Thrust out into the sea, bound to the mainland only by man-made causeways, romantic St-Malo-"the pirates' city"-has built a reputation as a breeding ground for phenomenal sailors. Many were fishermen, but St-Malo's most famous sea dogs were corsairs, pirates paid by the French crown to harass the Limeys across the Channel. The views here are stupendous, especially at high tide. A weeklong fire in 1944, kindled by retreating Nazis, wiped out nearly all the old buildings in St-Malo. Restoration work was more painstaking than brilliant, but the narrow streets and granite houses of the Vieille Ville were satisfactorily re-created, enabling St-Malo to regain its role as a busy fishing port, seaside resort, and tourist destination. The ramparts themselves are authentic, and the flames also spared houses along the Vieille Ville's rue de Pelicot.
Cathédrale St-Vincent. You can pay homage to Jacques Cartier, who set sail from St-Malo in 1535 on a voyage in which he would discover the St. Lawrence River and found Québec, at his tomb in the church of St-Vincent. His statue overlooks the town ramparts, four blocks away, along with that of swashbuckling corsair Robert Surcouf (hero of many daring 18th-century raids on the British navy). Grand-Rue.
Fort National. The "Bastille of Brittany," the Fort National, offshore and accessible by causeway at low tide only, is a massive fortress with a dungeon constructed in 1689 by that military-engineering genius Sébastien de Vauban. Tours commence at the drawbridge, last 35 minutes, and have an English text available. St-Malo. Admission charged.
Ile du Grand Bé. Five hundred yards offshore is the Ile du Grand Bé, a small island housing the somber military tomb of the great Romantic writer Viscount René de Chateaubriand, who was born in St-Malo. The islet can be reached by a causeway at low tide only. St-Malo.
Musée d'Histoire de la Ville (Town History Museum). At the edge of the ramparts is this 15th-century château, whose great keep and watchtowers command an impressive view of the harbor and coastline. It houses the museum, devoted to local history, and the Galerie Quic-en-Grogne, a museum in a tower where various episodes and celebrities from St-Malo's past are recalled by way of waxworks. Hôtel de Ville. Admission charged.
Stone Ramparts. Facing Dinard across the Rance Estuary, the stone ramparts of St-Malo have withstood the pounding of the Atlantic since the 12th century, the founding date of the town's main church, Cathédrale St-Vincent. These ramparts were considerably enlarged and modified in the 18th century and now extend from the castle for more than 1½ km (1 mi) around the Vieille Ville-known as intra-muros (within the walls). On rue St-Benoît.
Cancale. If you enjoy eating oysters, be sure to get to Cancale, a picturesque fishing village renowned for its offshore bancs d'huîtres (oyster beds). You can sample the mollusks at countless stalls or restaurants along the quay.
The Musée de la Ferme Marine (Sea Farm Museum). Just south of town, this museum explains everything you ever wanted to know about farming oysters and has a display of 1,500 different types of shells. L'Aurore, Cancale. Admission charged.
Dinard. Dinard is the most elegant resort town on this stretch of the Brittany coast. Its picture-book perch on the Rance Estuary, opposite the walled town of St-Malo, lured the English aristocracy here in droves toward the end of the 19th century. What started out as a small fishing port soon became a seaside mecca of lavish Belle Époque villas (more than 400 still dot the town and shoreline), grand hotels, and a bustling casino. A number of modern establishments punctuate the landscape, but the town still retains something of an Edwardian tone. To make the most of Dinard's beauty, head down to the Pointe de la Vicomté, at the town's southern tip, where the cliffs offer panoramic views across the Baie du Prieuré and Rance Estuary, or stroll along the narrow promenade.
Promenade Clair de Lune. The Promenade Clair de Lune hugs the seacoast on its way toward the English Channel and passes in front of the small jetty used by boats crossing to St-Malo. In Dinard, the road weaves along the shore and is adorned with luxuriant palm trees and mimosa blooms, which, from July to the end of September, are illuminated at dusk with spotlights; strollers are serenaded with recorded music. The promenade really hits its stride as it rounds the Pointe du Moulinet and heads toward the sandy Plage du Prieuré, named after a priory that once stood here. River meets sea in a foaming mass of rock-pounding surf: use caution as you walk along the slippery path to the calm shelter of the Plage de l'Écluse, an inviting sandy beach bordered by the casino and numerous stylish hotels. The coastal path picks up on the west side of Plage de l'Écluse, ringing the Pointe de la Malouine and the Pointe des Étêtés before arriving at the Plage de St-Énogat. Dinard.
The 24 pools and aquariums at the Musée de la Mer (Marine Museum) contain almost every known species of Breton sea creature, and stuffed local birds are also on display. One room is devoted to the polar expeditions of explorer Jean Charcot, one of the first men to chart the Antarctic. 17 av. George-V.
Dinan. During the frequent wars that devastated other cities in the Middle Ages, the merchants who ruled Dinan got rich selling stuff to whichever camp had the upper hand, well aware that loyalty to any side, be it the French, the English, or the Breton, would eventually lead to the destruction of their homes. The strategy worked: today, Dinan is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Brittany.
Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower). For a superb view of town, climb to the top of this medieval tower. Passage de la Tour de l'Horloge, Dinan. Admission charged.
Basilique St-Sauveur. Du Guesclin's heart lies in the north transept of the Basilique St-Sauveur. The church's style ranges from the Romanesque south front to the Flamboyant Gothic facade and Renaissance side chapels. The old trees in the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) behind the church provide a nice frame. More spectacular views can be found at the bottom of the garden. Pl. St-Sauveur, Dinan.
Château. The stolidly built, fortresslike Château, at the end of the Promenade des Petits Fossés, has a two-story tower, the Tour du Coëtquen, and a 100-foot, 14th-century donjon (keep) containing a museum with varied displays of medieval effigies and statues, Breton furniture, and locally made lace coiffes (head coverings). Porte de Guichet, Dinan. Admission charged.
Château de Combourg (Cat's Tower). The pretty lakeside village of Combourg is dominated by the boyhood home of Romantic writer Viscount René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), the thick-walled, four-tower Château de Combourg. Topped with "witches' cap" towers that the poet likened to Gothic crowns, the castle dates mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries. Quartered in the tower called "La Tour du Chat" along with roosting birds and the ghost of the wooden-legged Comte de Combourg, young René succumbed to the chateau's moody spell and, in turn, became a leading light of Romanticism. His novel Atala and René, about a tragic love affair between a French soldier and a Native American maiden, was an international sensation in the mid-19th century, while his multivolume History of Christianity was required reading for half of Europe. The château grounds-ponds, woods, and cattle-strewn meadowland-are suitably mournful and can seem positively desolate when viewed under leaden skies. Its melancholy is best captured in Chateaubriand's famous Mémoires d'outre-tombe (Memories from Beyond the Tomb). Inside you can view neo-Gothic salons, the Chateaubriand archives, and the writer's severe bedroom up in the "Cat's Tower." Combourg, France. Admission charged.
You can pick up Brittany's traditional cakes (kouigan amann), porcelain cider cups, traditional striped sailor shirts, and even handmade Bretton lace in the shops around St-Malo's city hall (Hôtel de Ville). Nearby Dinan has become one of the leading craft havens in France, attracting many wood-carvers, jewelers, leather workers, glass specialists, and silk painters, who have set up shop in the medieval houses that line the cobbled, sloping Rue de Jerzual.
Grain de Vanille. Sublime tastes of Brittany-salted butter caramels, fruity sorbets, rare honeys, and heirloom breads-are sold at Roellingers's shop. Try a cup of "Mariage" tea and-Brittany in a bite-some cinnamon-orange-flavor malouine cookies. 12 pl. de la Victoire, Cancale.
Les Entrepôts Épices-Roellinger. Monsieur Roellinger's newest addition to his culinary empire is dedicated to the exotic spices he personally searches the world to find. A treasure trove of single spices, along with his signature spice blends-such as Poudre Curry Corsaire, for mussels and shellfish; and Poudre du Vent, for squab or cream sauces-exotic peppers, fleur de sel, and choice vanillas. 1 rue Duguesclin, Cancale.