48 hours in St Malo

Take an overnight ferry and wake up for breakfast in St Malo, Brittany, whose walled old town once thronged with spice traders and pirates, says travel writer Carolyn Boyd.

Hit the beach, trawl the food shops and gorge on galettes, oysters and proper cider…

48 hours in St Malo

Galette time

Legend has it that buckwheat was introduced to the region in the 16th century by Queen Anne de Bretagne after crusaders brought it back from Asia. You’re most likely to see blé noir on menus in the form of galettes, the golden savoury (and gluten-free) pancakes. At the shop La Maison du Sarrasin (10 rue de l’Orme) in the walled town (known as the Intra-Muros), you can try or buy buckwheat in many other forms, such as bread, biscuits and confectionery.

Galette

Two doors down at Breizh Café (6 Rue de l’Orme), named after the Breton word for Brittany, you’ll find an enticing menu of galettes with sophisticated fillings such as voluptuous local scallops or smoked herring. For dessert, try a crêpe (made with wheat flour) with fillings such as lemon zest and cream, or caramelised apples flambéed with calvados. Fancy learning how to make your own? Take a class (€85, Saturdays 9am-1pm) at the Atelier des Crêpes on the quay east of the old walled town.

Butter and spice

Also on rue de l’Orme, the Maison du Beurre is a temple to Brittany’s other staple – butter. It’s owned by Jean-Yves Bordier, the last of Brittany’s butter artisans to knead his churned butter in a wooden cylinder, sprinkling fine sea salt into it by hand as he goes. The shop incorporates a small museum display about how the butter is made, while the counter offers varieties including seaweed butter and sweet Madagascan vanilla. Next door is Le Bistro Autour du Beurre, a small restaurant serving a sublime menu of local produce.

Butter

Saint Malo’s sailors played a key role in the spice trade and these exotic flavours had a strong influence on renowned local chef Olivier Roellinger, who closed down his three-Michelin-starred restaurant in order to concentrate full-time on searching the globe for its best spices. His shop, the Epicerie Roellinger (10-12 Rue Saint-Vincent), is an Aladdin’s cave of enticing flavours, including spices, herbs, seaweeds and pepper, as well as blends to pep up your cooking.

Spices

 

Craft beer has reached the land of wine lovers

All aboard for cocktails

Craft beer has reached the land of wine lovers. In the heart of the old town, head for the microbrewery bar Les Brassins de Saint Malo (4 rue Chateaubriand; Thu-Sun, from 5pm) and while away an hour with a tipple and a charcuterie board. Fancy a cocktail instead? Jump aboard one of the tall ships that take day-trippers out around the Emerald Coast. Etoile Marine has a fleet of four elegant old-style sailing ships, complete with billowing sails and rigging. Between June and August there are sunset cocktail cruises (Thu and Sun, €70pp) and, on Thursdays, Cuisine Corsaire trips (€139pp) where you’ll see your fancy meal prepared on board by chef Emmanuel Tessier before devouring it as the sun sets.

Brassins

Out of town: oysters, cider and fine dining

If you’ve brought your car on the ferry (you can also get the bus), there’s two Michelin-starred dining a 25-minute drive across the headland in a stunning spot overlooking the sea at restaurant Le Coquillage. Spice man Olivier Roellinger’s son Hugo serves a menu that blends produce such as the local seaweed, lobster and scallops with exquisite spices; his cuisine is intended to evoke a journey on the world’s oceans.

A couple of miles north of there at Cancale is the beachside oyster market, where some of the area’s best oyster farmers sell by the half-dozen from stalls shaded by blue-and-white-striped canopies. It’s a glorious spot; sit on the beach and swig back the oysters while you gaze at Mont Saint Michel. You can take a tour of the oyster beds with farmer-turned-guide Inga Smyczynski to understand this extraordinary culture.

In Brittany, cider is the traditional drink, whether it’s doux (sweet) or brut (dry) or somewhere in between (demi-sec). It’s often served in a bol, a traditional ceramic cup. Head to the family-run Ciderie Sorre, a 30-minute car/ bus ride inland at Plerguer, which offers tastings and a large choice of cider and apple juice.

 

Getting there

Take the ferry direct from Portsmouth with Brittany Ferries, which offers a return for a car and two adults with an en-suite cabin on the outward overnight sailing, from £416. brittany-ferries.co.uk

Where to stay

Hotel les Charmettes is a pleasant walk from the town walls along the seafront. Doubles from €74 room only. Paid parking can be reserved.

Le Grand Bé is a modern four-star hotel inside the old town, with doubles from €139 room-only. Parking available.

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