Tuesday, August 16, 2011

STAMP #1: Dinard and St-Malo, Brittany

 After eight hours of hi-speed train travel and nearly missing our connection, we arrived on Monday at our pretty Hotel Pritania on the waterfront in Dinard. Carefully chosen to be 150m from the ferry to St-Malo. Our room overlooks the sailing school on the river Rance and we have a little balcony. St-Malo is just on the other side of the wide mouth of the river. The hotel is delightful with three restaurants and a conservatory (old style) where breakfast is served with large cups of excellent coffee. I say large because usually in France coffee is served very strong in demi-tasse, which are teeny cups. We ate in the traditional Breton restaurant last night and the servers were in traditional costume - stunning.

Over on the first ferry to St-Malo this morning and learned the tides are 40' here. Lucky for us it was high tide and getting on and off was easy. As we approached St-Malo the sun came out from behind a cloud bank lighting the buildings and the town walls. Old St-Malo is entirely surrounded by huge ramparts that allow visitors to walk all the way round. They are high and give views of the sea, the tall buildings within, the islands (some of which you can walk to at low tide), and towers.

I headed for the Musee de St-Malo to see what I could discover about Jaques Cartier's voyages to Canada that sailed from here and also the reconstruction of the town after the Nazis destroyed it in August 1944. Nothing much of value there until I met a very old French lady while I was drinking a coffee at the Place Chateaubriand. She remembers the German occupation as a teen, but was sent to university in Grenoble and missed the destruction. But she also remembered the reconstruction. Hard to understand all she said to me...! Cartier sailed for Canada from what is now Chateaubriand - then it was a bay called Bonne Mer but it was reclaimed from the sea about 200 years later. There I was sitting on the exact spot!!

Thence through the narrow streets, climbing a little, to reach the cathedral that was destroyed too. I wanted to see the enormous stained glass window of the bishop blessing Cartier before his voyage of discovery in 1534. The original window was lost, of course, and the new one was commemorated in 1958. It shows Cartier in armour with a vast red cloak. Behind him are his sailors and his ship, the ramparts and towers of St-Malo, all in glorious technicolor. The cathedral was full of tourists and the devout admiring its faithful rebuilding, even using some of the stones that could be salvaged.
I reconnected with my husband at the cathedral's west door and we went to lunch at a Breton creperie. Calamari crepe for main course and then, Crepe Jacques Cartier! What else could we have? The crepes are buckwheat and white flour, but the filling was toasted almonds and maple syrup. Utterly delicious! We were both tired but pursued trying to find a painting we did not buy on our last visit. Couldn't find it, but bought two others we liked very much from the artist himself - Alain Basset. Now we were loaded down, as well as footsore, and came back to our hotel. It was low tide and the hike to catch the ferry was down a very long launching ramp - likewise at the other end at Dinard. St-Malo has the biggest tides in France - 40 feet.
St-Malo in the sun at low tide

at high tide

Images:  (c) Julie H. Ferguson 2011
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