France’s ancient walled city
I am continuing my visit of this truly exciting and fascinating country, France and I am finding out that the Brittany region in France has a number of charming cities and towns. One that we visited last week was St. Malo, a small, ancient walled city with a long history and excellent beach, located at the northwestern France on the English Channel, along Normandy and not far from the Mont Saint-Michel.
My girlfriend and I walked a lot in the walled city before reaching the beach. The buildings tend to be high – about as high as a modern four-storey house – and many have coats of arms on them, alleviating the plainness of their design. Many also have small histories of the buildings attached on notices. Yet, while some of the biggest are open to the public, others are still private homes, or government buildings. So a lot of the pleasure is in looking up: Les Jardins du Montmarin, overlooking the water and on the left bank of the River Rance, in Pleurtuit, with broad views of the estuary.
The St. Malo tourist brochures says that the town owed much of its early prosperity to its fierce and fearless seafarers who opened up the French spice trade in the East Indies – ranging as far from home as South America and the Falklands. For four years, beginning in 1590, St. Malo was a free and independent nation, with its own parliament. It sent ambassadors to the capitals of Europe, and pirates to England. In time it became a world leader in piracy and remained so until the 19th Century. It remains a free-spirited, spunky little city. Its coat of arms proclaims, (“Ni Francais, ni Breton, Malouin suis.”) I am neither a Frenchman nor a Breton, but a man of St.-Malo.
Saint Malo was also the harbor from where the French explorers departed to America. Jacques Cartier, who discovered Canada, was himself a Malouin, born and is buried in Saint Malo. His house, a typical “Malouinière” (seconderay houses owned by rich Malouins on the outskirts of the city) from the 16th century is still standing and it is possible to visit it. The city is also one of the birthplace of Romanticism François-René de Chateaubriand, the father of Romanticism, is buried on the “Petit Bé” island, just outside of the walled city.
In summer, musicians, jugglers, bands, acrobats, and other entertainers are on nearly every street at St Malo; cafe tables overflow on the streets; flowers are everywhere. It’s lively, energetic, fun, and festive.