Since it’s Memorial Day weekend in the United States, the unofficial beginning of summer, I’ve been thinking about great summer getaways I’ve enjoyed in France. A few years ago, my daughter and I were spending the summer at the Institut de Touraine during a particularly hot spell. Naturally, there was no air-conditioning either at school or our apartment. One day, my daughter actually passed out in class! A weekend by the sea-side was not just a good idea, it was medically necessary!
The problem was where to go? EVERYONE was in the same boat. When we went to the SNCF office, trains to everywhere I could think of were already sold out. The lovely young man behind the counter suggested Saint-Malo, in Brittany on the English Channel. We booked our tickets on the spot and then began the task of finding a hotel. We had to cast our net a bit wider due to the last-minute timing. We booked a room at Hôtel La Rance in Saint-Servan, a community that has been enfolded within the official embrace of Saint-Malo. The hotel was lovely, homey and family run. It was located right on the bay at the foot of the 14th century tour Solidor and our window opened onto a balcony and let in a welcome sea breeze or une brises de mer (breeze duh mare).
Saint-Servan is about 20 minutes on foot from the walled city of Saint-Malo. The city ramparts are the main attraction. On one side are amazing sea views and on the other are the grey-blue stone walls of the medieval houses of the old town. Saint-Malo dates back to the 6th century and it has a proud history of independence. In the 15th century, its motto was “not French, not Breton, but Malouin.” It was the home to many corsairs – a kind of cross between pirates and naval ships that patrolled national waters. The most famous was Robert Surcouf. They could engage any foreign ship in battle and take its cargo and the ship itself as a prize and the men of Saint-Malo grew rich on their spoils. Jacques Cartier, the great explorer, was from Saint-Malo. The tides change the landscape dramatically. At low tide, the islands of Grand and Petit Bé are accessible across the sands. There’s a seawater pool so that swimmers can enjoy the saltwater without the danger of undertows. There are great restaurants that specialize in seafood, crêpes, or both together. After a wonderful weekend in Saint-Malo, we returned to our studies in Tours, rested and refreshed by the fresh brises de mer.