France’s Emerald Coast, or Cote d’Emeraude, stretches along the northern shores of Brittany, between Cap Frehel in the west and close to Mont-Saint-Michel in the east. The granite coastline is jagged and rocky, creating dramatic and picturesque landscapes set against a backdrop of beautiful emerald green and turquoise blue waters. It is best to visit the area between June and September, when the weather is warm and the beaches are sunny and inviting. The charming towns and historic fishing villages throughout the Emerald Coast are enticing, and there is a lot to see, do and eat, from the walled port city of Saint-Malo to the medieval town of Dinan, along the coastal town of Dinard to the fishing village of Cancale and the majestic peninsula of Cap Frehel with its striking cliffs and lighthouses overlooking the sea.
It’s no surprise that seafood is abundant along the Cote d’Emeraude. Cancale, in particular, is known as the oyster capital of France. In addition to seafood, the area is known for other specialties. Below are some highlights of what and where to eat and drink along the Emerald Coast in France.
Seafood Platter in Cancale
If you’re looking for fresh seafood and a lot of it, make a beeline for Cancale and walk along the port. Cruise by the myriad seafood restaurants and browse their daily catches, then take your pick. You won’t be disappointed when your gigantic seafood platter arrives, piled with seasonal delights such as crabs, langoustines, pink and gray shrimp, whelks, clams and oysters. Pair with a beautiful bottle of French wine and you’re set for the afternoon.
The Oyster Stands of Cancale
Cancale is the French oyster capital, and the seafood stands of Cancale are an oyster lover’s dream come true. A stroll along the beach leads you to the edge of the port, where a treasure trove of oyster stands await your arrival. The oysters beds are located in the Port de la Houle along the harbor just a few feet away, and the selection varies from the common Crassostrea gigas to the larger, rare, flat-shelled pied de cheval huitre. Pick your poison and the oysters are freshly shucked for you to enjoy on a plate by the beach. Depending on which oysters you choose, you will be instructed to eat them with either a fresh squeeze of lemon or with nothing at all. Make sure to try the very rare pied de cheval oysters that are native to the region. These are collected in the sea and not farmed, and some are between 10 and 20 years old. These oysters have a very distinct light, nutty flavor. Once you’re done with your oyster feast, simply throw the shells over the wall, where they will join the thousands of other oyster shells on the beach, basking in the sun by the sea. Port de la Houle, 35260 Cancale, France
Maison Hector Gaufrerie and Sandwicherie
Maison Hector is a fun, vibrant diner that serves sandwiches, crepes, gaufrettes, beignets, soft serve and more. Everything is made to order, and everything can be filled or topped with various additions such as nutella, soft serve and whipped cream. I went for a hot, fluffy beignet filled with strawberry and vanilla soft serve, topped with powdered sugar, and it may have been one of the most exciting moments of my life. 9 rue Porcon de la Barbinais Intra-Muros, 35400 Saint-Malo; 02 99 40 99 18; maisonhector.com
Michelin-starred chef Olivier Roellinger’s Le Coquillage is located in a majestic chateau in Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes, and the food is just as beautiful and romantic as the setting. Chef Roellinger received three Michelin stars at his former restaurant and renounced them in 2008. He then opened Le Coquillage, which has earned one Michelin star and focuses on perfectly seasoned fresh seafood dishes inspired by the cuisine of Brittany and Normandy (Roellinger is famous for his spices and seasonings). The massive cheese and dessert carts filled with aged cheeses and decadent French sweets are an excellent bonus at the end of an already stellar meal. Reservations are recommended, and you can also choose to reserve a room in the chateau, making it the perfect getaway. Le Buot, 35260 Saint-Méloir-des-Ondes, France; +33 2 99 89 25 25; maisons-de-bricourt.com
Le Zag is located in Dinan, a charming, medieval riverfront city in Brittany, and is the perfect spot to have a glass of wine and a delicious pizza when visiting the ancient city. Located along the banks of the Rance River on the port, the terrace has beautiful viewsm and the menu is comforting yet innovative. Chef Olivier Gousset creates authentic Italian pizzas and risotto with a French twist. I recommend the pizza with sardines, caramelized leeks, olives, tomatoes and mozzarella. Save room for dessert, too — the ice cream topped with meringue and macarons is pretty insane. 7 Rue du Port, 22100 Dinan, France; +33 2 96 80 55 84; restaurant-le-zag-dinan.com
Le Sanchez in Dinan
Le Sanchez is a famous artisanal ice cream shop in Brittany with an amazing range of flavors and an extensive menu. Skip the lines at Le Sanchez’s flagship location in Saint-Malo — lines can stretch over two blocks in the summer! — and head to its quieter sister location in Dinan. The selection may be smaller, but the place still carries Sanchez’s signature ice cream and sorbet flavors, sundaes, parfaits, profiteroles, banana splits, and crepes. I love the yogurt ice cream with marbled red fruit sauce, red fruit and crumble, as well as the lemon ice cream with marbled lemon cream, meringue and crumble. It’s so delicious that I wanted to have a second ice cream right after I finished my first cone. 2 Rue de l’École, 22100 Dinan, France; +33 2 96 39 81 01; facebook.com/Le-Sanchez-Dinan
Jean-Yves Bordier is the guy to know for all things butter and cheese. He hails from an extensive family of cheesemongers and ages his cheeses in seven natural reconstituted cellars. Bordier started his butter empire in 1985 in Saint Malo after he acquired La Maison du Beurre, which was founded in 1927. Utilizing a traditional 19th-century method, he has refined his technique to create soft, balanced and flavorful butters. This shop is an all-in-one butter haven, fromagerie, charcuterie, wine shop and museum. In addition to the classic sweet and salted churned butters, flavors include smoked salt, herb and Szechuan pepper, Madagascar vanilla, yuzu and seaweed. Make sure to stop by and pick up some delicious butter from Bordier Creamery while you’re in town. And then spread it all over everything you own. 9 rue de l’Orme, 35400 Saint Malo Intra Muros, France; +332 99 40 88 79; lebeurrebordier.com
Maison Georges Larnicol
Kouign-amann is a classic French pastry from the Brittany region. It is rich and dense and hints at what it would be like if a flaky, delicious croissant got really drunk on butter and sugar and then baked itself to a caramelized golden perfection. I prefer the kouign-amann from Maison George Larnicol, which come in a variety of flavors, such as classic, pistachio, raspberry, rum raisin, salted butter caramel, chocolate and more. I stick with the classic usually, but it’s always fun to try other flavors, too. 6 Rue Saint-Vincent, 35400 Saint-Malo, France; +33 2 99 40 57 62; chocolaterielarnicol.fr
Le Comptoir Breizh Café
The buckwheat galette is a specialty of Saint Malo, and Le Comptoir Breizh Café is known for its innovative French-meets-Japanese galettes and crêpes. After opening crêperies in Tokyo with much success, Breton-born chef Bertrand Larcher and his wife decided to open locations in France as well, beginning in Paris. Inspired by Japanese sake bars with a Zen ambience, they opened the minimal and sleek Le Comptoir Breizh Café in Saint-Malo, their 11th location. Guests sit along a wooden counter facing the open kitchen, where chefs masterfully create crispy thin galettes and crepes to order. Ingredients are seasonal, and the menu changes regularly. Options can include galettes filled with smoked herring and Saint-Malo potatoes; smoked salmon with ikura, crème fraiche and dill; French ham, spinach, sunny-side up egg and cheese; and egg, Andouille sausage, cheese and asparagus. Breizh Café also offers more than 60 artisanal varieties of cider, the traditional beverage typically served with galettes. Stop by Le Comptoir Breizh Café for a fun take on the galette, and have a decadent crepe topped with poached pears, salted butter caramel and whipped cream for dessert, too. 6 Rue Orme, 35400 Saint-Malo, France; +33 2 99 56 96 08; breizhcafe.com
La Belle Époque
La Belle Époque is not your typical bar. On one side, there is your standard bar/pub set up, with a selection of beer, wine, vodka, whiskey, gins and mixers, but what makes La Belle Époque really special and fun is the rum bar on the other side of the room. This small three-seat bar serves house-infused rum libations strong enough for any sailor. In the summers, the floors are covered in sand, and the whole town hangs out here — high schoolers, college kids, adults and tourists — it’s the place to be for a boozy night out. 11 rue de Dinan, Saint-Malo, France; 02 99 40 82 23; facebook.com/La-Belle-Epoque-Saint-Malo
Le Riff Magnétique
Le Riff Magnétique is a great dive bar centered around rock music. There is usually a DJ spinning vinyl from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, and the room gets packed with a fun, hip crowd. The venue also hosts concerts, and a there is a wide array of art and posters on the walls, including one of my personal faves, the album cover to singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You? It’s like the East Side of Austin, Texas, meets Saint-Malo, France. 20 Rue de la Herse, 35400 Saint-Malo, France; +33 2 99 40 85 70; leriffmagnetique.com