a long weekend

Nic Comp­ton ex­plores the gate­way to Brit­tany and dis­cov­ers a land of saints and pi­rates

Yachting Monthly - - CONTENTS - Words and pic­tures Nic Comp­ton

St Malo. A land of saints and pi­rates is wait­ing to be ex­plored at the gate­way to Brit­tany

Ihave lost track of the num­ber of times I

I’ve caught a ferry to or from St Malo. It’s al­ways been my pre­ferred route across the Chan­nel and when­ever pos­si­ble, I try to com­bine it with a bit of sight­see­ing around the won­der­ful old town. I even stayed there for a few days for the start of the Route du Rhum transat­lantic race – the fa­mously windy one in 2002 when most of the big cata­ma­rans were wiped out. But I’d never ac­tu­ally sailed there un­til last year, when I had a chance to ex­plore the area in a cou­ple of small boats ideally suited to the shal­low ti­dal wa­ters of the bay. And what a rev­e­la­tion it was.

St Malo it­self needs lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion. The town was first set­tled by Gauls a lit­tle fur­ther south in what is now St Ser­van, and it wasn’t un­til around 1100 AD that the pop­u­la­tion moved to the rocky mount of St Malo – named af­ter the Welsh-born bishop Ma­clou – to take shel­ter from ma­raud­ing vik­ings. The ram­parts we see to­day date from a lit­tle later, in the 12th Cen­tury. The town be­came fa­mous for its pri­va­teers and pi­rates which preyed on Bri­tish ships sail­ing up the Chan­nel with valu­able car­goes – none more so than the leg­endary Robert Sur­couf who was born and died here, although he did most of his loot­ing in the In­dian Ocean.

The old town of St Malo was ex­ten­sively bombed by Al­lied forces dur­ing the Sec­ond World War in an at­tempt to force out a smaller-than-ex­pected Ger­man force. By the time the Ger­mans sur­ren­dered, 80% of the build­ings had been de­stroyed, along with count­less works of art, an­tique fur­ni­ture and the en­tire li­brary – most of it un­nec­es­sary as the bulk of the Ger­man forces was else­where. It took 32 years of de­ter­mined work to re­build the city, stone by stone, to its orig­i­nal de­sign.

Nowa­days, St Malo is the most vis­ited des­ti­na­tion in Brit­tany – no doubt helped by be­ing a ma­jor ferry ter­mi­nal – and you can hap­pily spend sev­eral days walk­ing around its cob­bled streets, vis­it­ing the cor­sair mu­seum and other ma­rine at­trac­tions. There are two mari­nas for vis­it­ing yachts­men. Port de Plai­sance Vauban is right next to the city walls and ac­cessed via a large com­mer­cial lock. Although con­ve­nient for the old town, this ma­rina does get very busy in sum­mer.

Im­me­di­ately south of Port de Plai­sance Vauban at St Ser­van is the big­ger ma­rina at Port des Sablons. It’s a 20-minute walk from here to the old town but it’s less crowded and boasts all the usual boat re­pair and ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties. More im­por­tantly, it’s right next to the old town of St Ser­van, which is it­self an un­sung gem. There’s not a lot here apart from a line of cafés and restau­rants around the stone har­bour and the el­e­gant Tour Soli­dor, with its ex­hibit of Cape Horn sailors’ mem­o­ra­bilia. But it’s a great place to catch the evening rays away from the bus­tle of its more fa­mous big sis­ter.

I vis­ited St Malo last au­tumn to try out a cou­ple of trailer sail­ers at nearby St Briac-sur-mer. We launched the boats at Port des Sablons and headed across the bay to­wards Ile de Cézem­bre, two-anda-half-miles north of St Malo. The is­land sits on the hori­zon like an in­vi­ta­tion to ad­ven­ture: a Bre­ton ver­sion of Wild Cat Is­land in Swal­lows & Ama­zons just beg­ging to be ex­plored. And in­deed there are two idyl­lic lit­tle beaches on the south coast, fac­ing St Malo, which make for easy land­ing. The north of the is­land is all rocky cliffs and is in any case out of bounds to vis­i­tors due to un­ex­ploded bombs. This in­no­cent-seem­ing place was where the Ger­man forces held out, long af­ter St Malo had fallen, and

Beau­ti­ful scenery, fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and plen­ti­ful crois­sants – St Malo re­ally has it all

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: A beau­ti­ful lit­tle Beniguet de­signed by François Vivier and built by Grand Lar­gue in St Briac RIGHT:Sail­ing off St Malo in a pair of Stir Vens day sail­ers, also by Vivier and Grand Lar­gue

The ma­rina at St Ser­van is easy to ac­cess in most states of tide

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.