If you are planning to do a weekend in Brittany France or a day trip from Paris, Saint-Malo (or St Malo) on the Bretagne coast makes the perfect home base. The walled port city is a 4-hour and 20-minute drive from Paris so it is doable in a very long day, but there is so much to see and do in the area surrounding Saint-Malo that I recommend that you spend a weekend, or extend your trip to a week for a nice little road trip. Saint-Malo is also only 1 hour from Mont Saint-Michel, so it is also a perfect add-on to a trip there.
Saint-Malo weather is always going to be a factor, I liken it’s location to the US’s Pacific Northwest so it is often cold, cloudy and rainy. If you search for images of Saint-Malo you will often find the photos have clouds! There are some glorious days in late spring, and the summer is usually just gorgeous, which is why Saint Malo beaches are pretty popular with the Parisians, but as always, we prefer to visit during the shoulder season, even offseason if we can. What you give up in sunshine we make up for in the ability to wander the streets without the crowds.
Like most of the Brittany coast the culture, traditions, and food come from either the sea or from the people who live and work on it. For example, that delicious, buttery Kouign Amann that I raved about in Dinan, was created to comfort sailors who had been out on the sea for months and needed something to fatten them up after only having the slimmest of pickings for food. The Sentier des douaniers coastal hiking trails were the result of paths created by customs or coastguard officials looking for smugglers with illegal goods (who didn’t want to pay taxes, always a French thing, their detestation for taxes!).
The city has a history of being rebellious and self-governing and you can throw in some pirates too. As you walk through the interwalls (intramural or intra-muros) of Old Town you will find signs, hats, and shirts with the expression: “Ni Français ni Breton, Malouin suis” (which means that I am neither French nor Breton, I am Malouin). In fact, the whole region we visited throughout our 10 days in Bretagne is considered Malouin and they are fiercely proud of this fact! I love the Breton humor in general, they are very sarcastic and love to make fun of themselves, but always with a ferocious pride.
Things to Do in Saint-Malo France
Ramparts and Intramurals
The ramparts (Les Remparts de Saint-Malo) protect the entirety of the old part of Saint-Malo if you walk all of it, it is just over a mile, and a beautiful mile at that. They were built (or started rather) in the 1100s by a monk, then updated in the 1600s by the military architect Vauban and expanded in the mid-18th century. They offer great panoramic views of the sea, the Grand Bé island, Fort National, as well as Old Town. You can access the ramparts of St-Malo from various points, including all the main city gates. It isn’t easy to park inside the intra-muros but there is a ton of parking outside La Grand’ Porte and you can easily walk inside. The gates connect the walled part of the city to its suburbs.
We walked back and forth on the ramparts multiple times in the early morning and loved taking in the ocean views and the delicious salt in the air. From time to time we would pop down onto the cobblestoned streets to poke around the medieval buildings, have a cup of coffee or window shop.
Vauban also designed Fort National, the forward stronghold on a rock at the western end of Plage du Sillon. It was built in his famous star-configuration and was the final piece in the city’s defensive plan, conceived to protect the city from the British navy, oh the long history of Britan versus France! The fort defended the coast against attacks throughout the centuries. The German forces used it as a prison during World War II. The fortress is ONLY open in the summer for tours.
Grand Bé (Île du Grand Bé & Fort du Petit Bé)
The Petit Bé & Grand Bé are small islands right in front of Saint-Malo. You can access the Grand Bé only during low tide (a bit like Mont Saint-Michel!) straight from the ramparts. One of Saint Malo’s most famous inhabitants was romantic author Chateaubriand. He is buried in Grand Bé and you can visit his tomb and pay homage to the father of modern romanticism. (Of course, I’m also fond of and would pay homage to the steak!)
Château de Saint-Malo
Now Saint-Malo’s city hall, the chateau was built by the Duke of Brittany in the 1400s, it was a reminder of the authority of the dukes, and then the King of France after unification in the 16th century. There is an amazing view of Saint-Malo from the rooftop platform on the Grand Donjon. Besides city hall, the building also has a museum about the city’s history and the surrounding region, along with information on Chateaubriand and the explorer Jacques Cartier, the guy who discovered Canada!
Saint Malo Beaches
In the summertime (and the rare moment of good weather) the beaches are the place to be in Saint-Malo, here are a few of the best ones:
- Grande Plage – north-facing beach running along the coast outside the intramurals.
- Plage de Bon Secours – protected tidal swimming pool.
- Plage des Bas Sablons – a lengthy beach at the marina in St-Servan, it’s diked off to keep the water in at low tide.
- Sillon Beach – the best beach in Saint-Malo for sunset. It’s nearly 2 miles long (3 kilometers) with fine sand.
Do a Tidal Tour
Take a walk on the beach from the Plage de l’Eventail to the island of Grand Bé with a naturalist who will explain the ecosystem and landscape as you go. The tour costs 8 Euros (4 for children) takes place in the afternoon (during low tide) sometime between Friday and Monday depending on the month and is capped at 35 people and departs from the tourism office (Espl. Saint-Vincent), find more information at the Office de Tourisme Communautaire Saint-Malo Baie du Mont Saint-Michel.
Take a sail
A great way to explore Saint-Malo is to see it from the sea. One company seems to have the market on boat tours and excursions and that is Étoile Marine Croisières, unfortunately, their site is only in French (their tours are only in French as well!) so you may need to get help with deciding which trip you want. They have 4 boats that do different lengths of excursions from a half-to-full-day and with or without meals. They are all museum ships of various ages (for example the Etoile du Roy is a replica of a 1745 frigate Corsaire) and sail up and down the coast of Saint-Malo and its surrounding areas.
If you leave the old city and intra-muros, the neighborhood next to Plage du Sillon is called Paramé where you will find gorgeous Belle Époque villas. They were built by wealthy Parisians who wanted holiday homes. There is a 2-hour walking tour itinerary provided by the tourism office where you can see fantastic examples of the whimsical architecture and design styles. (Tip: the website isn’t great, it is better to download the map and follow the Paramé – Rothéneuf portion.)
Eat French Butter
The best butter in the world comes from Saint-Malo in Brittany (where all the best butter in the world comes from) so make sure you visit the shop in town! The Bordier Butter Shop or La Maison du Beurre Bordier (9 Rue de l’Orme) makes the butter that all the bakers in France, the best restaurants in France and discerning butter lovers around the world demand in their pastries and cooking. Even if you are visiting for the weekend, pick up a single bar to spread on your daily baguette, trust me, it will change your life. We always bring back several bars (we buy them in Paris at the Grand Epicerie) and we freeze them and slowly dole them out as a treat. Like cheese and truffles, Bordier has seasonal flavors based on what the local farmers produce. While we were visiting Brittany on this trip we had the utter (or udder, thank you Brittany cows for providing the wonderful milk) delight of eating the Roscoff onion variety, I could have eaten it alone without any bread it was so good!
More Food Activities!
- Check out the Halle au Blé the local market inside the intramurals, pick up some regional cheeses and get some charcuterie from the artisanal butcher. But plan accordingly as it is only open 8-1 on Tuesdays and Fridays.
- Admire the local seafood in the markets including the Cancalais oysters. Some of it is pre-cooked so grabbed some for a picnic.
- Learn how to make crepes at the Atelier de la Crêpe – our favorite crepe restaurant in Cancale (and Paris), Brzeih, has opened a crepe school where you can learn how to make this traditional Brittany specialty loved and copied all over the world.
Where to Eat in Saint Malo
You are going to find a familiar pattern of possibilities wherever you go in France’s Brittany region: seafood, crepes and Kouign Amann! To drink, never pass up the cider (cidre)!
- Crèperie des Lutins (7 Grand Rue) don’t let the witches-and-faires decor fool you, this is one of the best crepe spots in the city.
- La Crêperie Le Corps de Garde (8 Rue de la Crosse) probably has one of the best views of the city since it is on top of the ramparts.
Other Saint Malo Restaurants
- Bistro Autour du Beurre Bordier (7 Rue de l’Orme) right next to the Bordier butter shop is this bistro dedicated to creating season dishes with you guessed it, Bordier butter!
- L’Absinthe (1 rue de l’Orme) sourcing from the markets surrounding its location, you get modern French cuisine in a 17th-century building.
- Le Chalut (8 rue de la Corne de Cerf) – Michelin-starred seafood restaurant, feeling luxurious? Go for the all-lobster menu!
- Le Bistro de Jean (6 rue de la Corne de Cerf) this spot is where the locals hang out. Known for their heartier dishes like duck, lamb, and sea bass.
- Le Bulot (13 quai Sébastopol) in the St-Servan neighborhood, this local bistro is known for its salt cod purée (brandade de morue) and lemon-marinated chicken if it is sunny (lucky you!) head out to eat on the wooden terrace. The restaurant has views of Port-Solidor.
You can partake of a sweet crepe for dessert from any of the creperies. The salted caramel is so good you will want to lick it off the plate! And of course, there is also the famous Kouign Amann. One of the best local bakeries to try this Breton specialty at (along with other things such as their butter cookies) is Les Délices du Gouverneur located at 6 Rue Porcon de la Barbinais. I personally like the flavored ones (I think it cuts the sugar a bit) with berries and pistachio etc. so for that variety of Kouign Amann, I prefer Maison Georges Larnicol (6 Rue Saint-Vincent).
Where to Stay
Hotels in Saint Malo
For this trip we were staying in Cancale, but we did research and visited a few hotels for future trips, these were are 3 favorites:
- Grand Hotel des Thermes (100 Boulevard Hébert) 19th-century 5-starred Belle Epoque hotel with a gourmet restaurant and ocean views.
- Hotel La Villefromoy (7 Boulevard Hébert) is an older mansion with a modern vibe, I love the design aesthetic here! It’s super close to the beaches in between the Plage de la Hoguette and Rochebonne Beach.
- Hôtel Le Nouveau Monde (64 Chaussée du Sillon) very near the old town has sea views in a contemporary style.
Airbnb Recommendations in Saint-Malo
We’re fond of the flexibility that staying in an Airbnb affords us, we thought about staying in Saint-Malo instead of Cancale and these are the places we scoped out:
If you don’t have an Airbnb account, consider using my affiliate link to get one. If you sign up for Airbnb with my link you will get $40 off your home booking. And get $15 to use toward an experience worth $50 or more.
A Note on Shopping in Saint Malo
Because of the mariner culture that surrounds Satin-Malo you will see a lot of sea/coastal/sailor goods and in particular clothes, scarves and hats. There are plenty of stores offering a wide variety of goods, but please make sure that you are buying from shopkeepers who source the products locally from local designers and artisans and not from China. The Malouins take great pride in their craftsmanship and you can find beautiful pieces from Brittany without paying a ton of money.
How to Get to Saint Malo
Saint-Malo By Car
There are 2 routes from Paris to Saint-Malo by car. Saint-Malo is a 4-hour drive from Paris on major Autoroutes. One route takes you on the A13 and the other on the A11 both of which will cost you about 35-40 Euros in tolls before you eventually find yourself on national and departmental roads. We were on a 10-day trip to Brittany based in Cancale, so we drove to Saint-Malo from Cancale, which is 30 minutes if you go the “faster” route or 45-minutes if you take the slower coastal road. If you are visiting Mont Saint Michel it is also only 1-hour by car.
Train from Paris
There is a TGV from the Gare Montparnasse (Paris) that goes to Rennes, the capital of Brittany where you make a quick transfer to a regional train to Saint-Malo. Total travel time by train is just under 3 hours (2 hours, 45-minutes). Check out OuiSNCF for schedule information. I am super curious about something! There are 7 main train stations in Paris and the Montparnasse one is the one that goes to Brittany. Montparnasse is also the neighborhood in Paris that is traditionally Bretagne and where you can get the best crepes in Paris, do you think that is a coincidence?
Ferry to Saint-Malo
Getting to St Malo from England is easy! There is a ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, operated by Brittany Ferries. The ferry crosses from Portsmouth to St Malo overnight every day but Tuesday and returns from St Malo to Portsmouth mid-morning every day but Wednesday. Get more information on the route and timetables on the Brittany Ferries site. There are also additional ferries coming into St Malo from Poole, Jersey, and Guernsey islands.
While you probably aren’t looking to hike the entire 250-miles that the Sentier des Douaniers covers, you can really enjoy a great half-day or day of hiking by following the GR-34 on either side of Saint-Malo. I dare say there isn’t a prettier hike around and if you really, really wanted to you could take the 25 or so days to hike the whole thing!
Places to Visit Around Saint Malo
- Rochers Sculptees (Chemin des Rochers Sculptés, technically in Saint-Malo but they are really outside the city.) These sculpted rocks hug the cliffs along the Emerald Coast above the sea and were carved by abbot Adolphe Julien Fouéré who was deaf and mute from 1894 to 1907. They are worth viewing (there are over 300 of them!) and when you have satisfied your curiosity you can enjoy a seafood lunch or dinner at the restaurant right above the cliffs at Le Benetin (4 Chemin des Rochers Sculptés) an exceptional seafood restaurant with a stunning view.
- Visit the medieval village of Dinan, just 30-45 minutes away.
- Cancale – a fishing port and oyster capital of France, also where our favorite creperie is! 30-minutes from Saint-Malo.
- Mont Saint-Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage medieval monastery built on top of a single rock cut off to the French coast at high tide is 1 hour from St Malo.
- Fougères another medieval fortress-of-a-town with a chateau and half-timbered homes 1-hour from Saint-Malo.
- Fort La Latte, a historic 14th-century fort/chateau on the coast that is absolutely worth the 1-hour drive from Saint-Malo.
- Cap Frehel – peninsula in Côtes-d’Armor with 2 well-known lighthouses, a 1-hour drive from Saint-Malo.
Camera Equipment used in our Saint Malo Photos
Photos that were taken by me were done so on an iPhone and Sony Cybershot RX100. If you mainly use your camera on “Auto” this is the camera for you (and me!)! I use 3 accessories: a Sony VCT-SGR1 Shooting Grip; and 2 straps: the Peak Design SLL-AS-3 Slide Lite Camera Strap, and the Peak Design CL-2 Clutch Camera Hand Strap. For the photos taken by Mr. Misadventures (anything with a Sel & Poivre Photography watermark), the real pro in the household, he used his Sony A7RIII and the following lenses: Sony FE 12-24mm. Under each photo, we have provided the lens and aperture information. His camera equipment was carried around in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L backpack.
Our time in Saint-Malo was part of a 10-day trip to Brittany so there many more stops to share!
How about you? Have you been to Dinan? Or other parts of Saint-Malo in France? Do share! If not, have I inspired you to visit? Do tell!