The walled town of St Malo is unique in France, and as a result this ancient port is a great tourist attraction. Located in the Ille-et-Villaine department in Brittany, this seaside resort, famous for its ramparts and pirates in the past, is one of the top 10 places to visit on vacation in France.
Things to do in St Malo
Every tourist and visitor should spend time in the Old Town and on the Ramparts, walking round the top of the ramparts in 2 hours or so. Another 2-3 hours will be needed to explore the rest of the town, which is well geared to providing for tourists.
The leading attractions and things to do in St Malo include walking the walled city, and visiting the Privateer’s House, the Château of Saint-Malo (town museum) and the stunning Pointe de la Varde, Natural Park. Let’s look at all those attractions now.
The Walled City of St Malo
The walled city of Saint Malo lies on the English channel in Bretagne, France and is a site of the utmost historical importance. The area is known for its intense piracy history and it became an incredibly wealthy city thanks to extortion and other pirate adventures that took place overseas.
What’s really fascinating and something that, as a tourist, you have to experience is the location of Saint Malo.
It is set on a granite isle which is attached to mainland France by a causeway. Looking out from the mainland, you see the ancient city in all its glory. Get closer and you begin to see the intricacies of this very special site.
As well as three fortresses, the privateer’s house and many other historical attractions, Saint Malo is now home to plenty of other things to do. For example, the main street is lined with quaint cafes, many of which lie within the walls of the fortress.
A maze of narrow streets will lead you to the St Vincent cathedral, another local point of interest which was used by seamen many years ago as a guidepost. But what’s really special about this cathedral is that it is the final resting place of Jacques Cartier, the man who discovered Canada.
If you’re an ocean lover then Saint Malo will remain in your heart long after you’ve left. If it’s not for the ancient tales of pirates and seafarers, it’ll be because of the stunning beaches and breathtaking ocean views.
Head down to the beach for a range of exciting activities including sailing and windsurfing. Or, if you prefer, you can simply soak up the sun and enjoy the view as in summer, the weather here is very pleasant.
The Château of Saint-Malo (The Town Museum)
The castle of Saint Malo, known locally as the Chateau de Saint Malo is an ancient building that was first erected in 1424. Construction was started by the Duke of Brittany as he wanted a way to keep his hold over the town. What better way than to build an enormous castle? However, construction did not end until the late 1600s.
But the development of the site didn’t end there. After construction ended, it wasn’t long before the castle was given the once over. Only 100 years or so. After this, in the 19th century, it served for a period of time as a barracks.
Still standing in all its glory today, visitors to the castle can enjoy the Saint Malo museum which is housed here. This is a great opportunity to learn about the local history; of which, there is a lot!
The area is famed for pirates and nautical tales so you’ll find plenty of exhibitions at the castle to educate yourself on this.
But there are also lots of pieces that help visitors gain an understanding of how the town was deconstructed and reconstructed and how it was occupied during World War ll, so there’s plenty to learn!
If you’re keen to see Saint Malo from a different perspective then the castle is well worth a visit. Head up to the top of the tower and you will get amazing views across the city and out to sea.
It truly is a sight for sore eyes. At night, the castle is illuminated and casts a gentle glow across the area if you want to catch some Insta-worthy snaps.
The Privateer’s House – St Malo
Brittany, and in particular, Saint Malo, has a rich and diverse maritime history. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that there are lots of pirate themed activities to engage in.
One particular attraction is the privateer’s house, an old accommodation which was lived in by a man named Robert Surcouf. He was a privateer who is credited with capturing as many as 47 pirate ships that had sailed in from the Indian Ocean.
As a result of this, M. Surcouf became very well known and incredibly wealthy. As a result of his success as a privateer, he went on to become captain where he continued his plight of capturing pirates.
His dedication was recognised by the French government and as such, he was heavily rewarded. But what’s most astonishing is that essentially, Surcouf was capturing his own since a privateer is nothing more than a pirate approved by the authorities. We’d say he had it pretty good.
All of this took place back in the 1700s but the privateer’s house still stands and has become one of the most popular attractions in Saint Malo. As well as this, you will find the city wall and fortresses as well as Saint Malo castle all with some interesting seafaring tales.
If you have a craving for nautical knowledge, then Saint Malo is the place to be. As well as a wealth of educational visits relating to the infamous Robert Surcouf, you will find several other historical figures just waiting to be discovered.
The Pointe de la Varde Natural Park
For stunning views and getting back in touch with nature, the Pointe de la Varde is the perfect day out.
Located at Saint Malo, this is a six hectare area which has had a heavy focus on preservation and biodiversity in recent years. There have been many improvements made to the area including the simple removal of a shellfish hut that served as an eyesore.
At either end of the nature walk at the Pointe de la Varde, you will find beautiful beaches. To the north is the incredible Nicet beach which is a slightly higher point at 32 metres above sea level.
From here, visitors have an amazing vantage point to get panoramic views out across the ocean and back over the walk they have just taken.
To the south end of the Pointe de la Varde, you will find a lovely family beach so this is just as much a day out for the kids as it is for mum and dad.
However, do keep in mind that this is an unsupervised beach and is pretty quiet on most days. The rocky inlets and smooth sands are the perfect place to relax after a long day of hiking.
There are some interesting architectural points along the Pointe de la Varde including several German blockhouses. It’s strange that these remain considering how the area has been recently worked on but they’re certainly an interesting addition.
Bird lovers will be in their element at the Pointe de la Varde since this seems to be a haven for many different species. So be sure to bring your binoculars.
Other places to see in St Malo
The Solidor Tower in Saint-Servan is a 14th-century building that holds a collection tracing the history of voyages around Cape Horn.
The tomb of the writer Chateaubriand on the Ile du Grand Bé.
The Petit Bé.
The Cathedral of St. Vincent.
The Great Aquarium Saint-Malo, one of the major aquaria in France.
The labyrinthe du Corsaire, (an attraction park in Saint Malo).
St Malo yesterday and today
During the Middle Ages Saint Malo was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance, 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.
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 or Maclou.
The privateers’ walled town surrounded by ramparts is still an active commercial port. It is the biggest port on the north coast of Brittany.