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Exploring the Breton region without taking a trip to Saint-Malo is like visiting Paris without going to see the Eiffel Tower. As you can see, Saint-Malo is a must-see destination and a key stop on your trip to this part of France. This municipality is located in the north-east of Brittany, on the coast of the Channel and on the right bank of the estuary of the Rance. It is located 75km north of Rennes and precisely 404 km from Paris. The “corsair city”, as it is nicknamed, seduces not only through the beauty of its landscapes, but also its rich historical past. Without further ado, here are the ten essential things to do in Saint-Malo.
Further south . Okay, some might resent us talking about Nantes in an article on Brittany, but we’ve spent some time writing our essentials in this city.
Explore the ramparts of Saint-Malo
Unmissable in this Breton town, the ramparts of Saint-Malo are really worth a visit. Today they are classified as historical monuments, but it is important to remember that they were destroyed by a big fire in the middle of the 17th century after their original construction in the 12th century. It was not until two hundred years later that they were renovated and fortified. These ramparts form a loop of about 2 kilometers and offer several points of interest to visit on your walk, including Fort La Reine, Tour Bidouane and La Grande Porte.
Learn at the Saint-Malo aquarium
A must-see in Saint-Malo, this aquarium displays more than 11,000 marine animals representing more than 600 different species, spread over an area of 4000 square meters. Opened to the public in the mid-1990s, it has retained original attractions such as the tactile basin where you can touch certain local species such as spider crabs, turbot, ray and dogfish. You also have the opportunity to experience a mind-blowing simulation of the decent into the ocean’s abyss.
Stroll on the beaches of Saint-Malo
It would be a sin to go to Saint-Malo without enjoying the beauty of its pretty sandy beaches which have so contributed to the reputation of the city. You have, among others, the Plage de l’Eventail, the Plage de Bon Secours, the Plage du Val, the Plage du Minihic, the Plage de la Hoguette and the Plage du Sillon. The latter is the largest of all, and it is not for nothing that it was voted the most beautiful beach in France by Trip Advisor in 2018. It is recognizable by its rows of breakwaters: long wooden sticks driven into the sand along the dike to break the waves during high tides.
Go on an assault on the Solidor Tower
The Solidor Tower is a medieval keep built in the 14th century. It served as a maritime checkpoint for entry to the Rance river and is located at the southern entrance to the city. Until 2020, this tower housed a museum on the history of the Cape Horniers, but it is always a pleasure to visit this impressive building, steeped in history.
Take a breath of fresh air in the city of Alet
This city is nothing but a green space designed to breathe air and stroll while feeling, if only separated physically by a few meters, far from the bustling city. The city of Alet is located in the district of Saint-Servan and offers not only a beautiful view of the city, but also of the entire Emerald Coast. This is where the first Malouins settled, and we understand why. For more information, we recommend this excellent page on the Carnets Vanille website (it’s in french but you can translate with Google).
Ponder at the cathedral of Saint-Malo
This magnificent architectural work will not leave you unmoved, boasting a characterful mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Dedicated to Saint Vincent of Zaragoza, this cathedral was seriously damaged during the Second World War, so much so that a new spire, higher than the previous one, had to be erected in 1971. The building is classified as a “monument to the history of France”.
Enter the National Fort
Discover the history and importance of this building during a guided tour. Formerly a military installation base, this defensive fort is now closed and has once again become the private property of a Breton family. Fortunately, it is still open for visits. Please note that you will only be able to access it at low tide.
Visit the Corsair House
The Corsair’s residence is a private mansion built for François Auguste Magon de la Lande in 1725, Louis XV’s privateer, a shipowner, and the director of the East India Company. The activities of this former pirate are fully describes to you during the guided tours of the part of this building that is open to the public.
Why do we call Saint-Malo the “corsair city”? It may seem obvious, but in the 16th and 17th century, the city was known to house many privateers – pirates employed by the traditional army. This included François-Auguste Magon de la Lande but, also and above all, the famous Robert Surcouf. However, the spoils were largely collected by the Kingdom of France, and so the city did not develop thanks to these riches, but rather thanks to distant trade.
Walk to the Bés Islands
Visiting these two islands is undoubtedly one of the essential things to do in Saint-Malo. The island of Petit Bé is the furthest away, and the island of Grand Bé, in addition to housing the Fort National, is the burial place of the French writer Chateaubriand. You can only access these islands through the Passage des Bés at low tide.
Discover the castle of Saint-Malo
Dating from the 15th century, this castle stands proudly on its four towers and is particularly attractive for its pentagonal shape. Built by the Dukes of Brittany, it served to establish their authority over the city. It is also still a place of power: the castle now hosts certain administrative services, and in particular the town hall. The General Tower and the Grand Donjon house the museum of the history the city and the Malouin country.
Our little list of essential experiences in Saint-Malo is now complete. We know very well that it is not exhaustive, and so we invite you to share your ideas in comments.