All the Sunlit Days in Saint-Malo
This morning is a very typical Picardie morning - cloudy and rainy. I know my Midwest people back in the States are also ready for sunshine and warmer weather, so today seemed like a great day to take a little trip to Saint-Malo where I experienced a few days of sunshine by the sea. This weather was not typical for Brittany which is known for rainy, cloudy, and windy weather. But according to a few of my French friends you should never mention this to a breton. They will simply tell you that “En Bretagne, il ne pleut que sur les cons.” Translation: “In Brittany, it only rains on idiots.” That was a pretty gentle translation. Con also has several less kind translations, but you get the idea. Don’t complain about their weather. I truly had nothing to complain about this February in Saint-Malo.
I’d been in France for nearly five months and had yet to make it to the coast, so I was giddy as can be to feel the sea breeze and smell the salty ocean air as I made my way toward Saint-Malo Intra Muros, the area of Saint-Malo surrounded by ramparts that was heavily bombed during WWII and has since been beautifully restored. There was a lot of attention given to bringing Saint-Malo back to its pre-war days.
I walked through winding cobblestone streets to meet Philippe, my Airbnb host. He walked me up 50+ steps in a 300+ year old building, one of 182 buildings left standing out of 865 (though even those suffered damage and required repairs).
On my full Friday in Saint-Malo I woke up, popped on my Saint James marinière (because when in Brittany…), and headed out for a day of exploration. If you’ve gotten to this point in the post wondering if I was going to mention the Pulitzer Prize winning All the Light We Cannot See which is set primarily in Saint-Malo, here it is! (Note: The French title is Toute la lumière que nous ne pouvons voir.) Of course this had to be part of my visit. Truth, the very first thing I did when I arrived in the city was head to the tourism office and request a guide mapping out all of the spots from the novel (mine was en français as I’m really going for as much immersion as possible, but you can also request a guide in English). The guide leads you to Etienne’s home at 4 Rue Vauborel. From here you can follow Marie-Laure’s footsteps to la plage du Môle, her grotto, and the boulangerie. As this is a fictional story, all of these places are as close as you can get to Doerr’s imagined world. Head to my Instagram @fleurdestlouis where I have a highlight with all of my All the Light photos and discoveries.
If you’re familiar with the cover of Doerr’s novel, you can picture the cathedral rising up from the Saint-Malo skyline. The church suffered a lot of damage during the war and took almost 30 years to restore. It had some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve ever seen, and I happened to be there when the light was just right.
As I followed Marie-Laure’s footsteps through the city I added a few stops along the way. I really enjoyed having coffee at Choubidoux, a café + boutique offering bio products (like my gluten free banana bread). I also loved their products from Savonnerie Cancalaise and picked up the Saint-Malo room spray so I’ll always have Saint-Malo, at least until the bottle runs out…
Another one of my favorite boutiques was La Datcha where I found beautiful cards featuring local specialties and traditions including les galettes de sarrasin (buckwheat crêpes), le cidre (hard cider), and l’hermine (the weasel). I had seen weasel medallions on the cobbled streets of Saint-Malo but had no clue what they were about. The shopkeeper explained that Anne de Bretagne chose this symbol for the city because while hunting she encountered a weasel that didn’t run away. She admired the animal’s tenacity and wanted this same quality to define Saint-Malo (and with its persistence and determination in coming back to life after WWII this is more than fitting).
For my final evening in Saint-Malo (and of my solo travels in Brittany) I picked up a baguette, some local cheese & butter at La Maison du Beurre, a small bottle of cider, and some caramels au beurre salé. With my little picnic in tow, I took a lovely afternoon walk along the ramparts.
At Bastion de la Hollande I found the perfect spot to watch the sunset and got comfortable with my snacks. Fun fact - at Bastion de la Hollande you will find a statue of Jacques Cartier, the Frenchman who claimed what is now Canada for France. Cartier was a malouin, meaning he was from Saint-Malo.
The next morning I began my journey back to Amiens. When you’re traveling solo I find that you are more open to making new connections because you don’t have your friends and family to talk to. This is one of the gifts of solo traveling. On my train from Saint-Malo to Rennes I met Ginette, a malouine in her 80’s who I got to spend one hour getting to know en français. This is the number one gift of acquiring a second language. Connections and relationships. She was young during the war when her dad was taken as a prisoner. When he returned she was about nine years old and had spent years of her childhood not really knowing her father. It was a story I can’t even imagine. I’ll likely never see Ginette again, but I am thankful for the time we spent together.
Et voilà, there you have it, my little trip to Saint-Malo. It was one of my favorite places that I’ve been so far and I would love to go back with Tony one day. Wherever you are in the world, I hope this brought a little sunshine to your day.
Merci d’être ici. Thank you for being here, and warm sunshine-y wishes from me to you!