Road Trip to Northern France

View of Mont Saint-Michel from nearby dam

View of Mont Saint-Michel from nearby dam

Anyone that knows Ben and I, knows Ben is undeniably the master of spreadsheets; and while I myself make lots of lists that end up crumbled in the bottom of my purse, I am better known for my inability to enjoy non-productive time. Essentially, he plans and I like to do, which in my mind is a pretty great travel combination. Therefore, after we settled in Paris for the summer, we began making tentative itineraries both for exploring France and screening potential European post graduation cities. While all we have discussed is a bit over ambitious, both in time and money, its exciting nonetheless and this past weekend we took our first French road trip.

Saturday morning we woke up early, packed lunch, organized our camping gear, and took the metro down near the 11th and 12th arrondissements to pick up our Ford Focus from Enterprise for the weekend. Luckily, even though Ben accidentally booked a car for the following weekend (spreadsheets aren’t that smart…), we were still able to get a car.

We began the week spending a few hours on the western edge of Normandy, visiting island commune of Le Mont Saint-Michel. Though undeniably magnificent, especially regarding history and unique location, it was significantly more touristy than I quite naively expected from one of France’s top tourist attraction.

Mont Saint-Michel from mainland

Mont Saint-Michel from mainland

Located on the mouth of the Couesnon River, Mont Saint-Michel was previously only connected to mainland via a tidal causeway. In 1879 a dry causeway was built, but a current project by the French government (Projet Mont-Saint-Michel) was begun in 2009 to make Mont Saint-Michel a true island again through a new hydraulic dam that will help remove accumulated silt. In addition to removing the dry causeway, the introduction of the dam will also result in the termination of the nearby visitor and staff parking lot, which has resulted in… you guessed it, a strike. Luckily for us, the island and abbey was not only still open on Saturday, but free. As Ben says, the staff on strike probably realized it pissed off the government more to let people in for free, than not at all. I guess I can be pro-union for a day.

Couesnon River and dam

Couesnon River and dam

Mont Saint-Michel from tidal basin

Mont Saint-Michel from tidal basin

Jumping rocks in the tidal basin

Jumping rocks in the tidal basin

Inside the abbey

Inside the abbey

Interior courtyard

Interior courtyard

At around 5pm we left the island and headed into Brittany to have dinner in the small village of Dinan, recommended by Ben’s coworkers, before setting up camp for the night in Saint-Malo on the coast. Dinan was beyond charming, a tiny medieval town along the Rance river that I would definitely recommend visiting, even if only passing through. Since we didn’t have much time as we wanted to set up camp before dark, we spent the majority of our time indulging in galettes, crepes, and cider. The first being Brittany’s most iconic dish, and cider their traditional drink. After all, eating in France is always time well spent.

We took the French Lonely Planet‘s advice and went to Crêperie Ahna for their filets de magret de canard au beurre d’ escargot – or in English, duck breast with snail butter. Lonely Planet for the win, as this galette was phenomenal. We ordered two, washing it down with two bottles of cider as Ben wanted to try both the sweet and unsweet variations. Though to Ben’s disappointment, as much as he tried to convince himself he had a buzz from the cider, we did in fact confirm the low alcohol content and instead left the restaurant bloated and having to pee. The white chocolate rum raisin crêpe for dessert compensated for this previous disappointment.

Duck breast with snail butter galette at Crêperie Ahna

Duck breast with snail butter galette at Crêperie Ahna

Happy eaters at Crêperie Ahna

Happy eaters at Crêperie Ahna

White chocolate rum raisin crêpe  at Crêperie Ahna

White chocolate rum raisin crêpe at Crêperie Ahna

Evening in Dinan

Evening in Dinan

Walking the streets of Dinan

Walking the streets of Dinan

After dinner in Dinan on Saturday we went to nearby Saint-Malo, a walled port city on the English Channel notorious for past piracy, to Camping de la Cité d’Alet camp ground overlooking La Ville Intra-Muros, or the Walled City. Though the view was great, the location ideal, and the price spectacular, I’m forever tainted by the splendor of Swedish camping and thus always have my expectations a tad too high to be fully satisfied. French camp grounds always feel a bit too much like summer camp, not that either Ben or myself went to any as a child, and thus basing this description on blockbusters such as The Parent Trap, Troop Beverly Hills, and Camp Nowhere – none of which admittedly make French camping actually sound like a bad thing.

Plage de Bon Secours from the Walled City of Saint-Malo

Walled City of Saint-Malo

Overlooking the English Channel

Overlooking the English Channel

Whaaat?! I did NOT participate, only documented

Whaaat?! I did NOT participate, only documented

On Sunday we spent the majority of the day in and around Saint-Malo, and especially enjoyed walking atop the city walls and spending time on two of the beaches. The city has the highest tidal range in Europe, averaging around 12m (or 40 feet) during a full moon, which we were able to observe over the course of the day. The first beach we went to, Plage de Bon Secours, has a protected tidal pool for swimming during low tide, with a ladder for jumping usable during both low and high tides. The largest and second beach we went to, the Grande Plage northeast along the isthmus of Le Sillon, we actually didn’t realize at first wasn’t just a bay due to high tide, then ended up spending majority of the afternoon along its wide stretch of sand during low tide. Though we didn’t, a lot of the small islands offshore in the pictures are walkable to during low tide, some housing fortresses.

Protected tidal pool (note ladder for jumping off) hidden at high tide at Plage de Bon Secours

Protected tidal pool (note ladder for jumping off) hidden at high tide at Plage de Bon Secours

Protected tidal pool visible at low tide

Protected tidal pool visible at low tide

In the evening we drove to nearby Dinard for dinner before heading back to Paris. Once again we followed Lonely Planet’s recommendation, redeeming itself for the Swedish Lonely Planet, and went to the restaurant in the Hotel Printania. A bit outside the touristy town, the restaurant has fabulous views and the waitresses wear traditional Briton attire (see painting hanging behind Ben below for reference). We ordered all seafood, were beyond satisfied, and ready for the three and half hour drive back to Paris.

Hotel Printania restaurant

Hotel Printania restaurant

View from Hotel Printania restaurant (our campsite in Saint-Malo across the bay)

View from Hotel Printania restaurant (our campsite in Saint-Malo across the bay)

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4 Comments

  1. alissa
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 20:13:47

    Looks like another great trip!
    ~AJW

    Reply

  2. Nancy Helms
    Jul 18, 2013 @ 17:38:02

    Pardonne moi, I would like a rock from the tidal basin please. And I know how to fumer a canard 😉 I also make the most delicious white chocolate raison crepes 😉

    Reply

  3. Martin
    Jul 18, 2013 @ 21:04:59

    The white chocolate raison crepes look extremely tasteful. I actually like both type of Cider sweet and unsweet. But it depends very much on the food and temperature of the wine. However, it is not always easy to be a scientist you have to make sacrifices. Be happy that there was no 3rd option. 🙂 What is your next trip?

    Reply

    • admin
      Jul 19, 2013 @ 07:28:20

      Ha! I’m very happy there was no 3rd option =)

      First weekend of August we are going to London. Ben’s dad will be there for work, so we will visit the city and meet up with him. Otherwise, not sure yet, staying in Paris this weekend doing some tourist stuff. I’ll keep you posted on Germany plans 😉

      Reply

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