Do the words “treasure hunt” make you shiver with excitement? Or at least start grinning like a kid and pretending to be a pirate? Two weeks ago, Anthony and I participated in a treasure hunt in Saint Malo and it was the most fun I’ve had in ages. Along with a hundred other wannabe pirates from Anthony’s office and their families, we set off in groups of ten around the walled city determined to bring back gold (or at least have a good time). Things started off in front of Intra-Muros with a briefing by two pirates in search of their lost treasure stolen, not by the English or the French authorities, but by their fellow crew members–ah yes, no honor among thieves! (Now how many people have I managed to insult with that last sentence? The whole pirate vs privateer topic is always delicate over in Saint Malo and using words like “stolen” and “authorities” probably hasn’t helped matters! Enough of my aside back to the treasure hunt.)
Each group started with a small case containing three nails, two pieces of gold and a booklet to write down the answers to each riddle. We thought we had come prepared by bringing a map with us. I think it’s safe to say we looked like amateurs in comparison to the rest of our team who came armed with pocket-sized histories of the city to help solve any and all clues! Of course, our team looked rather old-school in general as we chose not to use our internet-equipped phones! Each team had thirteen riddles to figure out in under two hours. In order to avoid a mass rush at any one clue, each team had a different starting clue. With hindsight, each team worked its way around the city in a circular pattern solving clues along the way.
The clues mixed history and architecture with a bit of hands-on fun. It was a neat way to explore the city and learn new things. For example, thanks to one clue, I learned that Saint Malo is the only city in France that has the right to fly its own flag higher than that of the French flag! I had never really paid attention to the fact that the city flag was higher than that of the French flag until the Treasure Hunt (and we’ve walked past the Château de Saint Malo on more than one occasion). Why such an honor? Saint Malo was once an independent republic and when it became part of France, somewhere in the negotiations, they retained a bit of indepedence with their flag! Other clues took us around the ramparts, by the Cathedral and even to Anne de Bretagne’s house. The organizers did a great job–all the clues were mounted on solid wood, laminated and well-attached and forced you to explore the better part of Intra-Muros. I don’t know if Anthony’s company organized it on their own or paid a company to run the hunt but it was well run.
My two favorite parts of the treasure hunt, however, were actually the hands-on bits. Our first activity was a test of wills with a local pirate. In exchange for one of our pieces of gold, we got to take turns challenging him; three turns to be precise, one for each of our nails. The pirate started by hammering the nail into place in front of us. From then on, he alternated hitting the nail with one of our team members. The goal? Be the last person to drive the nail completely into the board! It’s one of those games that is as simple as it is hard especially at the end. The whole set-up reminded me of Fort Boyard, a French TV show where contestants attempt to win their own treasure by winning similar challenges. Our second piece of gold, let us into a “warehouse” where we were confronted with a chest full of spices. We had several minutes to name as many as we could. I might not be able to hit a nail very well but I do love spices and enjoyed tasting and naming as many as I could along with the other women on our team. (The men decided to let us handle the challenge on our own!) We might now have gotten everything correct but we did manage to taste our way around the world!
By the time our two hours were up, we had completed all the clues. All the groups met back up to compare notes and get the last communal clue to the treasure. I’ll let you imagine the mass chaos which ensued when everyone ran for the beach and the treasure at the same time. To be honest, I never did find out what was in the chest–a different group won–but I didn’t care. I had just spent two hours enjoying myself, being a pirate and meeting new people. As Sundays go, it was perfect!