Heavy seas pound the high walls of St Malo and locals and visitors line the wall-top promenade in the late afternoon sun to marvel at the spray flung high in the air.
Monuments to the author Chateaubriand, the corsair Surcouf and the explorer Jacques Cartier mark a perambulation around the walls and you shouldn’t miss a tour of the old prison.
St Malo is a good base for a driving holiday around Brittany, seeing many of the beautiful villages and towns of this lovely region of France.
For example, just around the coast is the traditional fishing harbour village of Cancale, where you can buy oysters directly off the boats in season.
Only a short drive away is the walled medieval town of Dinan. One of the oldest towns in the region, its narrow streets are lined with half-timbered buildings.
Near the centre you will find the Tour d’Horloge, which has a deafening 500-year-old bell. Follow the narrow winding Rue du Jerzual down to the old port beside the river Rance for views of Dinan’s ramparts in all their medieval splendour.
Josselin is dubbed a “petite cite de caractere” and its chateau is still home to the de Rohan family, which has historic connections with the dukes of Brittany, as well the royal houses of France and England. The castle looks like a medieval fortress but has a Renaissance-style interior.
Tregier is famous for its beautiful cathedral, with its delicate 14th century spire and graceful cloister. The lively harbour is a great place to have seafood or a delicious crepe.
Perros Guirec exudes holiday charm, with its marina and pretty village surrounding the 12th century church of St Jacques. From the sandy beaches of Trestaou you can walk along the coastal path of the famous pink granite coast to Ploumanac’h and enjoy yet more seafood.
Drive two or three hours west to Quimper, which has fine medieval dwellings and several charming districts. Set beside the river Odet, it is famous for its pottery.
There are many attractive villages to visit nearby, including Lacronan – one of France’s 100 most beautiful villages. Its beautiful main square features renaissance houses as well as the church of St Ronan and the Bonne Nouvelle chapel.
Also on the coast is the fishing port of Pont-Aven, where artists have been coming to paint the scenery for 150 years. Paul Gauguin was probably the most famous artistic resident, staying for three years from 1886.
He lived in lodgings near the bridge (which are now a newsagent) and painted strongly-coloured scenes of the water-mills and quays along the river-mouth. Nearby, Tremalo Chapel featured in his famous painting The Yellow Christ.
By Natasha von Geldern
Brittany Ferries sails from Portsmouth to St Malo, with both a night and daytime crossing every 24 hours. The cabin accommodation is comfortable or the budget conscious can opt for a reclining seat.