a few hours as a side excursion on one our our previous visits to Brittany.
Located less than an hour’s drive from a much more famous place, also with the word “saint” in its name, Mont-St.-Michel, our jumping off point from the mainland also had plenty to offer us. We’d arrived in late afternoon and the hotel’s owner recommended a couple of places for dinner including Brasserie Armoricaine where we enjoyed a fresh seafood feast accompanied by, to the light-hearted chagrin of the table next to us, a bottle of red wine. In my best French I explained that it was a matter of taste, but they didn’t seem convinced. Still, we all had a great laugh and we felt right at home.
We had through the lunch hour the next day to explore the town and the first stop was a covered wooden bridge from the early 1700’s, the existence of which is surprising for two reasons: after the great fire of 1661 buildings constructed from wood were prohibited and then during the massive bombings of WWII, about 80% of the city was destroyed. We then ventured outside the city walls to get a better feel for the size of the buildings originally made from granite and then reconstructed after the war to look as they had 200 years prior. We continued walking along the walls stopping at the oldest and biggest gate, appropriately called La Grande Porte, ending up at what is now the city’s main entrance of Saint Vincent.
Not far from that entrance we admired the beautiful restoration work in progress on Étoile du Roy, a replica of an 18th century warship that’s now used for special events or charters. Back inside the granite walls we stopped at the cathedral that was built in the middle 1100’s and houses the tomb of explorer Jacques Cartier who claimed Canada for France in the early 1500’s.
With our visit complete it was time to board the ferry and head for Jersey. Soon after we departed Bill was able to look back on St. Malo and get a photo of a familiar skyline and of Fort National that was built in 1689 to repel English invaders. I’m happy to say that when the ferry brought us back by this monument a week later, we two English-speakers felt nothing but “welcome back”.