Reaching The Port Of Perfection: Saint-Malo, France

This past fall, I had the good fortune to visit Saint-Malo, France. Knowing little about the destination before I arrived on Oceania Cruises’ Regatta, I found myself astounded by the region’s rich diversity.

One of France’s most attractive coastal towns, Saint-Malo has something to offer all cruise ship passengers: sublime scenery, bustling bars, trendy restaurants and cafes, cultural attractions, outdoor activities and Brittany’s best beaches.

In a single day, I walked the ancient city wall above and around the town of Saint-Malo; visited Dinard, with its lovely sea promenade and Victorian-era homes; dined exquisitely (for lunch, no less) on shellfish in Cancale, known throughout France for its mussels; and stood in awe at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mont Saint Michel.

Saint-Malo is situated on the English Channel, in Brittany, on France’s west coast. The port is ideally situated between northern and southern Europe.

Oceania Cruises' Regatta anchored in Saint-Malo, France.
Oceania Cruises’ Regatta anchored in Saint-Malo, France.

Getting Ashore

Measuring more than 150 meters in length, Regatta was required to tender passengers ashore from its anchorage between Dinard and Saint-Malo. The city can accommodate four ships at once. Vessels measuring less than 150 meters can dock at the terminal (a new terminal will open in the spring of 2010). Ships from 150 meters to 240 meters can anchor only a few minutes away by tender. Both the terminal and the tender landing are within less than a five-minute walk to gates of the walled city.

Exploring Saint-Malo

I recommend that cruise passengers begin their exploration of Saint-Malo by walking the town wall. Allow at least 30 minutes to walk the entire wall (an hour allows a more leisurely pace), taking in the views of the city and sea on either side.

Mont-Saint-Michel Bay, where Saint-Malo is situated, boasts Europe’s most dramatic tides, so you can count on a view that is ever-changing. The tidal range can be as much as 15 meters between high and low water, and the sea can recede as much as 15 kilometers. During low tide, you can walk to nearby islands that you’d have to swim to during high tide. The force of nature here is remarkable.

Saint-Malo also boasts something else that few, if any, other destinations in France can claim: Shops that are open on Sundays.

Few things are more disappointing to sea-faring passengers than to arrive in port and find the shop doors shut. Saint-Malo is open for business, however, with lots of good shopping, cafes and a must-see “gourmet” street, otherwise known as rue de l’Orme.

There’s lots more to see, including the home and tomb of the writer Chateaubriand; and the Privateer’s House known as La Demeure de Corsaire, a ship-owners house built in 1725. But the real pleasure of Saint-Malo is to permit yourself to wander and to enjoy and to sit down and relax in a cozy cafe.

Into The Countryside

Only a few minutes from Saint-Malo, cruise passengers can visit beautiful 18th-century country homes, known as malouinières. Built by wealthy corsairs (French privateers and pirates), the homes are grand estates with a trove of treasures inside. One of the corsairs was Jacques Cartier, who sailed into the Saint Lawrence River and is credited as the discover of Canada.

Saint-Malo’s architectural heritage claims more than 800 chateaux manor houses and malouiniéres. Some of the malouinières are open to the public for tours.

One option for lunch in Cancale: Fresh oysters overlooking Mont Saint Michel Bay.
One option for lunch in Cancale: Fresh oysters overlooking Mont Saint Michel Bay.

The World Is Your Oyster

Often, cruise passengers rush back to the ship for lunch. After all, lunch is free on board.

Don’t make that mistake when you’re ship calls in Saint-Malo. The region boasts one of Europe’s highest concentrations of seafood restaurants, and in nearby Cancale you can dine in a village known throughout France for its oysters. You can buy freshly harvested oysters and dine on a bench overlooking Mont Saint Michel Bay, or you can dine at one of the restaurants, taking a table on the terrace to enjoy a seafood platter that you’re not likely to forget anytime soon.

You’ll want to spend at least 30 minutes before or after lunch for a stroll through Cancale, making sure to see the oyster beds if you failed to see them earlier and the views of your next destination across Mont Saint Michel Bay.

Mont Saint Michel

Saint-Malo boasts the shortest — and most scenic — route to Mont Saint Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This marvel of the Western World is only 30 minutes to 40 minutes from the docks in Saint-Malo. But there’s no rush. The road along the Emerald Coast makes for a beautiful drive to get to Mont Saint Michel.

Saint-Malo is a member of Cruise Europe.

Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Saint-Malo.

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