Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sur la Cote d'Emeraude / On the Emerald Coast

Picture a peerless Sunday morning in mid-October; the sky is cloudless, the air crisp. To the left, a vast sweep of sea, a rich and perfect blue, over which dozens of yachts are gliding, white hulls all a-gleam, borne on a land-breeze just sufficient to fill Spinnakers and mainsails. Some older rigs, too - the complex and gorgeous gaff-rigs of the classic yachts operated by Etoile Marine are a fine sight, fully canvassed in these light airs.

The very beautiful "Etoile Polaire" in harbour

On the right, a sweep of golden sand ends at the foot of ruddy sandstone cliffs surmounted by houses built in classic French 19th century style: faced with stone, eaves trimmed with elegant, unfussy woodwork, above which rise densely tiled roofs, pieced with garret windows. This is Dinard, a small town on Brittany's "Cote d'Emeraude", a little jewel of the French coast line which made its fortune in the 19th century as a resort town which found particular favour with wealthy English visitors. As I stroll along the town's waterfront, my host points out the beaches of neighbouring St Malo, separated from Dinard by the mouth of the Rance. St Malo made its money from wealthy English too - men like Robert Surcouf are still legendary here.

A beach beneath the walls of St. Malo at low tide

St. Malo is protected by batteries mounted on an arc of low outlying islands; they cover the reef-strewn approaches with fields of intersecting fire, creating a huge killing ground on three sides of the town. History has a sense of humour, though: and today, that which was built to keep strangers out draws tourists in huge numbers. You should try the crepes.