Passion is a word that is characteristically French. Our short weekend trip to Saint-Malo, Brittany (Bretagne) provided a great introduction to Breton culinary traditions in a cultural region of France where food and history combine passionately.


Shortly after our arrival in Saint-Malo, and following a pleasant overnight ferry ride from England with Brittany Ferries, we met Corinne, a local tour guide, for an early morning coffee at the colourful Café De L’Ouest in Place Chateaubriand, the main square of the old city. Although still early in the day, Corrine was already buzzing with excitement at the opportunity to introduce us to her city later that day. Her passion was infectious.

Each of France’s cultural regions offers a unique identity and character. Brittany, on France’s southwestern coast, has a distinct traditional cuisine shaped by the riches of her natural environment (land and sea) and spices which the locals (known as Bretons), fabled mariners, brought back from all over the world. Our itinerary included an early morning cooking master-class, a crêpe lunch and dinner at a restaurant offering great views of the Saint-Malo bay. The exciting prospect of experiencing mouth-watering Breton cuisine blended with a genuine curiosity about this iconic ancient French port city.

 

Lobster lessons – trusting instinct

With over 1,000 km of coastline, it came as no surprise to us to learn that seafood is Brittany’s speciality. The rich waters of Baie du Mont Saint Michel provide Saint-Malo with an almost year-round supply of fresh fruits de mer (seafood).

After coffee, we took the scenic route along the old city’s walls to meet up with Michelin Star chef, Monsieur Luc Mobihan, for a cooking class.

Luc and his partner Isabelle, run Restaurant Le Saint-Placide, a local restaurant famous for exploring bold tastes and flavours. However, that morning, he was wearing his other hat as a representative of École du Goût de Saint-Malo, a non-profit local collective of chefs committed to preserving the authenticity and traditions of Breton cuisine.

École du Goût | Saint-Malo | Breton | Cuisine

Working with his assistant, Luc explained that he would be teaching us how to cook Breton lobster. Immediately, our minds flashed back to the Christmas of 2015 when, with only YouTube for guidance, we had rushed to London’s Billingsgate Market to pick up a fresh pair of lobsters, a culinary experiment that yielded mixed results.

Firstly, for dessert, Luc mixed up a batch of financiers, a fluffy pastry made with almond flour, sugar, and the deliciously nutty beurre bordier (Breton butter).

With dessert in the oven, Luc introduced ingredients typically used in Breton cuisine including: wild asparagus and saffron. Then, expertly separating the fresh, live lobsters, he created first a lobster stock and then gravy, two base ingredients that are essential to good French cooking.

Trusting his instincts and respecting cooking times, Luc created three dishes:

Lobster with tarragon sauce

Lobster le beurre blanc (butter sauce) with wild asparagus

Lobster minestrone with rigatoni

The biggest learning point for us was the simplicity of it all. In two hours, Luc had demystified the process of cooking the perfect lobster. With Luc we got a demonstration of skill and passion with a dash of classic French joie de vivre thrown in.

Chef Luc Mobihan | Michelin Starred | École du Goût

We finished up the session by sampling the financiers and toasting to Luc’s good health with bubbly wine from the Loire Valley provided by Cave de l’Abbaye, a lovely wine shop on the first floor of École du Goût.

HDYTI tip: École du Goût cooking classes can be booked online or by calling +33 (0) 299201720

Good food is simple and stays true to its flavours and original ingredients - Luc Mobihan Click To Tweet

 

La Crêpe with a view

Crêpes (savoury pancakes) are enjoyed throughout France with different variations often reflective of the culture of a particular region. Following our time with Luc, we headed to Crepêrie du Corps de Garde, located in a 17th century military post set within Saint-Malo’s famously impregnable 12th century walls.

Crepêrie du Corps de Garde | Saint-Malo | Brittany

There we sampled buckwheat crêpes, a Breton specialty, with a delightful range of fillings including: ham, mushrooms, cheese and eggs which went well with a local cider-rosé. We finished up with tasty ice cream dessert crêpes while taking in the scenery.

Although slightly touristy, the building offered panoramic views of Saint-Malo’s long sandy beaches, France’s so-called Emerald Coast. In the distance we could see Le Grande Bé, an island fort only reachable at low tide. Nearby, a group of boats sailed in a neat circle, a picture-perfect scene only interrupted when an over-passionate windsurfer misjudged the wind speed and fell over the edge of Piscine de Bon Secours, a rock pool only usable at low tide. Apart from a bruised kite and perhaps his ego, he seemed fine.

Saint-Malo | Britanny | Bretagne

HDYTI Tip: Brittany Tourism organise a range of itineraries for visitors who are keen to explore the region more intimately. Visitors to Saint-Malo can also enjoy day trips to multiple locations across Brittany such as Dinard and Rennes.

HDYTI Tip: Getting there: Brittany Ferries offers packages to Saint-Malo from Portsmouth starting from £76pp for a two night break (one night on the ferry).

 

History, seafood and passion

After lunch, we joined Corrine at the statue of Jacques Cartier, the acclaimed ‘discoverer’ of Canada, for a guided tour of the Old City of Saint-Malo. With great gusto she announced, “Throughout the history of MY city, no one ever, ever managed to successfully attack, from the 12th century, right up to World War II!”

Saint-Malo | Britanny | Bretagne

Using possessive pronouns like ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘us’, she adopted a first person narrative as she led our small group on a historical tour of the old city. Expertly taking ownership of her gripping stories, she made us feel like we had front row seats on a journey back in time.

Her eyes lit up as she weaved through centuries of Saint-Malo’s history: its early origins, fortifications, unique architecture, maritime economy, seafaring Corsairs (read: legalized pirates) and post-World War II reconstruction. At the end of the tour, through quaint cobblestone backstreets, she led us back to our hotel, Hotel France et Chateaubriand, a tastefully furnished affair combining classic with modern and bohemian styles.

Hotel France et Chateaubriand | Saint-Malo

[Check Hotel France et Chateaubriand rates here]

HDYTI Tip: With an impressive range of shopping options, we recommend wandering the streets of Saint-Malo and indulging your senses with spice shops, cafés, fashion and art.

Our Breton culinary experience came to a head that evening during dinner at the panoramic Le 5 Restaurant on the top floor of our hotel. We set aside our squeamishness and jumped into a starter of steamed seafood, an adventurous gastronomic display of oysters, crab, prawns, shrimp, snails and mussels arranged on a bed of seaweed; clearly a significant statement of the region’s passion for seafood.

Seafood | Restaurant Le 5 | Hotel France et Chateaubriand | Saint-Malo

 

Keeping our spark alive

As a travelling couple, we embrace opportunities to keep the passion in our relationship alive. A quick weekend trip to Saint-Malo provided a very relaxing weekend escape. As we walked hand-in-hand through its ancient streets, we were inspired by a city unafraid to express its passion for its food, culture and history.

Saint-Malo | Brittany Tourism

The next morning, with dark clouds gathering over the English Channel, our ferry, aptly named The Bretagne, set a steady course for the trip back to Portsmouth. Although the rain soon obscured our view of Saint-Malo, we looked back with longing at the receding coastline of Brittany and vowed to return.

Disclaimer: Our media trip was arranged through a joint collaboration between Brittany Tourism and Brittany Ferries with transfers, accommodation, meals and excursions included. However, all views and opinions remain ours and we were not paid to publish this article. Our sincere thanks go to the representatives of Brittany Tourism and Brittany Ferries who helped us discover the beauty that lies just across the English Channel.

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Co-Founders & Curators at HDYTI

Eulanda & Omo Osagiede are London-based freelance writers and award-winning social influencers who run the popular travel, food, and lifestyle blog HDYTI (Hey! Dip your toes in).