Day Tripping: Saint Malo’s Ramparts

Ramparts (Port Side)

We’ve been having a week of rain mixed with sunny moments!  Basically the sun comes out and we immediately run outside to enjoy it all the while praying that the wind won’t blow another shower our way until we’re safely indoors again!  After voting and a light lunch, we made the most of the sun by heading over to Saint Malo and Intra-Muros.  Intra-Muros, the walled-city, is the city’s most popular tourist destination and one of my favorite places to go for a walk!  The city, despite its appearance, is by and large not that old.  Most of the walled-city was reduced to rubble during WWII (80% of the buildings were destroyed) and it was carefully rebuilt following the war.  Today the citadel is alive with cafés, stores, bars, and window-shopping opportunities galore!  Take your time perusing the boutiques, check out the cathedral and then sit down for some ice cream or a crêpe.  If you have small children and are bringing your stroller, expect a bumpy ride; the cobblestone streets while lovely are not designed for strollers.  You can push yours–I have plenty of experience–but it is not a lot of fun.

Looking Down at Grande Plage from the Ramparts

While I love walking around the inside of the city, today we decided to take the high road and explore the ramparts.  If you are willing to carry your stroller up the stairs to get started, the ramparts are actually the most stroller-friendly part of the city.  The walkways are smooth and the few steps you encounter going around are easily surmountable.  The ramparts run from Porte St. Vincent to Porte St. Thomas.  The castle, now a local history museum, sits between St. Vincent and St. Thomas.   For centuries, as a walled city, anyone entering Intra-Muros has to pass through one of the citadel’s eight gates (portes in French).  Today, they remain open welcoming residents and visitors alike.  In addition the Porte de Dinan, the Grande Porte and Porte Saint Vincent all have stairs leading to the ramparts.  (There are other access points as well which you can come across while wandering around the city.)  Once you make it to the top, you will be rewarded with great views of the port, Dinard and the open sea beyond.  You will also get a crash course in Saint Malo’s favored sons.

Surcrouf Statue (Ramparts)

Several statues line the ramparts including those of Jacques Cartier and Robert Surcrouf.  Cartier (1491-1557), was a Saint Malo native and explorer.  He claimed today’s Canada for the French king laying the foundations for francophone Quebec.  He is interred not far from the ramparts in St. Vincent’s Cathedral.  While Cartier left his imprint on the other side of the world, Surcrouf (1773-1827) is more of a local character.  Known as the Roi des Corsaires, King of the Corsairs, Surcrouf successfully captured 47 ships, majoritarily British.  As a successful privateer, Surcrouf amassed both a reputation for gallantry and chivalry as well as a sizeable personal fortune!  His statue is located in a garden along the ramparts.

Vauban's Fort (Petit-Bé)

Several canon are on display here recalling the ramparts original military role.  The guns point out toward the ocean, Grand-Bé, and Petit-Bé island and the views from the ramparts are breathtaking.  If you want to get a closer look, from the Plage de Bons Secours below, you can easily walk out to both Grand and Petit-Bé at low tide.  Chateaubriand, a famous 19th century French writer, is buried facing the sea on Grand-Bé while Vauban’s 17th century fort perches atop Petit-Bé.  I find the fort a more interesting destination but judging by today’s crowds, Chateaubriand’s tomb is the more popular destination.  As you continue heading around the ramparts, yet another fort appears before you.

Fort National

Fort National, another one of Vauban’s forts, was built in 1689 to further improve Saint Malo’s defenses against the British.  You can walk up to the Fort at low tide and it is open to visitors daily from June to September.  (The Fort is also open for holiday weekends in May.)  As a simple rule of thumb, the Fort is open to visitors when the flag is hoisted.  Admission includes a guided tour.  We visited the Fort several years ago and enjoyed the visit in French.  While our guide attempted to help the visiting English-speakers, his language skills were very limited and they had to make do with a basic English language handout.  To be fair, I don’t know if any efforts have been made since then to help non-French speakers learn about the Fort’s history–the poor English on their website, however, is not a good sign.  Regardless of whether or not you wish to visit the Fort itself, admiring it from the ramparts is already a neat moment.  The ramparts end at the Porte St. Thomas.  From here, you can wander out onto the beach to explore the forts, see Chateaubriand’s tomb or just relax and build a sand castle.  If you’re feeling peckish after the stroll, simply turn into the walled city and pick the first café that strikes your interest!  Enjoy!

 

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