Over the Summer holidays we were lucky enough to enjoy the most amazing road trip starting up in London, down to Cornwall, over to Dorset, across to St Malo, then Guernsey, back to Winchester, Devon and finishing off in Windsor. It sounds utterly exhausting but it was actually the best Summer we have had yet and I’m excited to share more of what we got up to, as well as the places we stayed, here on the blog.
A week into our trip, we left Dorset the previous morning and sailed via the Condor Ferry to arrive in St Malo in the afternoon. Having checked into our hotel we wasted no time in ditching out bags and heading straight out to explore the old town, starting with the city walls. For those who aren’t familiar with St Malo, the city was once a stronghold for privateers and even now, the old town is surrounded by tall granite walls.
You can access the city walls at various points from the old town and take the steps to the top which is by far the best way to view the city in my opinion. I used to worry about this kind of walk with the kids (especially with Harry climbing the way he does!) but they are perfectly safe on either side and was a really nice walk at the end of the day when the sun wasn’t quite as hot.
Before we travelled to St Malo we were told by so many people that we would love it and for reasons they couldn’t even put their finger on. And within half an hour of walking those city walls I completely understood what they meant. Despite being a really lively and popular destination, it is actually really peaceful and calming, and with those views out to the sea it feels as though you’re a million miles from anywhere with all your troubles just melting away.
We had also been told that the beaches at St Malo were pretty special and as we approached Bon-Secours beach, located at the foot of the ramparts, we realised that this was also very true.
Described as one of the most beautiful beaches in France, Bon-Secours is also one of the most equipped. With a large restaurant and bar terrace, life guard and first aid station, kayak rental, seawater swimming pool, and even a diving board, it’s definitely one of the best beaches we have ever been to and we couldn’t wait to spend a day there the following morning.
At low tide you can also walk over to Fort National on a small tidal island just off the beach, built in 1689 under the orders of King Louis XIV. This was originally the site of a beacon that was lit at night to act as a lighthouse as well as being a place of public executions. When the French flag is flying it’s safe to visit the fort, something that, unfortunately, we just didn’t get time to do.
Luckily there are telescopes for pubic use right the way across the city walls so we were able to have a really good look at the fort close up. Later, when we asked the children what their highlight of the day had been, they declared looking through the telescopes and their favourite moment.
Ready for something to eat we decided to head back into the town and have a wander around the main square. Inside of the city walls isn’t overly large but it is just bursting with bars, restaurants, cafes and food stands. We couldn’t wait to explore!
The great thing about the main square in St Malo is that everywhere you turn there is something different to see. From painters to caricaturists, singers to mime artists, the atmosphere is incredible. At one point I inadvertently became part of a mime act and ended up dancing with a man dressed as a ventriloquists dummy – definitely a moment to remember right there!
In terms of restaurants, bars, cafes and food stands, St Malo is literally bursting with them. For those wanting to sample traditional Breton food there are countless options with savoury galettes being the most popular choice. We had big ideas of trying some traditional dishes and yet having explored for so long we reached a point where we just needed to eat right there and then, so we nipped into a French burger bar, Knop & Compagnie, which was actually delicious!
The following day we were up bright and early ready to explore more of the town before we hit the beach. The great thing about the Intra-Muros is that although it has everything you could possibly want or need, it’s a really nice size to walk from one side to the other without flagging in the heat.
At the top of my list of places to visit was the cathedral, situated right in the centre, constructed between the 12th and 18th centuries. During World War 2 the cathedral was badly damaged with most of its original structure reduced to rubble. Subsequently it was rebuilt in 1971 and is the perfect mix of old and new, very much like St Malo itself.
At the top of the children’s list, unanimously decided, was just one thing – crepes! Although we are big fans of pancakes at home, nothing beats a proper French crepe and, although we did not find any that were gluten free, I enjoyed every single second of seeing the children demolishing theirs with huge smiles on their faces.
For those with a sweet tooth St Malo really does have the most amazing offerings and we found ourselves drooling at every window. From hand made chocolates to rainbow macarons, chewy meringue to barrels of sweets, everywhere you turn there is something tempting you and as you can imagine, we well and truly made the most of it!
For those who prefer savoury then St Malo is well known for it’s delicious sea food and there are countless restaurants and food stalls specialising in this. I’m not a big fan of sea food but Gaz tried a couple of dishes and declared it some of the best he has ever tasted! There are also pizza stands everywhere which the children were more than happy about!
Outside the city walls by the harbour there’s a lot to see and do, even more so towards the evening. The children loved the old fashioned carousel and a piano by the harbour which they used to entertain the passers-by with their duets. Another highlight for them I’m sure!
With St Malo being so well know for pirates, we were so pleased to see that our visit coincided with the docking of a pirate boat at the harbour. With boat tours and sailings available, it’s perfect for little pirate fans and our three were over the moon to see a real life pirate boat right there in France.
Before we headed over to Bon-Secours beach we decided to check out another of the beaches – Eventail Beach. The best beach for those wanting to visit the Fort at low tide, it’s said to be very popular with families and I can see why.
The children were happy running up and down the sand and playing hide and seek together. When it comes to beaches in St Malo you really are spoilt for choice but the draw of the sea pool and diving board swayed us to Bon-Secours!
I had read that Bon-Secours got incredibly busy in peak times and yet arriving there at lunch time we found there was plenty of room to spread out and it didn’t feel overly crowded. We had the most blissful few hours on the beach that day, digging holes big enough to bury all three children….
Building sandcastles and digging out moats to fill with water, in just the same way my parents did with us when we were younger….
Relaxing in the sunshine with a magazine (I even managed to read a few chapters of my book!)…..
And jumping waves in the sea which is always fun, no matter how old you get…..
For Lewis and Gaz the real highlight was the diving board which they actually swam out to at high tide because they just couldn’t wait for the low tide to try it! I wasn’t brave enough to do it but it looked like a lot of fun and I loved that the beach offered something for teenagers rather than just the little ones.
Of all the things we did this Summer, our day on the beach in St Malo was definitely one of my personal favourites. We were so lucky with the weather during our stay and for me Summer is all about those days at the beach, eating ice creams and building sandcastles and just enjoying that time together. I was really sad when we had to leave but there was still so much of St Malo we wanted to see.
One thing I really noticed about St Malo is that it is spotlessly clean and well cared for. There are flowers everywhere you turn and palm trees to really add that exotic feel. It also felt incredibly safe, even walking with the children long after dark.
Back at the harbour we realised a huge crowd had gathered and were surprised to see the most amazing acrobatic troupe performing to raise money. The singing was amazing and although it was in French the children loved watching them leap from side to side and swing from the ropes. It was just a really lovely way to end our day and the perfect backdrop to watch the show.
When the show ended we decided to return to the main square and look for somewhere to eat, keen to finally try one of the restaurants. By the time we had wandered back in, watched some of the street performers we realised that booking a table is probably preferable, and so we ended up walking from one food stall to the next sampling everything they had to offer which actually, I think we all preferred!
Afterwards we joined the queue for the famous Gaufrerie Maison Hector which had people queueing down the road at points in the day. I had high hopes for the ice cream but I’m not going to lie, it was a real let down and nothing more than a Mr Whippy! Obviously the kids loved it, after all, ice cream is ice cream!
With the sun beginning to set we enjoyed a final stroll around the town before heading back to our hotel for the final night. I could quite easily have spent a whole week in St Malo, if not the whole Summer, and feel as though we barely even scratched the surface.
For anyone considering visiting St Malo, alone or with the children, I can’t recommend it enough. It is such a beautiful place, bursting with history and character, and has so much to offer. We had the most amazing time, made so many lovely memories together and we will absolutely be back in no time at a lot explore it further.
As we set sail from St Malo it was impossible to feel too sad as we knew that our road trip was far from over. Keep an eye out for the next stage of our road trip and see what we got up to in Guernsey!
** Our travel to and from St Malo was gifted by Condor Ferries and our hotel accommodation provided in exchange or a full and honest review **