It was still dark when we landed at Saint-Malo in France and came off the Brittany Ferries' Pont-Aven.
The massive wall of the fortified town loomed above us and our footsteps echoed in the narrow cobbled streets,
The unmistakable morning smell of fresh baking hung in the air and light spilled out from a shop. The Boulanger was already bustling with locals collecting their breakfast croissants and batons of bread.
We had a strong feeling of arrival. Others may have driven straight off the ferry and sped towards the south of France but we knew that Saint-Malo was a place to linger.
We explored the main street which arcs around the town and delved off into lesser lanes where we gazed at ships figureheads, contemplated cheeses and considered the restaurants, including one that offered Creole cooking.
We walked the ramparts of the ancient fortified city and gazed out to the sea and the miles of sand that disappeared into the distance along the Emerald Coast.
It was a magnificent beach dotted with off shore islands; including one that you can walk to when the tide is low.
Many of Saint-Malo’s tall granite buildings have one or two levels of cellars and many of these were used to store the plunder of piracy. It was on this activity, in the 17th and 18th century, that the well placed sea port grew rich.
At the castle the flag of Saint-Malo flew in the breeze, fluttering above the French tricolour. We heard music and followed our ears to find added colour in the shape of a fun-fair.
It was a long established affair and part of an historic festival for "Le Grande Peche." Just one of Brittany's many festivals.
In this a blessing was given for the protection of sailors and their ships before they set off to sail across the Atlantic to fish on the Grand Banks off New Foundland.
A local male voice choir called Le Boccnier, dressed as fishermen, sang a traditional song... the refrain “We need the sea, we need the sea to do our work"
Sailing in these waters can be challenging as between Saint-Malo and Mont San Michel they have the greatest tidal differences in the world producing a rise and fall of some 40 feet.
Reefs concealed by these tides were used to Saint-Malo's advantage bask in the days when the town was a haven for pirates and in addition to his natural protection forts were built on the islands to guard the entrance to the port.
The place proved almost impregnable.
Once during an attack when a fire ship was being swept by the tide towards the shore it merely managed to hit rocks and blow itself up.
The explosion set flaming debris into the air but the only damage sustained was to the fur of a cat.
With an appropriate touch of humour the locals renamed a little lane behind the walls as " Rue du Chat qui Danse," (The Street of the Cat who Danced.)
Licensed pirates. - Death and Taxes
Historically, fishermen heading for the Grand Banks were allowed by King Louis the Fourteenth to protect themselves with cannon. This was in case they were attacked by the English - who disputed the fishing rights. From this stems the beginnings of the "privateers," licensed pirates
In times of war they were permitted to plunder foreign merchant shipping on condition that the goods seized were declared at a French port and tax paid on it. Attacks were made on shipping especially the English who had a rich trade with the Americas and the West Indies.
As to the tax paid into the Royal purse, this varied, sometimes it was a 10th to a 3rd was taken before the remainder was divided between the ship owner, captain and crew.
There was big money to be made and close by the sea wall a statue stands to Robert Surcouf, most famous privateer who hit jackpot when he met up with the British ship "The Kent."
If you want to recreate something of the atmosphere on your holiday then you can spend 20€ and go afloat under sail on "The Renard" - (The Fox) You get to handle the ropes, hoist sails and generally get a feel being a buccaneer.
Saint Malo also makes a good base for touring and you can take country roads along the valley of the River Rance to Dinan.
Dinan is a fortress town, and if you climb up the hill from the river you find 15th century half timbered houses with overhanging upper storeys and dating from the same era there is the Tour de' l'Horloge.
Dinan is still encircled by an unbroken line of of the oldest and most extensive ramparts in Brittany and when you park your car in the town square the statue of the Breton commander Bertrand du Guesclin towers above you.
He was a local lad who made good. During a seige of the town by the English army in 1359 he survived a single combat duel with Thomas of Canterbury.
Later in his career he became the second most powerful man in France.
The countryside can be a mass of colour, particularly when the cider apple trees bloom under the blue skies.
It is certainly worth exploring whether you go inland or follow the road along the coast. You pass four long beaches before you go over the headland at Pont Rotheneuf Le Pont and arrive at the little fishing village of Cancale.
Cancale is famed for its oysters and we joined the locals who relaxed at the cafes on a Sunday morning.
I can recommend a light lunch at the 'Creperie du Port.' at place du Calvaire. The cost was modest and they do a wonderful crepe that contains three different kind of cheese.
We tried one along with a glass of local cider and decided that we would like to spend much much more time getting to know Brittany. It kind of grows on you.
For further help in planning a visit to Brittany it is worth delving into the " French Collection" brochure produced by Brittany ferries or visiting their website at http://www.brittanyferries.com
for Saint Malo, Pirates and Beaches
Report by Allan Rogers