By: Elizabeth Brunazzi

I hadn’t planned to travel after I got to Paris in July. I thought I would stay put. But then the thunderclap of the summer exodus began, August set in, and even Paris Plage, the artificial beach installed annually now on the Seine closed on August 21st. My favorite city started to seem forlorn. Damn the exchange rate, I had to go somewhere, else.

A Parisian friend suggested the northern coast of Brittany, le Finistere, and La Residence le Roc Fleuri near Saint Malo, but it would probably be booked in August, she warned, as people reserved there up to a year in advance. I spent a couple of nights in Saint Malo and Cancale twelve years ago, and it was an appealing idea for a longer stay. On the off chance, I called and nearly dropped the phone when the proprietor, a Madame Ledevic, quietly and politely said, yes, there was one studio apartment with ocean view available for a week, the minimum stay, price 355 euros. Yes, the dog would be alright. That’s about 50 euros per day. I prepared for a shabby and perhaps not-so-chic accommodation, but this was adventure, and cheap. I am from the Europe on five dollars a day generation, I told myself, I could do this. I could get a TGV from Paris Montparnasse to the Saint Malo station, just a three-hour ride, and a mere 130 euros round trip, plus 5.90 for George, my scruffy black and white half-breed terrier. I started to pack.

Just a ten minute taxi ride from the Saint Malo station, the “residence” is one of a number of tall, stately nineteenth-century stone houses converted into apartments, standing next to the shore on Boulevard Chateaubriand in the Rochebonne section, between the villages of Parame and Courtoisville. All of these houses have titles, and at the Roc Fleuri, the apartments are named as well. Mine was “La Servantine,” meaning the quarters of some maid of yore, above the third floor, quite on top of the house.

After Madame Ledevic gave instructions and retreated from the impeccably clean, cheerfully decorated, completely private apartment, I pushed out the big transom window, breathing in the sea air that blessed my lungs after the summer pollution in the city. An exquisite view of the justly called “Emerald Coast,” and a ballet of sailboats, wind and kite surfers rocking in the wind and sunlight stretched out before me. I flopped down on the trundle bed, and congratulated myself on being a smart shopper while George explored the ample closets.

My sister in San Francisco had emailed to say, “Enjoy those buckwheat crepes,” to which I ungratefully replied that since there were four creperies within easy walking distance of my Paris apartment I doubted I would go out of my way, but I was looking forward to goodly helpings of fresh oysters and mussels, and fish, fish and more fish. I remembered eating often at La Maison des Crepes in the Georgetown section of Washington where I lived in the late sixties and early seventies, and wistfully thought how all those American creperies had eventually gone the way of the Fondue pot.

As I headed out the door to do my first round of marketing, Madame Ledevic suggested I try La Pergolina just down the way on Boulevard Chateaubriand. The crepes were the best. La Pergolina did not sound Breton, or even French. But I was hungry, crepes are found fast food, and there was one table at the packed, tiny restaurant where I was graciously seated with George. I literally ate my words to my sister, as I devoured the best galette, the buckwheat or “sarrasin” version of crepes, in memory, neither heavy nor tough nor thick, but tender and perfect with mushrooms and gruyere and thick sliced bacon in a light, white, subtly seasoned sauce, all in exactly the right proportions. One can forget how scrumptious a simple, classic but perfect dish can be, and the one I sampled at La Pergolina, for the price of 5.70 Euros, and 2.10 per glass for a quite acceptable Cotes de Provence rose was the best I have ever eaten.

I had imagined myself in the wake of Julia Child, buying heaps of fresh seafood and fish at the weekly market in the village of Parame nearby, and carting it all back to steam or broil in the well?equipped, galley kitchen in La Servantine. But the plan proved too ambitious for a week’s stay (and my feet), and the offerings at the neighborhood delis and bakeries too tempting. The daily fish specialties at “Les Menus Composes,” such as the “duo” of bass and coalfish in a light sauce with sweet red peppers, and even the local version of the humble “Hachis Parmentier,” French Shepherd’s Pie, at the deli next door, were excellent, ample and modestly priced by citified standards.

The stand-out at the neighborhood bakery on Avenue Rochebonne was the tough, country-style loaf known as “La Fournee,” shaped as the name suggests, like an oven and made with three kinds of flour and a special salt. It keeps well, and is big enough to last for a week. But the gastronomic highlight was the “Choucroute de mer” at the restaurant of the Hotel La Rotonde just across from the Avenue les Portes Jacques Cartier, under new management this year by a welcoming young Breton couple. The regional Choucroute de mer consists of a bed of sauerkraut tossed in a light, saffron colored sauce, topped with layers of mussels and langoustines, shrimp, depending on catch and season, filets of rouget, salmon and pollack, price 16 euros. The dessert of lemon sorbet doused in calvados was a refreshing finish to an exceptional meal.

Saint Malo is an alluring blend of history and modern amenities. The romance of swashbuckling pirates has enjoyed a renaissance at least since the eye?lined, Johnny Depp came aboard in Pirates of the Caribbean. The fortress city of Saint Malo is the real deal, as the famed bastion of the French privateers known as the Corsairs. A French bishop gave the Corsairs right of asylum in the walled city on the Emerald Coast in 1144, and, due to royal protection, their right to plunder “enemy ships” survived for five hundred years through the French Revolution and the first half century of the Republic, when it was abolished in 1856. Many of the more imposing houses and manors in the area were built with the fortunes made through this legal piracy. Saint?Malo is also the port from which entirely legal, illustrious ship captains and explorers such as Jacques Cartier set out for the New World.

When you are not exploring the history of the area, or sampling the regional fare, or enjoying the beautiful, lively, but not overly crowded beaches and shores, you can check out the pleasures, treatments and cures, at one of the largest, seaside health spas in Europe, the Centre de Thalassotherapie, an easy walk from Rochebonne and Le Roc Fleuri.

I overheard English spoken regularly but not in an American accent. The foreign tourists there in August, many with young children in tow on the avenues and beaches, were largely British, German and Scandinavian. But the area is also a good bet for a European family summer vacation these days for Americans on much tighter budgets than in the past. Reasonably priced excursions by car, bus, boat and ferry to various towns, islands and attractions abound. There is Cancale famed for its oysters, Dinard and Dinan for festivals and native celebrations. And Mont Saint Michel is not far either.

If you happen to be a lucky boomer on the move and empty nester like myself, September-October is a superb time for a visit. Not only are the rates lower, but if you happen to have a dog along, the beach and boardwalk, called La Digue, are returned to their favor after September 30th. George and I regularly visited the lovely public gardens close to the shore. Autumn in Paris has its own mood and seasonal attractions, of course, but we plan to go back for a slate of fall activities on the Rochebonne beach.

And then who knows? Those two old roues, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” immortalized by Lewis Carroll in 1872: “Tis time to talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax of cabbages and kings,” as they lullabied the baby oysters right before they devoured them, might just have crossed the Channel and happen by one day, or maybe a pirate or two?