The historic, fortified Breton port of Saint-Malo, served by cross-Channel ferries from the UK, deserves more than just being passed through; this is a city with an intriguing piratical past that’s well worth investigating. Think photogenic city walls made for wandering, stunning sandy stretches, fine oysters and mussels among the seafood delights, and lashings of Brittany cider. Here are the best places to stay.
After you’ve spent the day pottering about the old town or searching for the finest views from the city ramparts, you’ll need a welcoming base. Enter Le Grand Bé – your Saint-Malo home from home. You’ll find it intra muros – tucked inside those ancient city walls – close to the local sights and beaches. The vibe is contemporary-elegant, borne on local artworks and serenely comfortable rooms. There’s a restaurant, bar, tearoom and even a spa deep in the 17th-century vaults.
When the weather is rough enough to send dramatic tides lashing at the Saint Malo seawall, the best place for you to be is ensconced cosily behind the bay window in the tea room of this pretty hotel. The Beaufort is a three-star sweetie with faint hints of art deco, looking out over a long sweep of Sillon’s golden sands. Settle in with a hot chocolate and dream. There are just 22 rooms, 14 of which have a sea view – and they’re essays in classic, stone-tone style, with tall windows, bare floors and Regency chairs. Small wonder they call this a hotel de charme.
Escape the crowds at this chambre d’hote (an occupied home with furnished rooms for tourists). This is a sturdy old stone manor house in the countryside, a 15-minute drive from Saint-Malo and an easy 2km drive from the beach. The place is functional but agreeable, with five comfortable bedrooms (bathrooms ensuite). In the grounds are three self-catering cottages each sleeping 4-6 people, all suitable for those with reduced mobility. Several sights are within walking distance – don’t miss the Jacques Cartier Museum, a testament to the 16th-century explorer who opened up the North American continent to the French via the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
What will it be – chocolate or salted caramel on your traditional Breton pancake in Hotel Ambassadeurs’ Crêperie restaurant? We say go for both – you’re on holiday. This perfectly located hotel is right on the sea wall with direct access to the beach and just 900m from the ancient city walls. The rooms are urban-smart, with blocks of darkwood and low lighting, as well as balconies overlooking the sea in some. For the cherry on top, take the lift to the 5th floor for a sunset verre de vin on the terrasse panoramique, with its spectacular 360° views.
Passers-by are captivated by this traditional half-timbered 400-year-old building – it looks like something from a murder-mystery, in a good way. The impressive Manoir du Cunningham overlooks the beach and marina at Saint-Servan, just a 15-minute walk from the old pirate stronghold of Saint-Malo and convenient for the ferry port. Of the 12 well-appointed rooms, ten have a sea view from the balcony or terrace – they’re tailor-made for breakfast time, as you gaze at the boats and graze on fruit breads, charcuterie and artisanal jams.
Barely beyond Saint-Malo, this bed and breakfast spreads over an impressive manor house with roots in the late 17th century. The look is extremely chic, with spare, pale walls, minimal furniture and beds under the eaves. There is also a two-bedroom self-catering cottage with its own kitchen, sitting room and garden terrace. Here you’re not even a 10-minute drive from the glorious sands of the Grande Plage du Sillon, and Saint-Malo is a quarter of an hour away.
Make believe you’re lords and ladies in this historic 18th-century chateau in the countryside, a leisurely 15 minutes by car from Saint-Malo. Behind a pink-turreted facade, gracious communal areas spirit you back in time with wood panelling and Empire chairs. Bedrooms are romantic, with clawfoot baths and views over lake waters. For dinner there will be French regional classics with an Asian twist – one of your hosts, Sokha, is Cambodian. To top it all off, there are extensive grounds with beautiful gardens and a golf driving range.
Returning from a long beach walk or a busy day’s sightseeing in Saint-Malo, you’ll be glad you took a room at La Villefromoy. The bar is the perfect place to chill out with a thirst-quenching Breton cider – as is the terrace, weather permitting. This elegant villa hides down a residential street just one block back from the long sweep of Rochebonne beach, and has stylishly modern rooms (think angular wicker chairs and dark, plain carpets). Hearty breakfasts feature local artisanal products – don’t miss the Saint-Malo craquelins (melt-in-the-mouth crackers).
This is a plain and functional sleepover with the looks of a motel, but it’s perfect if you’re catching an early-morning ferry – you’re only a few minutes’ drive from Saint-Malo and the port. Comfortable beds in generously sized rooms, a snack bar and plenty of parking make for a stress-free stay. Have breakfast at the hotel, or plump for the take-away option. The heated indoor pool and fitness centre are a pleasant, unexpected extra.