Some towns are just survivors.
St Malo is such a place. Built on the riches of privateers and fortified by Louis XIV to withstand attacks by sea, the town was almost completely destroyed in WWII by American and British forces. If you’ve read All the Light We Cannot See, you’ll have a pretty good idea of the devastation.
In the book, the author uses distinct architecture of St Malo to great dramatic effect. Built of local granite, the townhouses rise vertically to maximize the limited area available inside the fortifications.
The St Malo style townhouses or “malouinières” feature symmetrical sets of windows and dormers, four-sided roofs and thick chimney stacks. The steep roof lines allowed for the attic space that features prominently in the book.
After WWII, less than 20% of the city inside the fortifications was still standing. After much deliberation, and the years it took to remove the rumble, it was decided that St Malo would be rebuilt in a mix of traditional and modern styles. Some buildings are blends of pre-war and modern construction to maintain the historical look. The scars left behind are visible throughout the city.
These days, St Malo is a seaside holiday destination. From the ramparts that encircle the city, you can watch the ferries and sail boats in harbor at the mouth of the river Rance.
A perfect view from a tower on the ramparts.
Fort National was the outermost point of the city’s defenses. Evidently, the city was quite frequently under attack from the British Royal Navy who were trying to protect their shipping interests in the English Channel from the St Malo-based corsaires. The corsaires were basically organized fleets sanctioned by Louis XIV to commandeer any foreign vessel and steal its booty. Much of the wealth from this “trade” filled the coffers of the French state.
Watch out for pirates!
These days, the marauding pirates of St Malo are more interested in commandeering your wallet! This shop is basically a temple to expensive butter.
I broke down and bought a little brick of hand paddled salted butter.
Did you know that Brittany was one of the most autonomous dukedoms in France and was the only region that did not pay a salt tax to the crown? As a result, the Bretons made as much salt as they pleased and used it to preserve their extra dairy in the form of salted butter. This is why there are very few regional cheeses in Brittany compared to the rest of France.
There’s a little butter museum at the back of the shop with a lot of important butter information!
Down the street, another “maison”, this one devoted to buckwheat! This shop was created by the owners of the very popular Breizh Café. The Japanese heritage of one of the owners is reflected in the stylized triskelion on the box.
On the recommendation of our guide book, we stopped in a little pastry shop for yet another kouign amann. It didn’t turn out to be very good despite the fact that they use butter from the aforementioned Maison du Beurre. The caped ermine or stoat on the label is part of the crest of St Malo.
The full crest appears on the ornate manhole cover. The ermine trots across a stylized portcullis. This one also shows the ramparts and two hellcats on chains. Don’t mess with St Malo!