After an amazing week in Berlin, we made the journey ( three trains, a cab and a bus!) to Brittany, a region in Northeastern France. I had come here as a child and had fond memories, but besides remembering this is where I learnt bocce, tried mussels for the first time and had a good time, I really remembered nothing and had no idea what to expect. I can definitely say Brittany delivered! It is a gorgeous region of beautiful nature, amazing food and medieval towns. This post has the full details on the first half of our trip, based out of Saint Malo, and details on the second half in Quiberon can be found here.
Since our stopover in Rennes wasn’t apart of the original plan we didn’t really know much about the city, all we knew is we had time to kill before the car rental place opened in the afternoon. We quickly discovered that Rennes, specifically Old Town where we were was dead on a Sunday. Not a single store was open and about every other restaurant was closed. We found a place for coffee to sit down and make a plan for the day and then begun our little walking tour of Rennes with another stop at the one of the bakeries.
We wandered into the market which had some stalls open, saw the Brittany Parliament building, Place de Champ Jacquet and explored the medieval streets. After sufficiently exploring the beautiful ( but dead) streets of Rennes we packed up and headed to the Europcar dealership where we picked up our little Fiat! We got an Olive Fiat 500 (which is actually more grey) which ended up being the most perfect car ever. However, we faced our next challenge as it was a manual car ( as most car rentals are in Europe) and my boyfriend has driven manual about once in his life. It was surprisingly easy though and we got out Rennes and into St. Malo with barely a stall!
We got into St. Malo just before dinner so after settling in we headed off into the main walled town for fish and chips at Topkaki! Topkaki looks like a turkish sandiwich from the outside ( and it is) but according to everyone online it had the best fish and chips. It definitely did not disappoint, the fish was so so fresh and the tartar sauce was great! Also they serve their fries with mayo and vinegar not ketchup so you know its legit.
After a few hectic days of travelling we took today a bit slower and just wandered around St. Malo. The weather in Brittany is very funny as it feels like multiple seasons in a day. We woke up to dark clouds and a cool breeze but after popping into shops all mornings the sky quickly became blue and the weather became hot! The walled town of St. Malo is filled with beautiful streets, cute little shops and a ton of creperies. We grabbed coffee and a sweet crepe as a mid morning snack post shopping before heading out on the ramparts of the city.
The ramparts of St. Malo are totally free to get on and walk on. Definitely a must-do in St. Malo, you get amazing views of the town and the sea from all sides. You can walk around the entire town and then also climb down to walk out to a lighthouse, the fort national or grand bea. The harbour looks beautiful, especially when there is blue skies.
After doing a big walk around the town we headed back down for lunch in town. We walked along Rue Jacques Cartier until we found a restaurant that had a prix fixed mussels menu for 11.90 EU and split mussels and a salad for lunch. Because the town is so small it can be hard to find more affordable food options so settling for a lunch prix fixed is a great option.
Afterwards we headed out to the Saint Malo Cathedral.
St. Malo is located very close to Cancale which is a huge producer of oysters. As someone who loves oysters I really wanted to see the town and their oyster market so we headed over here. The town itself is super cute! Its tiny and pretty much just full of houses and seafood restaurants but all the houses are in a very coastal style and there are hydragenas blooming everywhere. We got to the oyster market as they were closing up but it was still quite busy with people buying a dozen oysters and eating them right on the beach. We were heading to another place so we didn’t grab oysters here but I really want to come back and do this as it looked so fun to eat fresh oysters on plastic plates steps from the market and the prices were really affordable!
When researching Cancale and oysters I stumbled upon Tonneau in LeVivier-Sur-Mer which had rave reviews online and a lot of people saying they were the best oysters of their lives so naturally we had to go here to try them. The “restaurant” isn’t really a restaurant as much as a stand alongside the road, outside the oyster farm, with lots of seating. There is a walk up desk where you can buy oysters and mussels to go or you can take a seat at one of the tables and order your oysters ( Number 1,2,3 or 4s in orders of 6,9 or 12) or mussels.
We got the 9 number 3s as that was all they had left today and a soup de poisson. We also ended up trying their apple juice as my boyfriend didn’t want to drink before driving back home. The apple juice was actually incredible and we ended up buying a bottle to bring home. The oysters were incredible! Very fresh, very flavourful in a sea-y way and huge! I can’t imagine what the number 1 or 2s were if these were the 3s. The tables also look right over the oyster farm and the beach. Such a cool experience and way better than paying a fortune for oysters in a restaurant in town!
Today we set off to explore the Emerald Coast! The stretch of coast that St. Malo lies on was nicknamed the Emerald Coast due to the turquoise waters that are unique to this area. I was actually amazed when we first got to St. Malo at the colour of the water as it looks tropical and should be found in the south of France not the north.
The route we took from St. Malo to Fort du Latte took us through tiny villages, along the coast and through fields of purple flowers, it was an absoluetly stunning drive! We finally made it to our first stop, which was Fort du Latte. This is an old fort from the 13th century that looks out over the sea. The fort was recently restored and turned into a national history site and you can walk through the fort and the grounds. The fort itself its quite cool and has a lot of history in it but it is really the surroundings that make it so memorial. It juts out on a cliff over top emerald water with fields of wild flowers in the background. You can climb up the towers of the fort to get even better views of the area.
On the way out of the fort we stopped at the little outdoor food stall to grab some ice cream/sorbet. This was some of the best sorbet I have ever had- the pear had chunks of real pear in it! Our next stop was Cap Frehel which is just down the road from the fort. This is a beautiful place to see the coast as the point of the cap gives great views of the huge cliffs of Brittany over the beautiful water below. We walked around the top of the cliffs admiring the coast from all angles, as well as the two lighthouse onto the cliffs. This was a big spot for hikers who were hiking the trials that run around the whole coast of Brittany and there are people picnicking all over the rocks.
On our way back we stopped at all the scenic spots we drove past earlier to take photos ( including this incredible field of flowers) and also went into a tiny hillside town to grab a sandwich at a boulangerie. I also picked up a Breton Tarte, which was a custard, pear and apricot tarte and one of my new favourites pastries! I really wish I remember what town we stopped in because this boulangerie was amazing! But I guess thats the charm of driving through small villages, you never know what you will find!
For dinner tonight we just picked up ingredients at the grocery store and made dinner in our Airbnb and then brought some cider down to the beach to watch the sunset.
Our plans today were quite ambitious but we knew we couldn’t be this close to Normandy and not visit Juno beach. We started off our trip to Normandy by driving to Mont St Michel, the beautiful abby built into a hill in the sea that looks straight out of a fairy tale. To visit Mont St Michel you park outside the town in big parking lots and then take shuttle buses over to the town. Parking is half price if you get in and out in under two hours and you pay where the shuttle buses drop you off so make sure to keep your ticket on you.
We got into Mont St Michel at the highest tide so the town really felt like an isolated island. The town itself it quite small, mostly just full of touristy stores and restaurants ( including a restaurant where you can get a $30 omelette!) but its fun to wander the streets on the way to the main attraction, the abby!
We got really lucky with the abbey as the sign said students tickets were 8EU and it was free from EU citizens under 26 but when we handed over our student cards the man at the desk refused our money and gave us tickets for free! Not sure if this was a mistake, because we were Canadian( they always ask) or he just felt like being nice but hey I’ll take it! The abbey itself is so impressive. It is currently being restored but they able to keep all of it open still so the restorations don’t impact the experience. Definitely pick up one of the information sheets at the beginning that explains each room and its purpose. After spending so much time in Gothic and Rennasaince churches it was amazing to be in a truly medieval abbey. Also considering it was built in— the architecture is very impressive. The abbey gives amazing views over the surrounding area. Also when we were there were art installations around the abbey which were actually worked really well in the space and added to the experience.
After seeing the Abby we headed back to our car and hopped on the road to Juno Beach. The drive was long so we stopped into Caen for a quick lunch ( and saw a leaning church!!!).
We headed to the Juno Beach Centre where we ran into a fellow Queen’s Grad who was working there as part of their Young Guides program. It was cool to see how small the world one once we found our piece of Canada in France. We started off our visit by going through the museum which covers the history of Canada’s involvement the war, as well as political/social history of Canada and how it was shaped by the war. The museum ends with a cool exhibit showcasing Canada’s multiculturalism by featuring the background and stories of a wide range of Canadians. It just shows you how everyone in Canada is invested in Canada and invested in creating a safe and stable environment for peace.
After we went through the museum we met up with our guide for a tour of the beach and some of the remaining war bunkers. This was really cool as we actually got to go into the bunkers and see where parts of the war took place. Our guide did an amazing job in attempting to stress the gravity of what happened on the beach from the devastation in the first moments of landing on the beach to how young so many of the soldiers were. All the guides are history students so she was able to answer a lot of questions about the war and Canada at that time. As a Canadian it was a truly incredible experience to stand on the beach where soldiers my age stood many years before and risked their lives to save the world from evil. Its hard to put into words how moving both the museum and the tour was but Juno is really one of the those you have to see it to experience it places. We walked around the beach at the end of the tour and then begun the long drive home for dinner.
We drove straight to the walled part of St. Malo when we got in as we were starving and ended up at a cute little Breton restaurants for dinner. This is a super small, very local restaurant with very eclectic style ( all the walls are covered in world flags and currency). We both got their mussels which came as an absoluetly huge bowl!
This was our last morning in our Airbnb here so we packed up the car to move to Quiberon for the rest of our trip. On the way to Quiberon we stopped in Dinan, a small medieval town that is known as one of the prettiest towns in the area.
It is a walled town just like St. Malo so we started by walking along the ramparts and then down to Rue Du Jerzual which is the prettiest street in the town and possibly the prettiest street I have ever seen.
After grabbing some coffee we headed off to Quiberon!