I'd been promising myself for a long time that I'd come and explore Brittany. And this June, I set foot on Breton soil with a particular emotion for the first time. This is the story of our week-long excursion to the Saint-Malo region. This article titled "Brittany Unveiled" will give you some great ideas for discovery and inspire you to come and explore this pretty corner of Brittany!
Watch our video "Brittany Unveiled"!
This video summarises our trip to Brittany and was made from small video clips taken with my iPhone:
Brittany Unveiled: New Discoveries
After seven weeks in Annecy and Savoie, we returned home to the south of England to pack for another French getaway, this time to a completely different region: Brittany.
So, ten days after leaving the French Alps, we crossed the English Channel by ferry from Portsmouth to Saint-Malo.
We live a 15-minute drive from Portsmouth harbour, so we travelled to France in our British car for the first time.
And as our car isn't new, I wanted to avoid driving long distances once we got to France.
The Saint-Malo area seemed attractive enough for us to discover this part of Brittany.
And we were right! There's so much to see around Saint-Malo.
So much to see in 7 days!
These seven days have proved insufficient to respect the list of sites to see that I had set myself at the outset. Sites such as Cap Fréhel, Dinard and Fougères fell by the wayside.
But we were able to discover other must-see destinations such as Mont Saint-Michel, Saint-Malo, Dinan and Dol-de-Bretagne.
And the weather?
Apart from a few foggy mornings, it was very kind to us. We took the opportunity to spend half a day at the beach. So our first impression of Brittany was of a sunny region, almost enough to make the French Riviera green with envy!
Brittany Unveiled: A Seven-Day Trip
Here's the report on our seven-day trip to the Saint-Malo region.
Brittany Unveiled - Saturday 10th of June
Rachel, Aimée and I left Portsmouth on the cross-Channel ferry on Saturday evening.
It was a first for me: taking our car to France! We usually fly there from Gatwick.
The weather was quite cloudy, but we could admire the port city from another angle.
The sea wasn't rough, and the night went relatively well. To think that tomorrow morning we'll be in France... what a thrill!
Brittany Unveiled - Sunday 11th of June
This morning we were woken up on the ferry by traditional Breton music. It was a rude awakening - 6 am local time (but 5 am in England). A glance out of the porthole and, oh surprise, the boat was already moored in the port of Saint-Malo. And I thought we still had 2 hours of sailing ahead of us!
I went up on deck to admire Saint-Malo for the first time. The morning mist was due to give way to sunshine later in the day.
Once disembarked, we drove to the car park closest to the ramparts of Saint-Malo. It was Sunday morning, around 9.30 am, and there was no traffic - ideal for driving on the right-hand side of the road in a British car with the steering wheel on the wrong side!
In fact, I found that driving in France this way wasn't a problem - I must admit I was a bit relieved. A Frenchman driving a British car in France, you have to admit it's funny!
If you're not tempted by the experience of driving a British car, you can always hire one (with the steering wheel on the right side!) in Saint-Malo. Fill in the form below and let DiscoverCars guide you:
Our accommodation would be ready at 4 pm, so we took the opportunity to explore Saint-Malo in the morning.
We started by following the walkway along the ramparts of the old town. As someone who loves fortifications and castles, I was delighted!
Then, once we were level with the castle, we took to the old streets in the shadow of the cathedral. We took the opportunity to sit down at a tearoom selling delicious buttery croissants.
Before leaving the city, we needed some bread - we found some excellent traditional baguettes at the Boulangerie-Pâtisserie de la Cathédrale, located at 1 Rue du Pourpris (closed on Mondays).
Plage du Guesclin
By midday, the tourists were beginning to fill the streets of Saint-Malo, and our visit over, we wanted to get away from the city.
As I wrote earlier, we still had a whole afternoon before arriving at our accommodation. So we followed the tourist route from Saint-Malo to Cancale along the Emerald Coast.
After a 13 km drive, we reached Plage du Guesclin, a magnificent beach of fine sand dominated by a small island on which stands Fort du Guesclin.
Pointe du Grouin
After splashing around in the water, we reached the Pointe du Grouin, with its breathtaking panorama of the Emerald Coast and the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.
Here, I caught my first glimpse of the famous Mont Saint-Michel, 25 km away as the crow flies.
Once we reached our destination, we drifted into a peaceful sleep until the early morning hours.
Brittany Unveiled - Monday 12th of June
At around 4.30 am, we were woken by the cockerel, whose cry was not a cheerful "cocorico" but rather a hoarse, even mournful one.
Perhaps the bird couldn't understand why the sun hadn't broken through the morning haze, so it continued crowing until after 7 am.
Ah, what a rooster! We were tempted to make a coq au vin for lunch. Fortunately, the owner placed it in a place far away from our room for the following nights! Who knows, maybe she thought we'd make good on our threats?
The weather forecast had predicted a week of fine weather, but we had to admit that the morning fog was having trouble disappearing. I had planned a visit to Dinan, but we decided on a more local excursion to Dol-de-Bretagne, our base for this Breton week.
After shopping at the supermarket, we explored Dol-de-Bretagne on foot, looking for good bakeries and Breton produce.
In the afternoon, we climbed the hill of Mont-Dol to enjoy the beautiful panorama over the Dol-de-Bretagne region and the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel.
The site boasts an old chapel, a monumental statue of the Virgin Mary with a belvedere and a windmill.
In search of Mont-Saint-Michel
We could see Mont Saint-Michel in the distance from the summit of Mont-Dol, although the view was hazy.
We then drove west to the village of Roz-sur-Couesnon. Built on a hill overlooking the Dol marshes, it offers an exceptional view of Mont Saint-Michel.
Brittany Unveiled - Tuesday 13th of June
On Tuesday, we took the N176 expressway to Dinan, one of Brittany's most visited historic towns. I'd hoped to get there on a sunny day and the weather was perfect, if not a little bit too warm!
Leaving Rachel and Aimée behind in the shops and restaurants, I wandered the streets of the upper town before making my way to the port at the bottom of the hill.
The timber-framed houses, churches and views make this a top tourist destination. It's not for nothing that many English and Americans, not forgetting Germans, can be heard here!
Aimée and I climbed to the top of the clock tower to round off our visit to Dinan for a 360-degree view of the town.
Follow our visit of Dinan on the blog with more photos: Explore Dinan in 10 Remarkable Landmarks.
For a long time now, I've been in the habit of visiting a village belonging to the 'Les Plus Beaux Villages de France' label when I see a region.
The nearest was Saint-Suliac, on the banks of the River Rance, between Dinan and Saint-Malo.
While Aimée played on the sandy beach and Rachel rested, I wandered through the narrow old streets of the village and visited the parish church, which dates back to the 13th century.
Brittany Unveiled - Wednesday 14th of June
This Wednesday's visit was to be the highlight of the show! And to do that, I needed bright sunshine that would allow me to take some great photos (unlike previous mornings when the fog concealed the horizon).
The day's programme was the most visited monument in France (after those in Paris): Mont Saint-Michel.
I'd been dreaming of seeing it ever since I was a kid. For us French, the triangle-shaped hill of Mont-Saint-Michel is an iconic landscape part of our national heritage.
So, even though I'd never been there, the site was familiar to me. And yet, when I saw it for the first time, I had to pinch myself to know whether it was real or just a vision.
Our walk to Mont-Saint-Michel
We arrived at the car park around 10.30 am, just before the big tourist rush. At the tourist office, the receptionists told us that today was supposed to be a quiet day.
However, there were queues for the shuttle buses that ran from the car park to the foot of the village. We preferred to walk there, which was an excellent idea.
Along the canalised Couesnon, we passed the dam and then walked along the road to the village. It was a superb walk with a constant and magnificent view of the mount.
Meeting the crowd!
Once we reached the foot of the village, we passed through the town gate, and things started to go wrong. The calm of the walk was over; the narrow, sloping Grande Rue was full of people, and it wasn't easy to find a way through. I knew this was to be expected, but naively I had thought that - perhaps - this 'quiet' Wednesday would have limited the crowds on the Mont.
We painstakingly made our way to the top of the village and then struggled to find a shady spot to eat lunch.
The footpath was very close to our resting place. I took the opportunity to admire the view over the village's roofs and the bay at low tide.
Visit of the abbey church
However, our visit coincided with a large school group of English-speaking children, which didn't allow us to explore the site calmly and serenely.
Back to the car park via the Ramparts
We made our way back down to the beach along the picturesque Chemin des Remparts.
The queue for the shuttle buses was huge, and we again opted to walk back to the car park.
According to my calculations, we walked 10 km that day - so we were pretty tired when we got home.
A mixed experience
Our visit to Mont Saint-Michel was, therefore, a mixed experience. On the one hand, we were happy to have seen the monument, but the crowds dulled the magic of the place.
I've already learnt a lot from this visit, and there's no doubt I'll publish a helpful article to help you make the most of your visit to Mont-Saint-Michel if the adventure tempts you!
Admission to the village is free (this is a commune of France, not a monument as such!). You only have to pay for parking, but there are other places to park your car for free if you're prepared to walk an extra 30 minutes. There is a charge for entering the abbey. You can click here to buy your entrance ticket in advance.
Call us crazy, but after Mont-Saint-Michel, we headed to Dol-de-Bretagne to chill out and enjoy an ice cream. We spotted 'un glacier' on the high street, and it was a good choice.
While Rachel did some shopping, Aimée and I went into Dol Cathedral, a marvel of Gothic art in Brittany.
The cathedral's fabulous treasures were well worth a look!
Then, we left the church and took the car for another 10 minutes to our accommodation.
Brittany Unveiled - Thursday 15th of June
Anse du Verger (Part 1)
This Thursday, I had planned to visit the historic town of Fougères and its castle. But after an exhausting day at Mont-Saint-Michel and Aimée's growing frustration, I decided to change plans and take a family day at the beach.
We set our sights on a Cancale beach in the Anse du Verger. It's an 800-metre-long beach of fine sand framed by beautiful rock formations.
But we found out the hard way that nudism was unofficially tolerated on one part of the beach (the furthest one). "Quick, Aimée, close your eyes and let's turn around!"
While Rachel and Aimée had a good time relaxing on the sand (out of reach of nudists!), I set off to explore the eastern approaches to Anse du Verger.
From the Pointe de la Moulière, the view of the sea and the coast was magnificent. It's not for nothing that this part of the Breton coast is called the Emerald Coast.
On the way home, we stopped at Cancale, a seaside resort famous for its oysters!
Brittany Unveiled - Friday 16th of June
Anse du Verger (Part 2)
On 16 June, it was Aimée's 10th birthday! This trip to Brittany was partly dedicated to her as our daughter wanted to celebrate this event in France.
"So, Aimée, where do you want to go for your birthday?
"To the beach and the aquarium in Saint-Malo!"
So we returned to the beach where we'd had a good time yesterday. You know, the Plage du Verger in Cancale, where you have to be careful not to go to the very end of the beach, where you might meet some "tout-nus" (i.e. nudists).
Yesterday, I explored the eastern part of the beach. Today, I headed west of the Anse du Verger, following the coastal path.
After breathtaking views, I reached the Les Daules guardhouse before returning to join Rachel and Aimée for a picnic and a splash in the water.
Grand Aquarium de Saint-Malo
Aimée had learned about the Saint-Malo aquarium from a tourist brochure. She had set her sights on this flagship attraction in the region.
To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect. Rachel and I were certainly blasés after visiting the must-see Sydney Aquarium when we lived in Australia.
But within the first few minutes of the visit, we realised that we were in a beautiful aquarium, with careful staging and decoration.
Aimée loved watching the seahorses and the exotic fish.
The area that impressed us most was the Ring of the Seas in the underwater grotto - a 360° immersion experience with its glass wall.
Click here to buy your entrance ticket to the Grand Aquarium de Saint-Malo.
Brittany Unveiled - Saturday 17th of June
On this last big day out in Brittany, the ultimate goal of our visits was the Domaine de La Bourbansais, renowned for its beautiful château and zoo.
Menhir de Champ-Dolent
We began our visit with a site near our accommodation: the Champ Dolent Menhir. This long stone stands 9.42 metres above the ground and is the second-largest standing menhir in Brittany.
The French are no strangers to menhirs, thanks to the success of the Asterix adventures. The Gaul Obelix is portrayed carrying a menhir on his back.
Along the way to the La Bourbansais estate, we stopped off in Combourg, a small town with a magnificent château that looked like it came out of the Loire Valley.
Aimée couldn't wait to discover La Bourbansais Zoo. And I was excited about photographing the beautiful château and its gardens.
We had high expectations regarding zoos, having visited Taronga Zoo in Sydney and Marwell Zoo in England.
But, once again, the Bretons impressed us. The zoo at La Bourbansais was well thought out and beautifully decorated. As for the animals, they were fascinating to discover and observe: monkeys, pink flamingos, lions, tigers, giraffes, wolves, and many more.
The bird show was the icing on the cake of our visit. As well as birds of prey, Aimée had never seen so many white storks, reminding her of Alsace!
Brittany Unveiled - Sunday 18th of June
On our final day, the weather worsened with a rainy morning. But for us, it wasn't a problem as we had planned to have a quiet day before the big start early tomorrow morning.
We drove 10 minutes to Cherrueix, a small coastal village in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, to get fresh air and stretch our legs.
We passed a folk festival at the windmill with Breton music.
We then went to the beach at Cherrueix, which is vast at low tide.
The village is home to some beautiful thatched cottages that are so typically Breton and so much of a change of scenery.
We spent the rest of the day packing and trying to fit everything into the car!
Brittany Unveiled - Monday 19th of June
From Saint-Malo to Portsmouth
On Monday, we got up earlier than usual to reach the port of Saint-Malo in time to catch the cross-Channel ferry.
The weather was slightly nicer than when we arrived a week earlier, and we could admire Saint-Malo and Dinard as we said goodbye to Brittany.
The boat crossed the Cotentin peninsula and the Channel Islands a little later. So, at a single glance, we could see Normandy and the island of Sark.
We still had 2 hours to go when the coast of the Isle of Wight came into view.
And, in glorious sunshine, we admired the city of Portsmouth like never before.
Once we disembarked and went through customs, we were home in 15 minutes.
Needless to say we were exhausted. It was a short and intense trip to Brittany, but we'll treasure our memories!
Food of Brittany Unveiled!
This seven-day trip to Brittany allowed us to sample some typically Breton food products.
Although the crêpe is probably the best-known Breton dish, we didn't eat any during our stay. Perhaps surprisingly, we preferred to concentrate on other produce.
So we had much fun tasting savoury and sweet Breton food:
Le salé (Savoury)
Oysters from Cancale and agneau de pré-salé (salt-meadow lamb).
Le sucré (Sweet)
Kouign-amann, palets bretons (biscuits), crêpes dentelle from Dinan, caramels au beurre salé, quatre-quart (buttery cake), niniches (lollipops), apple cider, etc.
And delicious coffee and speculoos éclairs for Aimée's 10th birthday! (The éclairs are not traditionally from Brittany, but they were really good!)
Le coup de cœur (Not Breton!)
Strangely enough, we fell in love with a cuisine that has nothing to do with Brittany—the tasty little Thai dishes from Chez Mae, 43 Grand Rue des Stuarts, in Dol-de-Bretagne. The dishes were so good that we went back several times to order takeaways.
Book your stay in Saint-Malo
The Saint-Malo region is highly touristy, so you'll find a wide choice of accommodation. Browse the map below to find out where to stay in the area:
What did we think of Brittany?
I had high expectations for this first trip to Brittany. The seven full days in the Saint-Malo region were intense for my family and me.
It was so much fun to discover fine sandy beaches that reminded us of Australia (although the water wasn't quite as warm), visit typical Breton towns and villages, taste delicious caramel and salted butter desserts, and meet new people.
An intense trip
The pace of the visits was fast, even if we deliberately changed our programme after a crazy day at Mont-Saint-Michel (the 'beach' day!).
Obviously, we had to experiment with visits and discover new sites for this blog. And a week to do it should be extended. I advise you to stay in the Saint-Malo area for at least two weeks so that you can take the time to relax during your stay.
Don't try to see and do everything. Unless you live there, it's impossible! I had to make choices when planning this trip from home. I would have liked to have visited châteaux, gardens, and other typical Breton villages, followed the Emerald Coast to Cap Fréhel, and eaten more Cancale oysters!
But I'm taking things as they come: we'll return to this beautiful country one day to continue our discoveries. After all, Saint-Malo is only 10 kilometres from where we live... as long as we take the cross-Channel ferry!
Finally, I want to thank you for following our Breton adventures, and I hope they have inspired you to discover Brittany for yourself.
Our next trip - God willing - will take us to Provence, to the pretty Luberon region, for five weeks from the end of September. We can't wait to share our future French discoveries with you!