Saint-Malo is a walled port city in Brittany in northwestern France on the English Channel. Saint-Malo during the Middle Ages was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance River, controlling not only the estuary but the open sea beyond. The promontory fort of Aleth, south of the modern centre in what is now the Saint-Servan district, commanded approaches to the Rance even before the Romans, but modern Saint-Malo traces its origins to a monastic settlement founded by Saint Aaron and Saint Brendan early in the 6th century. Its name is derived from a man said to have been a follower of Brendan, Saint Malo.
Saint-Malo had a tradition of asserting its autonomy in dealings with the French authorities and even with the local Breton authorities. From 1490–1493, Saint-Malo declared itself to be an independent republic, taking the motto “not French, not Breton, but Malouins”. Saint-Malo became notorious as the home of the corsairs, French privateers and sometimes pirates. In the 19th century this “piratical” notoriety was portrayed in Jean Richepin’s play Le flibustier and in César Cui’s eponymous opera. The corsairsof Saint-Malo not only forced English ships passing up the Channel to pay tribute, but also brought wealth from further afield. Jacques Cartier, who sailed the Saint Lawrence River and visited the sites of Quebec City and Montreal – and is thus credited as the discoverer of Canada, lived in and sailed from Saint-Malo, as did the first colonists to settle the Falklands – hence the islands’ French name Îles Malouines, which gave rise to the Spanish name Islas Malvinas. In 1758 the Raid on St Malo saw a British expedition land intending to capture the town. However the British made no attempt on St Malo, and instead occupied the nearby town of St Servan where they destroyed 30 privateers before departing. The commune of Saint-Servan was merged, together with Paramé, and became the commune of Saint-Malo in 1967. Saint Malo was the site of an Anglo-French summit in 1998 which led to a significant agreement regarding European defence policy. Now inseparably attached to the mainland, Saint-Malo is the most visited place in Brittany.
The walled city is easily covered on foot, but you can also opt for a small “Tourist Train” that takes you for a ride around the attractions.
Sites of interest include:
- The walled city (La Ville Intra-Muros)
- The château of Saint-Malo, part of which is now the town museum.
- The Solidor Tower in Saint-Servan is a 14th-century building that holds a collection tracing the history of voyages around Cape Horn. Many scale models, nautical instruments and objects made by the sailors during their crossing or brought back from foreign ports invoke thoughts of travel aboard extraordinary tall ships at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.
- The tomb of the writer Chateaubriand on the Ile du Grand Bé
- The Petit Bé
- The Cathedral of St. Vincent (see Saint-Malo Cathedral)
- The Privateer’s House (“La Demeure de Corsaire”), a ship-owner’s town house built in 1725, shows objects from the history of privateering, weaponry and ship models.
- The Great Aquarium Saint-Malo, one of the major aquaria in France.
- The labyrinthe du Corsaire, (an actraction park in Saint Malo)
- The Pointe de la Varde, Natural Park.
- The City of Alet, in front of Saint Malo Intra Muros.
- Fort National
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