Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Brittany - surrounded by the Atlantic and the English Channel

We moved on to Saint Malo in Brittany. Our main goal was to get to Mont St Michel, the island abbey on the coast of Normandy (but bordering on Brittany). However we wanted to stay a few nights and needed a larger town. Saint Malo turned out to be a good choice. 

We started our journey by bus. Taxis are difficult to get in the morning in Paris and we had a very convenient bus route nearby, so our journey was: bus to the Gare Montparnasse (train station), train to Rennes, and rental car to St Malo. It all worked smoothly. (Except we ran into our first truly rude folks...for instance as Pat entered the train station, a woman walked into her luggage and got upset at Pat for being there. Pat just took this in stride, finding it somewhat amusing.)

The first thing we noticed upon arrival on the coast, was the significant change in temperature, it was at least 20 degrees cooler in Saint Malo than in Paris.

Our room was ready when we arrived and after dropping the bags we were off for a walk through town and have some lunch. We found a creperie. Bill was dubious of crepes but he was game to try. The menu listed lots of gallettes. It turns out that these are savory crepes made from buckwheat. The waitress recommended the "scallops in garlic" to Bill. He thought the few scallops served on top of his gallette were great but otherwise he was left with a dry, possibly tasty, crepe. He wasn't pleased. Pat had one stuffed with sardines and tomato, a much better flavor combination and quite tasty. The Chabiis was a good choice to accompany the seafood based meals.

A little exploring along the walls and through the town yielded gifts for friends and pastries for breakfast. Some additional facts we learned, "the tide is out" in Saint Malo means you can enjoy the beach and walk to the islands. In extreme cases "the tide is in" means the adjoining road is getting wet. The tides here can be 40 plus feet! Not quite the Bay of Fundy (in Nova Scotia) but very close.
Here's a shot of a sometimes island fortress. Basically at high tide, it's an island.
By mid-tide you can walk out to it.
The city retaining walls are protected from the storms (and surges of waves) that come in from the English Channel by tree trunks planted like little forests in the sand.  Apparently the “trees” need to be replaced every 20 years. It would be interesting to see that process.
Note: Tree trunks on left, city walls on the right
Below is a copy of a post card we found showing what can happen with an unusually high tide. Wewere taken by this shot because our hotel is in the center of the photo. Fortunately the tide was pretty well-behaved for our stay.  And this seems to be typical. ;-)

We returned to the hotel to settle in our room. After a short break we wandered back onto the beach while the tide was out. We decided to walk out to one of the island fortresses (now surrounded by sand) where we got some good photos of the walls around the old town.

We snacked at a local brew pub on a “La Chaca”, a toasted tartine with 4 cheeses (mozzarella, raclette, emmental, and chèvre), that came with a salad garnish. A very tasty combination. To accompany the tart we chose two of their beers, Rock’n’Hops and a Saint Malo.  Both lighter than others we’ve had on this trip but very good. 

We returned to the hotel getting more photos in the waning sunlight.

From our window we continued enjoying the sunset as the tide brought water back up the beach.

In the morning after breakfast in our room, we noticed a visitor on the ledge outside our window, a sea gull. After shooing it away we took some photos of the beach and the island fortress in the morning sun. 
Our morning friend on our window ledge...who could resist?  We could.
We walked about 30 minutes to Cite d'Alet, the quieter part of Saint Malo, and discovered a special Weekend Art Market comparable in quality to the better summer Craft Fairs in the Bay Area in California...much smaller but located on a cute bay and in the shadow of a watch tower…very charming.  Also nice crafts. Pat saw several fragile things she would have loved to buy. Oh well.

Our short walk around the headlands yielded some nice views of Dinard, across the harbor, and Old Town Saint Malo.

Looking back at St Malo from Cite d'Alet
We found a real gem for lunch, L’Altre, a restaurant where we had a view of the market…and the bay.  From the amuse bouche, cucumber puré with dill and a slice of tomato, to the apple pie with ice cream and expresso everything was excellent. The appetizer was a fish paté with a salad on the side. Pat had monkfish while Bill had sea bass. The monkfish was good. The sea bass was excellent. Both went well with the wine, a Menetou Salon white from the Loire. We ordered expresso with the apple tarte and ice cream. 
Apple Tarte. Yum!
On our walk back to St Malo we wandered through a corner of the old town and Pat did some wading in the significantly higher water.  The beach was much more crowded, partly because the tide had hidden 3/4 of it by now.

After our large, tasty lunch we decided on a light snack in the evening. Another pub. Pat had a Guinness Stout (her first ever) and Bill had a Affligem, a very nice amber beer. Notice the lack of food!! Pat was a little disappointed in the Stout. She's had a couple stouts she likes at lot. Guinness seemed like an pretty tasty beer but was not especially memorable. Notice that both wines were served in the proper, made for them, glasses.
Affligem on the left, Guinnes Stout on the right.
Sunday we departed Saint Malo. On our drive to Amboise we stopped at Mont Saint Michel. We arrived at 9 and spent 2 hours climbing up and down through the town and abbey. An impressive site: an island accessible by foot at low tide, and elevation, a little over 300 feet. It has been a strategic fortification since the 8th century. A causeway was built in 1879 and the Abbey lost its island status due to silting from the river. Recently they have built a bridge for access, removed the causeway and added a dam. During some low tides, they release water from the dam to flush the silt from around the abbey which is now on an island again. There is still a lot of silt to clean up but clearly progress has been made. Some visitors seem to enjoy walking out on the extensive mudflats. It didn’t appeal to us.

Historically, The Bishop of Avranches built and consecrated a small church in 709 upon the request of Archangel Michel (San Miguel / St Michael).  In 966 a few Benedictines settled there and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. In 11Ccentury, the Romanesque abbey church was founded.

Us at Mont Saint Michele...paying homage to the patron saint of San Miguel de Allende. ;-)
All materials for the abbey had to be quarried elsewhere and hauled to the island and up the hill. So they devised ways to be efficient. In this case two sets of smaller supports around the cloister provided the needed support for the roof above but required many fewer stones.
There were various interesting sculptures like this around the Abbey.  We suspected they might be different views of the same eagle. Earlier in our tour we saw a claw wrapping around the wall above us. For perspective, realize that those openings are probably 10 feet high.
We stopped in Fougeres for lunch and to checkout the local castle. This turned out to be a great experience. There is an amazing, extensive and extremely picturesque medieval castle that dominates the town. 

The adventure began with finding a place to park. Somehow we must have missed a turn that would have taken us to the convenient parking lot by the castle/chateau. Consequently we ended up on some very cute (Pat’s view) and very hard to managed little streets. We finally found a parking spot and saved the location on Google maps to assure we could find our way back to the car.  Then we looked and looked for an appealing place to eat that was not a creperie. We gave in and luckily our lunch of galettes changed Bill's opinion drastically. These were much lighter crepes with tastier fillings (andouille sausage, cheese, onion for Bill; For Pat mushrooms, onion, and ham. Note both were fillings, not a few savory items on top.) The 1/2 liter of red wine was also good. 
Bill's tasty gallette
After lunch we wandered around admiring the castle from many angles and then found our way back to the car WITHOUT using Google Maps! 
The castle at Fougeres. See the restaurant umbrellas on the right? We ate under the 2nd from the right.
They must have believed in water power here, there were 4 water wheels in this one spot.
Then off for the 4 hour drive to the Loire Region. 

1 comment:

  1. Just a quick note on the galettes... They are made of buckwheat flour so they could tend to be dry and not to everyone's taste... In Maine the Acadians from The County call theirs ployes! The Québécois ( my ancestors) use white flour so they are much lighter and what we are familiar with... Buckwheat flour is good for us so I am glad you enjoyed your second batch! Did you try any cidre? Calvados?