Bonjour from Saint-Malo
Saint-Malo is in Brittany just over 500 km west of Paris.
Saint-Malo is a beautiful fortress city on an island at the mouth of the Rance River. There is a distinct, enclosed old part of town that is wonderful to ramble around if you have time and the beaches and surrounding farmland are a refreshing temperate climate compared to the long hot summers in the south of France.
Because of the historical links to England, many French people dismiss the food in this area as being boring and stodgy. That’s a myth! The abundance of seafood and shellfish is incredible, and seafood is often served here with a thick white wine and butter sauce (beurre blanc). The oysters from the nearby village of Cancale and Morbihan are considered to be some of the best in France. A popular way of cooking local mussels is with apple cider, shallots and garlic and there is also a hearty, warming white fish soup called cotriade. Those who prefer meat and game are not alone in Brittany and it is common to cook slow-baked mutton, chicken, pigeon or guinea fowl in a heavy casserole dish with shallots, butter sliced apples and chouchen (honey mead) or cider.
The Breton vegetable side dishes tend to be heavier, reflecting the cooler climate, and cabbage, cauliflower, potato, onion, shallots and white beans are all popular accompaniments. The Bretons go gaga over their butter, which they mix with local sea salt, so there is not much leftover for making cheeses, hence the proliferation of the creamy cheeses of Normandy like Brie and Camembert in this area.
Champagne with the oysters, of course! For something without bubbles to go with the sausages and seafood, try a cold, rich, acidic, viscous white Muscadet from the western Loire region.
For the purists looking for a local drink, then apple cider it is! Remember, cider is a refreshing, sophisticated drink in Brittany prepared with all the care of a premier cru wine – worlds away from the cheap imitations we see in Australia. If you really want to go out on a limb, try chouchen, a honey mead-style drink. It sounds all a bit medieval, but when in Brittany, why not?
Best food souvenir
Oyster shucker with a sharp blade and wooden handle.
Getting there and around
Catch a ferry from the UK ports of Poole, Portsmouth and Weymouth. From Paris catch the TGV to Rennes and then transfer to a bus for the remainder of the journey (allow 6 hours). Frankly, it’s probably a lot easier to drive as Saint-Malo is a bit of an outpost. There are buses that take you around the villages of Brittany and Normandy but it is a lot of chopping and changing so leave plenty of time to wander around between stops.