Danny Yee >> Travelogues >> France

Saint Malo, Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux travelogue

a week in Brittany and Normandy in September 2017

Amost six years exactly after Camilla and I spent a weekend visiting Caen, Bayeux and Cherbourg, we returned, this time with Helen, to visit Saint Malo, Mont Saint Michel, Bayeux, Beuvron-en-Auges, Honfleur and Caen.

The overnight ferry was a great success. We left Oxford at 5pm and had an easy drive to Portsmouth, pouring rain and a false exit from the M275 notwithstanding. The ferry terminal is much quieter than a big train station, let alone an airport, and similarly less stressful. We had a quick dinner in the Costa, discovered they had eduroam wireless, and picked up a little colouring booklet from an ORCA charity display. On board we realised we should have waited for dinner: the food on Brittany Ferries is clearly French, decent quality and not expensive (unless you eat in the very fancy restaurant, when it becomes expensive and probably rather good). But we indulged ourselves with cakes for dessert.

our cabin
Our cabin was cramped but cosy, and we all went to sleep relatively quickly (though it was still 10pm or so). I had memories of half-waking every time a particularly big wave lurched the ship, but no one had problems with sea sickness, perhaps because we'd all taken hyoscine hydrobromide just before the ship left. We woke up to alarms at 7 (6 UK time) and had breakfast on board but we could have slept in a bit longer: though the ship got in around 8.15 it took a while before we could disembark.

And there we were, before 9am, with an easy kilometre or so to walk from the ferry terminal to our hotel in Saint Malo's old city! We had effectively avoided losing a day to travelling.

As we approached, there were nice views in the morning light of the ramparts and the mass of the houses. There's was no check-in at 9am, of course, but we left our bags in our hotel (the Ibis Styles) and just wandered around. (There are no major attractions in Saint Malo old city per se, with the major attraction the city itself.) We walked a portion of the ramparts, wandered the largely pedestrianised streets, did a bit of shopping, ate crepes and cakes, and generally just rambled.

We fitted in an afternoon nap after we got into our hotel room, which was large and airy and had a nice street view (though it was on the first floor and so didn't have a view over the ramparts). And for dinner our attempt to find something that wasn't crepes took us to a proper restaurant with really good food. (Everything felt moderately expensive given the €1.10 exchange rate; last time we had been in France the pound had been more like €1.40.)

the view from our room
our room

The next day we looked around the Etoile de Roi ship (made for the Hornblower movies) and then caught the bus out to the aquarium. This was rather nice, especially as we pretty much had it to ourselves, though a Disney-like nautibus ("naughty bus") ride didn't work (no lights, so we got five minutes of completely dark window). Then we had baguettes and coffees ("my hot chocolate tastes like chocolate") and visited the museum Hotel de Ville museum. This is all in French, so I only had time to skim a few bits and pieces, but has some interesting stuff. There's also a lot of stair-climbing, including a narrow winding bit to the final tower, but the view from there was worth it. We went out on the beach, which had appeared with the tide out, and H and C did some sandcastling. Then we fitted in a quick wander around town, some more shopping, and dinner in a creperie before an early night.

on the Etoile de Roi
Fort National from the Hotel de Ville
There were a few things I would have liked to have done in Saint Malo but which we didn't have time for. A full circuit of the ramparts. The 4km or so stretch of the GR34 out to the Memorial 39/45 and the Solidor Tower.

approaching Mont Saint Michel
On the next morning we picked up our car in Saint Malo and drove to Mont Saint Michel, where we visited a working windmill, took the shuttle bus (we should probably have walked for the view, despite the rain) across the causeway bridge, had lunch, toured the abbey, had drinks, and took the horse bus back to our car. Then we drove in pouring rain for an hour forty to get to Bayeux. By the time we'd settled in (the car parking was 500m away from our apartment) a lot of the restaurants had filled up, so we settled for rather ordinary Italian pizza.
Our three nights in Bayeux were in a nice spacious apartment right in the city centre. The one unusual thing about that was that its loft conversion required walking on suspended netting (over the living area beneath) to get to the bedrooms. Camilla found this unnerving, but Helen rather liked playing on it.
the netting to get to the bedrooms
the dawn view from our window
The next day we did more driving, visiting the picturesque village of Beuvon-en-Auge and then the fishing town of Honfleur. Apart from the tropical butterfly house in Honfleur, we mostly just walked around and admired the buildings. This is the only day so far where we've walked less than seven kilometres, even though we've done no "walks" as such. (In Beuvon-en-Auge the Tourist Information had a pamphlet on what looked like a lovely 7.5km loop walk into the countryside, which I'd have just hared off on if I'd been by myself.)
posing in Honfleur
Back in Bayeux we had a nice dinner in L'Assiettes Normande, where they provided a D-Day landing beach coloring-in sheet for Helen, with tanks and ships and planes. So I had to give a potted history of World War II and operation Overlord. When I was 15 I could have told you all the units involved in the latter (at least down to division level), but now my account emphasized food and economics and strategic bombing.

The next day we finally visited the Bayeux Tapestry, had lunch, and did the tourist "train" loop around town. Camilla was feeling unwell so went back for a lie down, but Helen and I waited out a rainstorm in the cathedral and then walked out to the Battle of Normandy Museum. There we mostly focused on the large vehicles and weaponry, and on the engineering (harbours, roads) and the destruction wrought on most Norman towns and cities (in this area, only Bayeux was really spared). Helen was pretty tired (she'd had a abortive nap when we were on the mini-train) but we fitted in quick visits to the memorial to reporters killed in war and the art museum. With an early rise, no nap, and a lot of walking, Helen was pretty tired and was asleep by 8.50pm! (At 7.50pm UK time, that was the earliest she'd been to sleep for many months.)

the Bayeux art museum

On our last day we loaded up the car, looked around the weekly market, and drove to Arromanches. That was my first visit to the D-Day beaches, and it was interesting just to look east along what had been Gold beach. The Harbour Museum there has a lot of medals and random things dug off beaches, but also has some really nice scale models of the Mulberry harbour, in a room offering a panoramic view over what is left of that (largely parts of the breakwater). (Helen kept asking "Can you tell me what happened in the First World War, and how it started?" -- which seemed like an unnecessary complication given I was just trying to explain the importance of one artificial harbour to one campaign of the other World War.) We wandered around the beach, in what was now lovely sunshine (after a brief rainstorm when we arrived) and had a seafood lunch with a view.

Helen fell asleep in the car, but we stopped briefly at Consueilles de Mer for a coffee, then again in a supermarket for Camilla to do some shopping (I should have let her buy the artichokes in the Bayeux market, as instead she got a pile of foodstuffs in glass jars, resulting in awkwardly heavy bags to carry around), and then dropped our luggage off at our hotel in Ouistreham. We then dropped the car off in Caen — Avis office closed, but left the car in the carpark and returned the keys at the station — before walking up to the castle, where we just looked around (the museums were all shut) and then had dinner before catching a bus 61 back to Ouistreham.

Then it was up at 6.30am the next morning, a 600 metre walk to the ferry terminal, and breakfast on board. This time the crossing was calm; we had a cabin with a view, but Camilla slept while Helen and I spent most of our time in the lounge.

France << Travelogues << Danny Yee