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Saint-Malo (Photo:gnoparus/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic
Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Saint-Malo

In Brittany's walled city of Saint-Malo, France, getting lost is part of the lure. You're almost guaranteed to be drawn delightfully off course by an enticing quiet cobblestone alley, the warm sugary aroma of a creperie or a shop window beckoning passersby with artfully arranged French fashions. But if you ever find yourself truly disoriented by the maze of narrow medieval streets, just keep walking; the historic section of Saint-Malo is so small that you're never more than a few minutes from the thick stone ramparts that have protected the city for centuries. Follow these walls until you reach a gate to the outside world or a set of stairs leading up to the top of the ramparts, from which you can orient yourself by looking out over the city.

About Saint-Malo


Pro

Saint-Malo is a fantastic base for exploring the Brittany region of France

Con

Many of the shops in town close on Sundays

Bottom Line

A gorgeous town to explore by foot, Saint-Malo has a well-preserved old city and creperies galore


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Known as the City of Corsairs, Saint-Malo made its fortune on the high seas through trade, exploration and, in some cases, privateering -- piracy that was sanctioned by the crown during times of war. These 17th- and 18th-century pirates, called corsairs, could capture enemy ships and keep both the vessel and anything on it for themselves, as long as they contributed a portion of the bounty to the king. Modern-day visitors can learn more about the dangerous but lucrative life of an 18th-century corsair at the Demeure de Corsaire, or Privateer's House.

Saint-Malo has long since outgrown the bounds of the original medieval city, and today, only about 1,000 people live permanently within the walls. The area is particularly popular with wealthy Brits and Parisians who keep summer residences there and with visitors who appreciate the convivial sidewalk cafes, historic plazas and bracing salt air.

Many cruisers skip Saint-Malo altogether in favor of a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel, the famous medieval abbey and village that loom over the surrounding tidal flats in many a French postcard. Saint-Malo is also a good jumping-off point for other explorations in the Brittany region; appealing stops include the oyster farms of Cancale, the pretty riverfront village of Dinan and the 19th-century beach resort of Dinard.

Where You're Docked

Smaller ships dock along the Quai Saint-Louis, just a few steps from one of the entrances into the old city. Larger vessels must moor farther out and tender passengers to Cale de la Bourse, which is also within walking distance of the city walls.

Port Facilities

Arriving passengers are within walking distance of just about everything -- restaurants, souvenir shops, a taxi stand and gates into the old city.

Good to Know

At low tide, visitors can walk to the fort on the island of Petit Be, but stay too long and you could be stranded on the island when the water rushes back in. Ask about the tide schedules at the tourist office before setting out.

Getting Around

On Foot: The narrow streets of the walled district are perfect for strolling -- and so are the walls themselves. It only takes about 30 minutes to walk around the city atop the ramparts (not including stops for pictures).

By Bike: Rental bikes are available at Ty'Boost (49 Quai Duguay-Trouin, +33 [0]2 99 56 47 18). A great spot for a ride is along Digue de Rochebonne, a wide path that borders the beach.

By Taxi: Taxis line up outside Porte Saint-Vincent. They can be hired for excursions to Mont Saint-Michel, the Normandy beaches, the village of Dinan and other popular attractions in the region. Reserve online in advance at, or call +33 (0)2 23 18 11 81.

By Car: While you don't need a vehicle if you want to stay within the city walls, renting a car can be a nice option if you want to drive along the coast and see Mont Saint-Michel at your own pace. Several car rental companies are clustered near the train station, including Avis, Hertz and Europcar. It helps to be able to drive a stick shift, as most available vehicles have manual transmissions.

By Bus: Buses are not permitted within the old city walls, but various companies provide transit around the more modern part of Saint-Malo and to other cities and towns in the region (such as Dinard, Rennes and Mont Saint-Michel). Some bus services pick up along Quai Saint-Vincent, while others must be boarded near the main train station. Companies include Keolis Saint-Malo, Illenoo and Tibus.

By Train: Le Petit Train takes tourists on a 30-minute ride through the walled city, departing approximately twice an hour from Porte Saint-Vincent. Saint-Malo's train station is outside the walls and offers service to Rennes, Dinan and other cities in the region.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency in France is the euro. You can check the latest exchange rates at www.xe.com or www.oanda.com. There's an ATM in the old city at the Banque Populaire de L'ouest (3 Rue Porcon de la Barbinais).

Language

French is the official language. Many locals speak at least a little English, especially within the city walls, where tourists are common.

Food and Drink

A visit to Saint-Malo isn't complete without a stop at a creperie. Options include both galettes (which are made of buckwheat flour and topped with savory items such as eggs, ham and cheese) and crepes (made of regular wheat flour and featuring powdered sugar, chocolate, caramel or other sweets). Saint-Malo also has many good seafood restaurants, where local oysters, fish and mussels are on the menu. Accompany your meal with a glass of cider, a popular alcoholic drink in the Brittany region.

Enjoy sea views along with an indulgent lunch at Le Cap-Horn, where the fixed-price menus include options like oysters from nearby Cancale, roasted fillet of duckling and pan-seared fillet of bass. (Note: Vegetarians have very few choices here.) It's an excellent option for seafood lovers and those celebrating special occasions. (100 Boulevard Hebert, +33 (0)2 99 40 75 40)

Le Tourne-Pierre serves up a delicious menu of Breton favorites, including galettes, crepes, mussels and oysters. Along with the food, diners particularly appreciate the friendly staff; the owner has been known to invite patrons to watch how crepes are made. (4 rue Jacques Cartier, +33 (0)2 99 40 86 95)

You're in France, so why not indulge? Autour du Beurre is the perfect place to do it. Located next to the Maison du Beurre (or House of Butter) is this little bistro, where you can sample seven or eight flavors of butter, each more indulgent than the next. Just remember to leave room for the main dish (which might include squid or pork shoulder) and, of course, dessert and cheese. (7 rue de l'Orme, +33 (0)2 23 18 25 81)

Before or after your visit to the cathedral, take time to stop at the nearby La Bergamote tea room for a light lunch, pastry or merely a cup of tea from its wide selection. Lunch options include galettes, salads and quiches. (3 place Jean de Chatillon, +33 (0)2 99 40 28 14)

France might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of tapas, but you'll think differently after a visit to O Tapas Breton. Enjoy small portions of Cancale oysters, smoked or marinated fish, and charcuterie, presented on wooden cutting boards and paired with selections from the well-stocked cider cellar. (4 rue de l'Orme, +33 (0)2 99 48 19 85; open daily from 10:30 a.m., closed Wednesdays except in July and August)

Shopping

Save space in your suitcase for locally crafted lace or pottery, or perhaps a Breton shirt with the horizontal stripes that fashion icons such as Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel made famous. If you're looking for edible souvenirs, salted butter caramel candies make for a sweet and easily transportable indulgence.