Start as you mean to go on by taking a gourmet cruise to Saint-Malo with Brittany Ferries. The boat leaves Portsmouth just after 8pm, by which time you can be safely in the restaurant eating a large pile of freshly cooked prawns and langoustines with mayonnaise and planning your next course. If you opt for the buffet, you can while away a few happy hours eating seafood and cheese, leaving a little bit of space for a main course and dessert. It would be a shame to miss the crème brûlée, perfectly creamy with a crisp, but not unbreachable, layer of caramel on top. Meanwhile the ferry chugs at a leisurely pace towards France and continues to do so while you sleep in a very comfortable cabin (I don’t know where Brittany ferries sources the mattresses, but they’re superb), and sleep off your excesses, ready for breakfast in one of Saint-Malo’s cafés after docking at around 8am. Included in the price, from £109pp is lunch at a local restaurant, another night in a cabin, and breakfast as you sail back into Portsmouth.
Buy a kouign-amann. This yeast-based, buttery, flaky cross between a tart and a cake is a speciality of Douarenez on the east coast. Don’t think about the calories and head for the Boulangerie de la Cathédrale on Rue Du Paurpris, Saint-Malo.
The walled city of Saint-Malo is known as ‘La Ville Intra-Muros’, and at high tide it looks almost like an island from the sea. The high walls, cobbled streets and buildings within were almost all destroyed in 1944, then rebuilt exactly as they had been. Take a walk around the walls before dinner, then stop for a drink at the Bar Des Voyageurs at L’Univers Hotel on 12 Place Châteaubriand. For seafood, try Le Chalut at 8 Rue de la Corne de Cerf where you’ll find very good food such as sea bass with girolles, turbot with coco de Paimpol (see below) and Cancale oysters in an entirely French atmosphere. Set menus start at €28.
Try a galette-saucisse at Dinan market, which takes place onThursday mornings. This is as typical as Brittany food gets, grilled pork sausage swathed in a buckwheat galette, the area’s answer to England’s pie eaten at the football. It’s usually eaten plain but no one will mind if you add a dab of mustard. If you don’t make it to Dinan, and you should because it’s a glorious medieval town with plenty of cobbled streets and ramparts to explore, you’ll find this dish at crêperies and other markets.
Eat high-end, top-notch food at one of the forty-one restaurants which form the Tables & Saveurs Bretagne. In these you’ll find refined Breton dishes using everything from local barnacles, abalone and scallops to salt marsh lamb and the multitude of vegetables and herbs that grow inland. The website is in French, but is simple to navigate, and all the information you need for each restaurant is detailed.
Look for coco de Paimpol – white beans grown in the department of Côtes d’Armor – they are AOP, which means they can only be grown there. In season between August and October, you’ll see piles of yellowish pods speckled with purple at local markets, the beans are semi-dried, so are sold fresh or kept chilled.
Stop at Cancale for some of the oysters they are famous for – the plankton and other sea-based delicacies oysters like to eat are supposed to be the equivalent of Michelin starred dishes in the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel. Flat-shelled ostrea edulis are natives, and rounded crassostrea gigas are Japanese in origin. The latter are 98% of the yield in the area around Cancale, which grows about 25,000 tonnes per year. You can buy a take-away tray, eat at shellfish farm La Ferme Marine or take your pick of local restaurants on the seafront. If you plan to eat with a sea-view check the tides, the harbour is shallow and when the tide is out you’ll be looking at mud!
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