I worked out this morning that the first time we came to St Malo was 15 years ago. And while we may not have visited every year, we have visited quite a few times within those 15 years. So it does come as something of a surprise to discover there are places we haven’t visited. Though today we managed to mark off one those elusive few.
Yesterday, in a leaflet at the hotel, Mirinda discovered La Demeure de Corsaire, Hotel Magon.
Today we were there, ready for the 10am tour. Which was entirely in French.
The guy who runs the tours was a little unsure about us but, given we were the only people on the tour, he must have figured it was worth his time to take us.
Now I feel I should state that while we understood very little of what he said, we did manage to glean enough to put together a pretty good picture of it all as well as learn quite a few very interesting facts. There was, for instance, the story of the mastiffs…though I should state up front that we’d heard a bit of it from one of the various historical plaques that extensively dot the town. Still he did fill in quite a few blanks.
The Story of the Mastiffs
For 620 years, the population of St Malo was kept under control with a curfew. The curfew, signalled by the church bells, started at 10pm. When you heard the bells you took off like a lunatic for home because you had a mere four minutes to get to safety.
At four minutes passed ten, the giant dogs were released. They had not been fed during the day so at night they would roam the streets of a silent and, hopefully, deserted St Malo.
And these mastiffs were huge. According to the guide (he showed us a photo) they were the size of a large Shetland pony but a good deal more vicious.
The dogs persisted in St Malo until, one night, they bit a royal soldier. That was it for the dogs and they were all out of a job. They were subsequently poisoned. How the security of the town was maintained after this is anyone’s guess.
There was also the story of How Mr Magon Made his Money.
He was a ship owner and part of the highly successful French East India Company. His fleet would sail from St Malo to South America and the Spice Islands, to China and to India where they would load up with all manner of goods before returning home to sell them and make a lot of dosh.
His ships made hundreds of trips back and forth, buying tea and porcelain (the tea being a good insulating material to protect the fragile porcelain) and all manner of spices then coffee. He was successful and, therefore, really very, very wealthy, as our guide couldn’t stress enough.
The tour took us through three rooms on the ground floor which, in Mr Magon’s time, were his business offices. We were then taken up a secret staircase which led to a special, hidden away room for more clandestine dealings. The room at the top of the incredibly narrow staircase was small and featureless, completely unlike any other room. It was meant for one reason, commerce: It was all about the deal. Clearly Mr Magon was very good at the Art of the Deal.
We were then taken downstairs to the rooms beneath the house. This is where the stores were kept. The crates of spices, of tea, boxes of silver from Peru, it was a treasure trove protected by a cat. Then, one more floor down and we were in the basement of the basement. Big, high ceiling-ed rooms with only little ventilation, allowing for greater storage, securely hidden away, with just a single candle for illumination.
At this lowest level, there were also secret passages that led to the houses either side so that contraband was easily moved around for when the tax assessor came round for tea.
It was really a marvellous tour and a good lesson in French. In fact, I actually made a joke in French. It was at the end and we were talking about the tour in general with a woman who had suddenly appeared in the shop (I think she was our guide’s wife) and we were saying what we liked best. Basically the story of the mastiffs was high on our list and we said so. I then held up four fingers and said, in French “Four minutes!” They all nodded. I then said “It would take me one hour!” And everyone burst out laughing. And not just a titter, a genuine big belly laugh.
I reckon it was because it was so unexpected given, obviously, it’s not one of my best lines. And my French is minimal…at best.
Having utterly enjoyed our visit, we then headed for the Unicorn for brunch. This took quite a while because the woman behind the bar was having some difficulty about what, we never discovered. It was a good job we weren’t in a hurry. And, in fact, we were far from a hurry. Our next appointment was for a ferry ride around St Malo bay and that didn’t set sail until 2:20pm.
So we hung around for a bit then went for a wander around the rest of the ramparts that we hadn’t walked around yesterday, basically taking it easy.
We then headed down to the dock to wait for the boat.
We’d booked the trip back at home so we knew the time and the place. We wanted to go to Dinan but the times are never right for such a thing to actually happen. There’s also lots of other tours that go up and down the coast but none of those were the right time either. And so we boarded the boat, along with about 350 French pensioners, and headed out on the smallest of tours, The Trip Around St Malo Bay.
Small it may have been but it was an excellent way to spend an hour and a half. I’d like to say we learned a lot from the narration but I am unable to. The speakers on the back of the boat were not working very well. Actually they were more static than speech. Not that it mattered. Just sitting on the back of the boat enjoying the water was enough.
The boat trip was an excellent way to spend the afternoon but eventually it was over and we made our slow, leisurely way back to the hotel for our afternoon rest. But, all too soon (after I watched Brazil beat Mexico) we headed down for dinner.
Mirinda had chosen a restaurant that ended up full so we tried another. And what an excellent choice L’Entree Deux Verres turned out to be. Amazingly imaginative food, excellent wine, marvellous ambience. Although we hadn’t eaten at our first choice, I preferred the second given it’s unpretentious air and delightful food.
After dinner we strolled back to the hotel, stopping at the beach to admire the sunset along with a number of other people.
As we sat in the bedroom, the heavens opened up and St Malo disappeared behind a deluge curtain. We were very fortunate which is more than can be said for the small group of people huddling beneath the arch entrance to the beach.
Finally…here’s a short video of our boat trip.