Doors Of Saint-Malo

I have more tales to share about Saint-Malo, but thankfully they aren’t as disturbing as marauding dogs during the night.

The city of Saint-Malo first hit my radar when I read the book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

It is a haunting story of a blind girl’s survival during World War II. A large part of the story was set in the old city of Saint-Malo and it immediately captured my imagination.

Then in that strange way that synchronicity sometimes seems to work, this was around the same time that my father-in-law’s health began to rapidly deteriorate. He began to tell stories about his past, which included his great-grandfather’s early life in Quebec.

It was a story that started in Saint-Malo when great-grandfather left France for Quebec.

It was never clear whether Gilles’ family were originally Malouins or if they had simply sailed for the New World from that port. It didn’t matter. I now had two reasons to want to visit this ancient city.

Saint-Malo has an interesting history that can be traced back to the 1st century BC. While the modern city sprawls well beyond the great fortified walls of the old port, it was within the old city that we spent all of our time there.

The wall of the old city facing the sea.

While it could take me a few posts to capture all of our stories from Saint-Malo, our first few hours there left a deep impression.

The arched entranceways into the walled city
Gilles posing inside one of the great wooden doors into the walled city.

Like any old city, it is a rabbit warren of tiny streets that twist and turn. Our rental car was left outside of the city walls while we pulled our luggage through the cobblestone streets searching for our apartment.

Down this street we eventually found the apartment we were renting
As the sign over the doorway suggests, the building in which we stayed was built in 1676.

Our apartment was a very old, eclectic space that thankfully included modern conveniences like plumbing and electrical. It did however come with several quirky features including a tight circular staircase to the second floor where we were staying.

Lugging a 45 lb suitcase up that staircase was an experience. The rope running down the centre was definitely not decorative.

One thing that deeply disturbed me in every place we stayed was that the doors required a key to lock and unlock – even from the inside. This is in contrast to the safety standard in Canada that requires all doors can be opened easily from the inside – without a key.

Our apartment had three separate doors between our unit and the street outside. Each was kept locked and required a different key. I was horrified at what that meant in the event of a fire, and to my great discomfort, I discovered that Gilles had locked me inside the apartment on our first morning while he went in search of coffee.

The funny part is that we are no strangers to travel in Europe and why this never registered with us before is a mystery.

The city was riddled with mini doors. I don’t understand why, but they are oh-so cute.
While I admit this is a terrible photo, I couldn’t leave out this great little door.

Vague memories of Grade 5 history began to waft up to the surface as we found references to Jacques Cartier everywhere.

Jacques Cartier, credited with the discovery and exploration of eastern Canada and Quebec, was a Malouin and sailed from Saint-Malo in 1534 on his journey to Canada.

Quebec House was locked up tightly when we were there however throughout Saint-Malo were many references to Jacques Cartier, Canada, and more specifically, Quebec.

I’ll be back with more doors from this fascinating city next week.

Thursday Doors is a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm Frampton – a fellow Canadian – at Norm 2.0.

104 comments

  1. I loved the book, and how interesting to see your photos now of Saint Malo. It really helps clarify the place Doerr described. Interesting too to read about your family connection to the the place.

    Jude

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    • Thankfully my husband is a very calm person and although he agreed that it was not ideal, he took it in stride and humoured my paranoia about ensuring the key was ALWAYS in the lock in case a speedy exit was required.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is absolutely spectacular. I am awed. What a wonderful opportunity!
    I am positively terrified about the key thing. Just terrible. I would be beside myself. Here in the US, most everything is so new, the key thing is rare. My house came with its original keys — skeletons, no longer used anywhere. But we have been locked in our bedroom and out of our house nonetheless, so there’s no way I’d be okay with the key situation in Saint Malo or otherwise. 45 pounds of valium??? oui, merci. LOL
    You got some lovely shots here, love the blue big and blue lil. Super neat post, Joanne!

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  3. Hi Joanne, I really enjoyed the book, “All the light we cannot see” although, I did not register the name of the town. Very interesting about the story from your father-in-law and his great-grandfather. I loved your choice of words “rabbit warren.” It really depicts an image in my mind. Scary on the key to lock and unlock even from the inside. I am already feeling a little claustrophobic. A very interesting post. I learned a lot. Beautiful images! I am embarrassed that I am not much of a history buff and you are changing this, Joanne๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I’m one of those rare people who actually liked history in school, even as a child. I’ve always had a fascination with the ‘olden days’ but I never imagined that when I retired I would chase pieces of history in my surroundings ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed this hugely, Joanne, especially seeing inside the apartment. That blue door is particularly beautiful.
    Different subject — I thought it would be fun to name businesses in fictional Parliament, Mississippi after followers of the serial. Is it okay if I call one “Joanne’s Five and Dime”?
    Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoyed seeing Saint Malo, Joanne, and the array of curious doors, the cobblestone pathways, old city walls and entranceways. I really like that first photo of the old city facing the sea too. Great adventure, thanks for taking us with you.

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  6. Even though Alice in Wonderland doesn’t live there anymore, they kept both her doors . . . one for when she’s HIGH and the other for when she’s LOW. One for when she’s TALL and one for when she’s SMALL.

    There’s an even smaller doorway for her friend . . . the Dormouse! ๐Ÿ˜›

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  7. Wow, so many cool references and connections to your own lives. It would be interesting to find out if Guiles family actually originated from there.

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    • Without any evidence to the contrary, we’ve decided that his family likely did come from within the surrounding area and that’s close enough ๐Ÿ™‚

      We did a double-take when we took a tour and our guide was a doppelgรคnger for our oldest son. Everything, from his appearance to his mannerisms and speaking pattern, were remarkably similar.
      We asked our guide about his origin and he said he was a multi-generational Malouin. We decided that was all the proof we needed of Gilles’ family’s heritage ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. All the Light We Cannot See is a book that will stay with me a long time and it is lovely to read that you were in that part of Saint-Malo where much of the story took place. Thanks Joanne, the photos are gorgeous. I would have been freaked at all the locks though ..

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    • Isn’t it funny how some stories can really touch you? Not only was it a compelling storyline, but the writing was beautiful. As others have mentioned, I’m now tempted to go back and give it another read.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Fascinating post, Joanne…that comes with family history as well.
    Love the doors – the little ones do look cute…from when people were shorter???

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  10. Ahh, Joanne, it was a sign! Did you know before coming over that your apartment would have such a wonderful door? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I’d take it as a sign, my mood would improve 100% and I’d keep locking and unlocking all these doors just for the hell of it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So many great doors and that twisted ropey staircase!

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  11. What a beautiful town! I read All of the Light that We Cannot See a year or so ago for book club but had forgotten the name of the village where she lived with her father. I love the big blue door with its mini me beside it! Judging from a few of your pictures, it looks like (at least parts of) Saint-Malo was a bit less crowded than some of the places you visited before.

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    • You’re right. Saint-Malo wasn’t crowded at all which made it really nice for walking around and simply enjoying where we were. I can see however that in the summer it’s likely very busy. Glad I wasn’t there to experience that side of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. We stayed at a hotel in Florence that had long narrow halls that wrapped around a center courtyard and had many interior locks from inside and out doors… It had belonged to the Puccini family at one time and I believe the house had been designed to protect the family from their enemies.

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    • I often wondered about the barren looking streets of old cities when you’re facing down stark brick walls. I finally realized it was a reflection of the violent times in which they were built and behind those walls are often beautiful courtyards.

      I’m still a little freaked out about the whole locked door thing though.

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  13. Hi Joanne – I love this post…Actually, I have been enjoying all your posts of France. The posts have been quite helpful for my quest to buy property in France…the older and bigger the better and Brittany and the coast are the areas I am very interested in. Also thanks for the book recommendation. Love your travels!

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    • Thank you so much … and now you’ve made me VERY jealous ๐Ÿ˜ I’ve wanted to live in France for a long time and the older I get, the more unlikely that scenario is becoming. I hope you find your perfect property in France.
      Saint-Malo was the only taste of Brittany I’ve had and I hope to get back someday to explore this region more.

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    • I’m always a bit reluctant to recommend a book because reading tastes vary so much … but I did really like this book. I value an author who can pull me into their story and make it real like Doerr did with this book.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. This is fascinating. I also read and loved All the Light We Cannot See. And now you have brought the city of Saint-Malo to us here. The photos are incredible – the doors…! But aren’t you two adventurous, staying in a rather ‘ancient’ place with locks for in and out? Yikes. Loved reading about your adventures here.

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  15. I love the blue doors, both big and mini. The whole thing with the keys is crazy and probably rather irritating at the time. I’ve dragged suitcases around, but it was before wheelie ones, so I actually carried them…while in Wales and up and down some very, very steep hills, so I can empathize.

    janet

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    • Yikes, I remember suitcases before wheelies too … and our first bike boxes didn’t have wheels either! You haven’t lived until you’ve wielded a big bulky bike box through a crowded airport … with all your other luggage ๐Ÿ˜‰ But we were younger and more energetic in those days ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 1 person

  16. You photos are stunning, as usual. The papa door and baby door are my favourite – is the larger one over-sized and so by comparison, the smaller seems VERY small? So curious!

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  17. So funny you should mention the issue of keys & locks. Having just returned home from England, we too, had a number of conversations in regards to locking ourselves in & out! Seems so unsafe & created some comical moments trying to get out the door!

    Saint Malo looks so beautiful. Loved the book, All the Light We Cannot See.

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    • I can’t believe this has never been on my radar before now. I was definitely not happy when I discovered I was locked in when Gilles went to find coffee.
      I was pretty obsessive about the key being in the lock at all times when we were inside. Gilles would just roll his eyes at my paranoia.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Rare shots of Gilles (I can’t believe no one else commented on this)! Beautiful pictures, Joanne. I too would be really weirded out by the ability to lock someone inside a place — visions of Alfred Hitchcock movies in my head right now. But staying in a building built in 1676 is beyond comprehension! – Marty

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    • You’re right – I don’t often post photos of Gilles, but he made a great model for me on this trip ๐Ÿ˜‰

      As North Americans I don’t think we have the same sense of all the history that went on before us. We read about it in books, but standing there is different. For me, it is humbling and awe-inspiring at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. So interesting. I love those narrow streets and the old fort walls, the impossible staircase, and tiny doors. I looked up the reason for small doors. Here were the best reasons: 1) good thick even wood was expensive so you tended to build small. 2) Small doors let less heat out. 3) People were about a foot shorter during medieval times. 4) Some houses were built before the streets were paved which raises the street by more than 20 centimeters. ๐Ÿ™‚ Great post, Joanne.

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    • Wow – you went a step further than I did! It never even occurred to me to look up reasons and each one of these is a good one.

      Which reminds me of an article in an old National Geographic I was reading earlier this week. With all the construction in London, there have been numerous ancient sites uncovered (much like what happens in Rome, Athens, and other old cities). There was an infographic that showed where ground level used to be at various stages in history in certain part of London. It ranged from 4 feet to 15 feet below where it is now!!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Bravo, you’re firing on all cylinders with this one Joanne. A literary reference, old world history, new world history and lots of gorgeous doors: wooohooo!
    My favourite doors are the sky-blue pair.
    The Maison du Quebec looks like it was plucked straight from Lower Town/Petit Champlain Quebec City.
    The whole idea of being locked-in is not something I could easily get used to. Great post. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Yay! I hit all the right buttons ๐Ÿ™‚

      Inspiration is soooo easy to find on the old European streets. After a {short} while, I have to stop taking photos because Gilles is getting impatient with the lack of forward progress ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The architectural influence of Old France on New France became very obvious. References to Quebec popped up in quite a few places in Saint-Malo and we even found one in Dieppe.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Your beautiful pictures make me want to travel. I read All the Light We Cannot See. It’s one of those books that I choose to describe as exquisite. The wooden door that leads into the city is exquisite, too.. ๐Ÿ™‚ the textures! The stonework! Exceptionally lovely doors today.

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    • Exquisite is a great way to describe that book. it’s a great story, beautifully written and I was delighted that Saint-Malo didn’t disappoint. I was afraid I had built it up too much in my mind, but the lovely city delivered.

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  22. We visited Saint-Malo in Feb 2013 and quite enjoyed it. As for security, it is common in France. We also had 3 locks to get through to get to our apartment in Paris. We got used to it… (Suzanne)

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    • The first time I remember encountering this was in Athens 2 years ago and at the time I thought it was an anomaly. Even then, we were in an apartment building where the outer doors were unlocked during the day so I guess it didn’t really strike me as that unusual.

      I’m a little obsessive about emergency exits. I don’t know if I’d ever become completely comfortable with it.

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  23. It looks almost like you were staying in a giant castle. Those doors would worry me, though. I think if I’m ever in France, I’ll stay in more modern facilities.

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  24. These are beautiful doors, Joanne. I love the mini-doors. The locking/unlocking requirement would bother me. That really is a safety concern. I’m glad you were able to get an in-person feel for your family history. It looks like a wonderful place to visit.

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    • The safety issue really bothered me too, but I wasn’t sure if it was just my claustrophobia talking. Sometimes I think we go a little overboard with the safety thing, but this is one case where I think it makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. What a wonderful city, and what wonderful doors! Another place on my never-to-be-done-but-wish-I-could bucket list! A sub-item would have to be, “strong young person to tote my luggage up the stairs.” Male. Handsome…. Er, I mean, I want to see Saint-Malo!

    Liked by 2 people

  26. I’ve also read All the Light We Cannot See and loved it. So interesting to see the narrow streets that Marie Laure navigated during the war. I can almost picture this young blind girl counting her steps as she makes her way through the town.

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  27. Joanne–the little doors are adorable! I secretly want to run up and down that stairwell–but not carrying a 45# bag! How fun to stay in a place like that, though–you feel so ‘localized.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • When Gilles was looking for places to stay on this trip, he had a bias for old, quirky places. This one checked all the boxes, especially when staying in an ancient city. It really did add to the atmosphere of the stay and contributed to our general love of this city.

      I admit however it wouldn’t be for everyone. I’ve been on many tight circular stairs but this one was in a category of its own!

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Joanne, ‘I loved All the Light We Cannot See’ and as I recall, Saint-Malo was where the blind girl lived. Her father taught her how to navigate those streets by counting steps I believe.

    I am picturing you rolling your suitcases down those narrow streets and over cobble stones in search of your apartment. Been there, done that, not fun.The doors you chose are beautiful. I have always been curious about the small ones too. If you find out what they were used for, please share.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I’ve only seen the city from the outside, whilst travelling from one place to another. i was longing to get out of the car and visit, but there was no time. Seeing your photos makes me want to visit it even more!

    The good thing about missing out on it before, is that when I go, I’ll spare a decent amount of time to marvel at this city and its history. How long would you recommend? Was it very touristy?

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    • We were there off-season in April and I didn’t find it touristy – not at all like Mont St-Michel which I didn’t enjoy because of the crowds. However I suspect that in the summer it gets quite busy.

      We were there for only 2 days. We left feeling like we wanted more which is perhaps not a bad thing. It means it was enjoyed.

      If I’m ever lucky enough to get back to France again, I’d like to explore more of this Brittany area.

      Liked by 2 people

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