SAINT MALO (Brittany)
Thrust out into the sea and bound to the mainland only by tenuous man-made causeways, romantic St-Malo has built a reputation as a breeding ground for phenomenal sailors. Many were fishermen, but others—most notably Jacques Cartier, who claimed Canada for Francis I in 1534—were New World explorers. Still others were corsairs, "sea dogs" paid by the French crown to harass the Limeys across the Channel: legendary ones like Robert Surcouf and Duguay-Trouin helped make St-Malo rich through their pillaging, in the process earning it the nickname "the pirates' city." The St-Malo you see today isn’t quite the one they called home because a weeklong fire in 1944, kindled by retreating Nazis, wiped out nearly all of the old buildings. Restoration work was more painstaking than brilliant, but the narrow streets and granite houses of the Vieille Ville were satisfactorily recreated, enabling St-Malo to regain its role as a busy fishing port, seaside resort, and tourist destination. The ramparts that help define this city figuratively and literally are authentic, and the flames also spared houses along Rue de Pelicot in the Vieille Ville. Battalions of tourists invade this quaint part of town in summer, so arrive off-season if you want to avoid crowds.