The stunning city of St Malo in Brittany curves out to the sea on a natural and beautiful harbour, that has created some of the best sandy beaches on the Emerald Coast.
St Malo was built on a rock standing in a naturally defensive position at the mouth of the river Rance. The city’s roots go back to before the Roman times. Todays city got its name, Llancarfan Abbey from a monk from Wales by the name of Maclovius, a disciple and fellow traveller of Saint Bredan. Maclovius was one of the many Celts who came over to Brittany, which was known as Armorica, during the troubled times of the late Roman era in Britain.
In the sixteenth century Saint Malo’s importance as a seaport began to develop. The city is located in such a strategic part of the French coast, it’s the last main Channel port before the tip of Brittany, round which all the merchant ships from the English Channel and North Sea had to pass on their journey south. For many ships leaving or entering the Channel, St Malo was a brilliant and very convenient port of call for taking or dropping off supplies or merchandise.
St Malo was notorious as a den of pirates, or corsairs but on the other hand it became France’s leading port for voyages of discovery to the new world. Piracy was pretty much an accepted way of life on the high seas back then.
St Malo’s corsairs were rightly feared by the Dutch or English merchant ships. Just as Queen Elizabeth 1 encouraged Sir Francis Drake to pillage and plunder Spanish ships, French kings were happy to encourage the corsairs of Saint Malo, many of whom became wealthy men thanks to the spoils of piracy.
Jacques Cartier was St Malo’s most famous seafarer. He was not a corsair, he was an explorer. Born here in 1491, he set out from his home port on April 20th 1534 on his first voyage of discovery to the new world, where he was to establish “New France” on the Gaspe peninsula of the North American continent, now a part of Quebec. Cartier is buried in the cathedral at Saint Malo and today in the old town there is a museum dedicated to the discovery of Quebec, La Maison du Quebec.
In the 17th century, the city’s medieval ramparts were consolidated and extended to protect Saint Malo from attack from sea or land. This gave the old city its fine walls which surround it to this day. During the Second World War the bombardment by both the Germans and the Allies were too much for St Malo’s defensive walls leaving them unable to protect the city. A large part of the city was reduced to rubble, though not the ramparts.
The re-building of old Saint Malo was one of the great heritage restoration projects in the aftermath of the war. The old city was built in the same way and style as before so to not change the skyline of this impressive city.
Today the mixture of the legacy of the pirates and Second World War siege and the quaint shops and mouth-watering restaurants, markets and cafes make a wonderful romantic atmosphere. The local delicacies of oysters and crepes can be enjoyed through the markets and restaurants of the town.
Dominating the skyline are the stunning Gothic and Romanesque Cathedrale de St Malo. Intra – Muros, the Ancient walled town, forms the heart of St Malo. Walking along its rampart’s visitors can see the spectacular views of the town and harbour, especially the islands of Petit Be and Grand Be can be visited on foot at low tide. You can reach the Fort National on foot from the Grand Plage, St Malos longest beach.
In the countryside you will find the Malouinieres, the mansions of the shipbuilders and corsairs who made the town rich and famous back in the 18th century.
With so much history and culture Saint Malo is a wonderful place to visit.
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