My first love may be the mountains, but I’ll never turn down a bit of sea air when I’ve got the chance…especially if I can breathe it in Saint-Malo, the small walled city that I tacked on as a short day trip after visiting Mont Saint Michel. In the past, Saint-Malo was the base of corsairs, and its walls were constructed against the threat of British attacks. Nowadays, Saint-Malo is a beautiful seaside locale…the perfect place to work up an appetite by walking along the beach and then eat a dozen (or two) fresh oysters, still briny from the sea, washed down with a glass (or two) of cider.
Compared to the number of transfers it took to get from Paris to Mont Saint Michel, the forty-minute, eight-euro direct train ride from MSM to Saint-Malo was a piece of cake. The train station is about a twenty-minute walk outside the walls of the city, but that just means you get to walk along the harbor, with its seemingly never-ending gallery of sailboats.
Once you pass through the main gate into the intramuros (walled city), the inner confines of Saint-Malo open up to you.
My friend and I had arrived in Saint-Malo close to lunchtime, and as I am always hungry, we settled down to eat at one of the many cafés that line the inner wall near the gate. In a place like Saint-Malo, seafood is definitely the way to go; when you can smell the water from your table, you know you’ll be getting fresh fair.
With lunch in our stomachs, we’d set off to explore a bit of the city. The cathedral’s beautiful, but then again, what European church isn’t? Many of the streets are narrow, and the buildings that flank either side might make for a claustrophobic feel, but there are enough open squares and gardens interspersed throughout the city that you never feel like you’re in too close of quarters.
It helps, of course, that the cries of seagulls and the smell of the sea will always remind you that the water isn’t far away. It wasn’t long before we decided to climb one of the many stairwells that led up to the ramparts that surround the city. As it was the beginning of August, the weather was still fairly warm, and flocks of people had taken to the beach for a cool dip in the sea.
Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t with us that day. For every moment of beautiful, sunny, brilliantly blue sky, there was an opposite one filled with chilly rain and angry grey clouds. Every time the sky would open up, we’d ducked under the nearest shelter to wait out the rain, and inevitably once we’d emerge into the fleeting sunshine, it would only be another ten minutes before we’d get soaked again. Usually I take whatever gets thrown at me while traveling in stride. It takes a lot to really annoy or frustrate me, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I got a bit cranky with the subpar weather.
During the heaviest shower, we’d taken refuge in a nearby bar and waited out the weather in the way most proven to alleviate frustration: with a few bottles of cider. Breton, the region in which Saint-Malo is located, isn’t wine country, unlike Bordeaux or Beaujolais. Instead, it’s best known for its cider, and I can definitely confirm that its remedial qualities will lift the metaphorical grey cloud hovering over your head. And that makes the literal grey clouds, even if they’re filled with rain, a lot more easily dealt with.
Before catching our train back to Paris, we stopped in another restaurant to grab some dinner. Sometimes decisions are hard, especially when I’m confronted with a menu of several pages filled with dishes that all sound equally delicious. That’s why I love set menus: they’re cheap, usually consist of three courses, and only have a few choices, all of which are guaranteed to be delicious. I stuck with my seafood trend, and this time, the choice was easy. I’m a scallop addict; I’ll eat them in basically any form, whether it’s Japanese sushi or grilled and topped with a saffron cream sauce, as was the case here.
It was when the dessert cart got wheeled out, though, that I really swooned. It was like being presented with a box filled with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds and then asked to pick your favorite. (Except this was ten times better, because all of the choices were edible.) Eventually, I settled on what looked like a giant macaron filled with raspberries and whipped cream. In reality, the pastries were more like meringue, but that didn’t take away from their deliciousness in any way. If anything, it made me feel a bit less guilty about indulging in two desserts in one day.
By the time we’d finished our meal, the sun had set, and it was time to head back to the station to catch our train back to Paris. My day in Saint-Malo might not have been the sunniest, but the delicious seafood, sweet pastries, and spectacular views from its walls more than made up for getting a little wet.