I wish I had read one of my favorite books, "All the Light You Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr, before I visited St. Malo in 2012. I would have been on the hunt for all the spots mentioned in this story of a young blind woman living in this seaside French town during the Occupation, who became involved with the Resistance in her own way.
Alas, I didn't. But I thought I would share a few sights from the town to help give it a sense of place in the minds of those who have already read the book and those who have yet to discover it.
The original town was founded in the first century by the Gauls. By the fifth century, Celts fleeing instability in Britain added to the population. The modern town was traced to a monastic settlement founded in the early sixth century and named after a presumed follower of Brendan the Navigator, St. Malo (aka Maclou), one of the seven founding saints of Brittainy.
We arrived in the evening after a long and rainy day that included a visit to St. James American Cemetery and Le Mont St. Michel. We had been soaked, had tired feet and were hungry, so we headed to a cafe.
All three of us ordered the Plat which is the special. And wine. It was a chicken dish and delicious. And so was the dessert!
We didn't have a hotel reservation, either, but we were able to find a spot. I post the photo below only so you don't end up there! Every now and then one should sleep in the beds to be rented out. Just saying!
The following morning found us up and walking through the cobbled streets of the old walled city. Much of St. Malo was decimated in the WWII bombing and a large part of it is reconstructed. The villains were not the Nazis, but the Americans and British who mistook the town for a Nazi stronghold. (The town was occupied by the Germans.) Napalm was used here for the first time by the Americans and it took twelve years to rebuild the city, stone by stone.
One would never know.
We found a cute cafe for breakfast and savored omelettes before heading off to see more of the city.
The town is the birthplace of Francois-Rene, vicomte de Chateaubriand, a French writer, historian and diplomat who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature (thank you, Wikipedia!). Of course he is recognized in the city. Jacques Cartier, the founder of another favorite walled city of mine, Vieux Quebec, the older part of Quebec City, was born and set sail for the new world from here as well.
For the best views in town, head to the ramparts, which were built (or started) in the twelfth century. The city had a long history of piracy and one can visually see how it may have been ideally situated for this.
You can walk out to the old fort. Rick and Jerry did this.
She who trips over her own feet on a good day elected to stay high above and take pictures! Because, some days, brains win out over desire!
I think perhaps my favorite spot was the beautiful La Cathedrale Saint-Vincent de Saint Malo. (Sorry for the blur here.)
It was pretty much destroyed during the war.
Now it is under reconstruction. (I should add here that these photos are from a 2012 visit, so that construction may be completed by now.)
Excellent graphics tell the story.
And the stained glass is exquisite.
I loved this town, and why not? Any place that had a street named Rue du Chat Qui Dance (which Wikipedia translates as "Cat Street Dancing") is fine by me.
And they also seem aware of the pitfalls of canines, too!
I hope you've enjoyed this walk through the charming ancient and walled city of St. Malo (and if you haven't read "All the Light You Cannot See," I hope you give that a chance too!)
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