Published: April 2nd 2007April 2nd 2007
Port of Saint Malo
It is still an active port city- one of the largest in Bretagne.
I just had the most fabulous week with my Mom here in France. Her long-anticipated vist to see me was even more fabulous than I had been hoping for, and we certainly managed to pack a lot of stuff into 8 days! She arrived early on Sunday, March 25, and stayed until noon on April 2nd. During that span, we spent 3 days in Bretagne (Brittany, in the north-west of France), stopped in Chartres on the way home to Paris to see the cathedral, spent 1 1/2 days in the Valley of the Loire, and even managed to run around Paris and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. So how did we do it?
Basically, by sacrificing our sleep. My poor mother- I don't think we went to bed before 1am any single night! The very morning of her arrival we rented a car at Charles de Gaulle airport and left directly for Bretagne, a drive of roughly 6 hours that she completed heroically, driving a tiny little manual Renault Clio while I navigated (with difficulty) from the passenger's seat. We drove straight to St. Malo on the north coast of Bretagne, and spent the late afternoon strolling around the ramparts of
the fortified old city. It is a gorgeous medieval town with high rampart walls, a really-interesting working port, and cool forts on rockly isles surrounding it. The north coast of Brittany has amazingly dramatic tidal changes, and in St. Malo the sea rises probably 10 meters or so...totally changing the look of the town! The streets are cobblestone and the whole town has an amazingly cohesive "ancient" feel, although it was in fact entirely reconstructed following its destruction by bombing in WWII. Our first night in Bretagne we stayed inside the walls of the old city, spent a couple hours wandering the walls and the beaches, and then had a delicious dinner of gallettes and crepes (savory and sweet crepes) which are a regional specialty. Then, instead of going to sleep, we stayed up until 1:30 am listening to the Georgetown Elite 8 playoff game against UNC in the hotel lobby!!! We were so tired we were falling off our chairs, but it was all worth it when GU pushed the game to overtime and went on an amazing 15-2 overtime run to clinch a berth in the FINAL FOUR!!! Amazing!! Hoya saxa! As tired as I was, it took
a while for the adrenaline to wear off before I could go to sleep...
The next day was a major highlight of the week. We got up to bright sunshine and blue skies and drove along the coast to the Mont Saint Michel, the second-most visited place in France. It is an ancient abbey built on top of a rocky island in the Bay of Saint Michel, and in this bay the tide is the largest in France. With an amplitude of roughly 14m, at low tide the water recedes 15 kilometers from the mouth of the Couesnon River!!!! This creates a hazardous expanse of amazing tidal flats which have long been famous for taking the lives of foolish travelers, because the tide mounts incredibly rapidly. Unaware hikers lose their lives in this manner every year...
The abbey of Mont Saint Michel has existed from the 8th century AD and was built on the foundations of even older buildings. A marvel of engineering, it is a UNESCO heritage site and one of the most impressive man-made sites that I have ever had the privilege to visit. Technically it is in Normandy, but the Couesnon River which feeds the
Baie du Mont Saint Michel
This is, obviously, low tide!!!! All of that will be covered in about 12 hours...
into the bay is the historical border between Bretagne and Normandy, rendering the ownership fairly vague. Officially it is in Normandy, but that doesn't stop all the Bretagne tourist brochures from using its pictures to advertise. Fairly amusing little rivalry, there. It has always been French, though, having resisted all English attacks over the centuries, including during the Hundred-Years-War. Pilgrims, and now tourists, have always considered it a national treasure, and I have to agree. My mom loved it too and we had gorgeous weather for our visit. If you ever get the chance to see it, GO! It is amazing.
That afternoon we drove back along the coast of the Bay of Saint Michel to St. Malo, stopping in picturesque seaside towns along the way and rocky points to take in the seascapes. I have rarely seen stretches of coastline quite as gorgeous! We drove through St. Malo as the sun was setting over the water, and following the Rance River down to the medieval walled city of Dinan, where we ate a delicious seafood meal in the Vieux Port (old port) below the city, which perches high up on the edge of the valley. It was truly
a magical little setting. We didn't leave the resaurant until 11pm, and we still had a way to drive to our hext hotel, over in St. Brieuc further to the west. But we got there by 12:15, and maybe made it to bed by 12:30 that night. What a day! Incredible. Will savor those memories for a long time.
The next day (Tuesday) we drove up the Cote des Rochers roses (Pink Granite Coast) from St. Brieuc to the Ile de BrÃ©hat, a rocky archipelago that is about as far north as you can get in Bretagne. Although it just out into the English Channel, the water was Caribbean-blue and the rusty reds, pinks, and ochres of the rocks were just stunning. The gorgeous weather continued, making our multiple stops in tiny villages along the way each more beautiful than the last! I couldn't believe how pretty the region was- Bretagne is definitely one of my favorite regions! (It does make a significant difference to have sunny weather, though- NOT the case during most of the year!) Some of the villages that we stopped in were PlouÃ©zec and Plaimpol, both of which merit a stop! We passed the ruins
St. Malo "Causeway"
When it is low tide you can walk to the island just offshore from St. Malo, but you have to be careful not to get stranded! The tides mounts incredibly fast- about 6 meters at least, I would say!
of an ancient abbey and multiple windmills, and well as many breathtaking views of the ocean. What a drive! The afternoon was, incredibly, equally good- we drove back down to St. Brieuc, and then tracked eastward along the Emerald Coast back towards St. Malo and it's neighboring resort town of Dinard. The Emerald Coast is very famous for its beaches, quaint seaside towns and coastal views, and we enjoyed stopping at multiple scenic points along the way. Some of the places we stopped in were PlÃ©neuf-Val-AndrÃ©, the Cap FrÃ©hel, the Fort de la Motte (amazing drawbridge castle on the edge of a rocky cliff), Sablons d'Or-les-Pins (Golden Sands and Pine Trees), Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, and Dinard. Every one had something special that made it worth the stop. Mom and I really enjoyed our coffee in the port of Plaimpol, our little hike on the coastal cliffs of PlouÃ©zac, a stroll on the beach in Val-AndrÃ©, and a hike around the Cap FrÃ©hel. There is a lighthouse on that point which is very dramatic, and the panoramic views are stunning. I am running out of adjectives to describe how pretty it is. Suffice it to say that I would happily go back and
On the walls of St. Malo
On Monday morning the sun came out over St. Malo so we could appreciate its full beauty before we left to go visit the Mont Saint Michel. It is truly an enchanting city- we loved it!
spend a week in any one of those places. Dinner that night was in Dinard across from the resort-casino (big summer draw!) before driving a couple hours across Bretagne on the road to Paris. We passed through Rennes (getting thoroughly lost because of a total lack of ring-roads) and eventually stopped in Laval. We discovered the thoroughly-wonderful (and totally cheap) automatic-check-in hotels, which provide the basics to a tired travellor: a bed, tiny single-unit molded bathroom, and a door to lock. While it resembled a lego-like snap-together room, it was functional, and very welcome after another long day. (Did I mention that my mother was probably suffering from mild pneumonia during this whole trip???)
On Wednesday we woke up early and drove another couple hours to Chartres to visit its famous cathedral on the way back to Paris. It is the tallest cathedral in France, I believe, and has the most detailed, minute stained glass that I have ever seen. Something like 186 windows, with thousands of individual panes. The sun came out during our visit there, too, which allowed us to appreciate the full effect of this magnificent cathedral. Another check on my list of "Sights to see
Le Mont Saint Michel
Grandiose and fairy-tale like at the same time, one's first glimpse of the Mont leaves a lasting impression. So do its ever-present sheep herds that eat the tender salt-marsh grasses.
Arriving back in Paris, we managed to successfully navigate the Ãtoile roundabout arounf the Arc de Triomphe WITHOUT getting in an accident. This was entirely thanks to the steel nerves of my mom, who navigated the five rings of traffic chaos while I simply cringed and repeated, "Look out! Bus! Look out, car! On the right! On the left! Stop! Watch behind you! Use the bus for protection!" It was total anarchy. I am never doing that again. And I wasn't even the one driving!!!!! Mom is my hero. After that rush of adrenaline we safely arrived at Mom's hotel right behind Villiers and only a 10 minute walk from my door. We both settled in our bags, and then met up to walk across town to school because I had french class from 7:15-9:15pm. Mom killed time in Saint Germain while I "did school", and then we had the best meal that I have yet had in France at La Petite Chaise. Just around the corner from my school, it is a small restaurant with a lot of charm; the oldest one in Paris and truly a treat. I've been wanting to go there since September,
One single passenger lane leads up to the abbey on top of the island, and it is packed with restaurants and souvenir stores- as well as 4 entertaining little museums which only take about 30 min each to visit.
so that was a little dream fulfilled for me. I'm happy to say that it exceeded my high expectations! Mom and I also discovered a very nice red wine that night, a St. Nicolas de Borgieux. (I think that's how it's spelled.) Wonderful meal.
Thursday I had no class, so Mom and I happily spent the day dining in the OdÃ©on "cafÃ© quarter", shopping for antique maps, shopping for clothes on the Rue de Rennes, and dining in Montmartre that night. The Place du Tertre was hopping with tourists even at 11pm, and we had a nice meal at "Armand's" or "Arnold's" or something. It was fun. Very lively!
Friday was a couple more classes while Mom killed time at the Louvre, and then we met up at 3:30 pm to drive down to Tours. We wanted to visit the chateaux of the Loire Valley, so we booked it down Friday night in under two hours. We accomplished this by taking the toll-highway, which is super-fast but also super-expensive. 13 euros for a couple hunded kilometers!!!! We found that out the hard way...
Tours was pretty, although I was frantically finishing a neglected piece of homework as
we drove in and I didn't get a full impression of it! I DID, however, turn in my work on time (more or less, via internet cafe!) and was able to thoroughly enjoy an awesome pizza meal at a nice Italian restaurant on the main street. That was my first pizza in seven months, and wow was it good! Funny how you can forget how delicious European thin-crust pizzas are. I need to eat them more often!!!!
Saturday morning dawned kind of gray and cold, but improved dramatically over the course of the day. We visited three different chateaux, going from big to biggest, and from beautiful to awe-inspiring! In order: VIllandry (a family-owned chateau), Chenonceau (the Chateau des Dames, created by the mistress and wife of one of the French kings), and finally Chambord, orignally a hunting lodge and then an official residence of the kings. The entire Loire valley is dotted with various castles and mansions and fortresses, having long been the "playground" of France's aristocracy before the French Revolution. I absolutely loved seeing the chateaux, and the countryside was beautiful too. Mom enjoyed it a lot as well.
We had planned to stay in Tours
Interior of the Abbey
This was the room where all the monks used to copy their manuscripts, I believe- hence all the light.
until Sunday, but since Georgetown had a date in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, we turned around and drove back to Paris so I could watch the game in my favorite bar with my fellow Hoyas. I definitely bleed Hoya blue! This made the result of the match (a loss to runners-up Ohio State) very, VERY painful, but it was worth the trip back. I'm already waiting for next year, when Florida's entire team will be in the NBA or graduated and Roy and Jeff will dominate the tournament! It was a disappointing end to a truly basketball-mad March, but Sunday April 1 dawned warm and sunny, and life went on. Mom and I spent our last day together in Montmartre, mixing with the tourists, buying watercolors from the artists in the Place du Tertre, and walking (hiking!) up and and down the Butte over the course of the day. Throw in some yummy french restaurants, patisseries, and an excellent evening meal with Dominique, and you get the PERFECT end to a wonderful week. Paris is an awesome place to live, but there is nothing like having your family there to share it with! I am so glad
Looking Inland to the River
You can see where they have constructed a causeway for tourists to drive to the island. This is actually creating a silt-accumulation in the Bay, however, and causing the shoreline to encroach into the bay. A new tidal dam and engineering project have been launched to correct this human-caused degradation.
we got the time to visit eachother, and it made the week better than I could ever have imagined. So if you get the chance, you can copy our itinerary, but do it with someone you love, and it will be so much better! Family is truly the best part of every vacation, and this mother-daughter team certainly made the most of a week.
There are more photos below