Saint-Malo: Strategically important city on the English Channel
The desire for independence has always been great in Saint-Malo, and the people there have a reputation for being unruly for over 1000 years. In the 1500th century, even the city declared itself a republic. Today, the "city within the walls" is a magnet.
It started with a monastery on an island around the year 1000. The town was later named after a monk, who became the saint, St. Malo. The city has always been of strategic importance and solid fortress walls were built around it early on. Throughout history, there has often been conflict between England and France. At that time, the inhabitants benefited greatly from seizing passing ships. They did so with the king's blessing. At the same time, they have been unruly and in the 1500th century, the city declared itself a republic.
From island to headland
Throughout history, the island has become landlocked. First with a road on a landfill. Later with filling of the area towards land. Today, Saint-Malo is located at the far end of a headland.
The city has est out and grown with several suburbs, but it is the city within the walls tourists come to see. Almost 50 people live there. In the summer, this number quadruples. During World War II, the city was subjected to massive bombing. Today, the large granite buildings have been restored and only a few buildings occasionally need to be rebuilt. Feel free to spend a day inside the walls. Eat at small nice restaurants, walk on the walls and scout for ships, shop in small shops, stop by a gallery, grab a crepe (thin pancake) or just soak up the atmosphere. Saint-Vincent Cathedral in the city center is a national monument. Despite major destruction during the bombing in 000, it today appears authentic in a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic building style.
Large tide differences
The area around Saint-Malo is located on sand and mud banks. Around the old town and further east there are long and wide sandy beaches. When you stand on the city walls, you can look down on the city beaches that are just below the walls. Here you can also see several islands where it is possible to walk dry-shod at low tide. Just remember to react when the high tide signal goes. If you do not get in then, you have to wait until the next low tide to get back to land. On one of these islands you will find the burial ground of the author and politician Francois René Chataubriand (1768-1848), who was from Saint-Malo. In many places you can walk several kilometers at low tide. Then you can pick oysters if it should tempt. But do not challenge fate. The tidal currents here can be almost as strong as in Saltstraumen in Nordland.
Near town camping
Camping de la Cité d'Alet is located under the fortress of the same name about two kilometers outside the old town and the city walls. This is a municipal summer campsite. It is open from 1 July to the end of September and on certain special occasions otherwise. The standard is decent and you have a shower, toilet and electricity available. However, you will find very little shade in this space. This is the closest you get to the old town and you can easily walk into the "city within the walls", as it is called locally. This campsite is located on a peninsula below the fort of the same name and you thus live on historical grounds. The fort has a history that stretches from Roman times to World War II. Here are clear traces of combat actions. A memorial to the victims of World War II is integrated into the fortifications.
Family-friendly "castle camping"
If you are staying at Camping de la Cité d'Alet, the shortest way to walk to the old town is through this fortress and over the beautiful beach below. There are fine sandy beaches on both sides of this peninsula. In this area there is also a port for ferries to Plymouth and Portsmouth should you be tempted to take a trip across the canal. We chose to stay at Camping La Ville Huchet, a four star campsite about 6,5 kilometers from the old town. You can cycle or walk to the city on relatively safe roads in fairly flat terrain. If you take the detour through the fort Cité d'Alet, the trip will be around 8 kilometers, but well worth the small detour.
La Ville Huchet is very child friendly with pools and slides as the main attraction. For the adults there is also a covered pool to retreat to. A small "castle" is located in the middle of the campsite and gives a little French atmosphere. The pitches for caravans, tents and motorhomes are located along small roads around this. The campsite also has mobile houses for rent. La Ville Huchet also offers sports facilities, shops and restaurants. This is also a summer campsite, but it opens on April 1 and closes at the end of September.
The road to and from
Just an hour's drive east of Saint-Malo is the abbey island of Mount-Saint-Michel. If you are going to Saint-Malo, a trip to this attraction is recommended, which could have been worth a separate article. Here there are large parking spaces - also one you can spend the night on - and you are driven by bus over a pier to the "monastery town" which clings to a small mountain. Saint-Malo is also a good starting point for a trip further south to Nantes and along the Atlantic coast. Maybe to La Rochelle or all the way down to Bordeaux? Saint-Malo is a four-hour drive west of Paris.
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