Cancale in France is just a small city on the Emerald Coast in Brittany, and yet, everyone who has been to Brittany, especially around Mont Saint-Michel, has already heard of it.
But why does a small town with only 5000 inhabitants attract so much attention? Let me introduce you to this charming Breton fishing port and tell you why you absolutely must visit Cancale. The answer in 16 points!
Cancale, a must-visit on the Emerald Coast in France
Cancale is located on the coast of Northern Brittany, between Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. You can have a magnificent view of the Mont Saint-Michel Bay, and it can be seen with the naked eye when the weather is clear.
Originally, Cancale was formed by 2 separate villages, with La Houle on one side, now known as Port de La Houle, and “the borough”, which is now the heart of the village. In 1830, the clergy decided to unite the two hamlets and decided to build Rue du Port to connect the two parishes.
In Old Breton, it is called “Cancaven,” which means “Cove of the River.”
The town of Cancale in France is best known for its oysters. There are numerous oyster farms in the surrounding waters. Tasting oysters directly at the port is one of the activities I highly recommend when visiting the area.
The atmosphere in Cancale is soothing. While you may encounter many travelers during the peak season, you can still sense the village spirit that is truly delightful.
What to do in Cancale in France?
Whether you spend 1 day or several days in Cancale, you will undoubtedly be charmed by this small Breton village. It is an essential stop on the road leading to Mont Saint-Michel (or Saint-Malo in the opposite direction!)
Take the Coastal Road to Enter Cancale
If you have the opportunity, I recommend taking the coastal road to reach the center of Cancale. This narrow one-way road offers a superb panorama of the village and Mont Saint-Michel Bay.
Some spots are sometimes available for stopping and taking photos (but they are often crowded during peak season). If, in addition, you have the chance to pass by when it’s high tide, you’ll love the scenery.
Personally, this is always the route I take when I feel like visiting Cancale, even if it lengthens my journey! The view is so magical that I never get tired of it.
Stroll Along the Waterfront
Cancale is a typical Breton village, and its houses are almost all made of old stones. Personally, I love walking along the harbor and taking photos of these buildings. On one side, you have Breton architecture, and on the other, a breathtaking panorama of Mont Saint-Michel Bay.
When the weather is clear, the coast turns green, and you’ll understand why it’s called the Emerald Coast. It’s a sublime setting that I adore! Moreover, when the view is clear, you’ll appreciate the view of Mont Saint-Michel Bay. I think it’s the place with the most beautiful view of one of the most beautiful bays in the world, for sure!
Don’t forget to go all the way to the end of the jetty that marks the boundary between the oyster beds and the entrance to the port. For history’s sake, this jetty was built on a rock called “Rocher de la Fenêtre” in 1871. However, it has been extended several times in the 20th century.
Explore the Small Port of La Houle
Cancale is a true maritime town and probably one of the most beautiful fishing ports in Brittany. In fact, the town is entirely oriented toward the sea, both literally and figuratively, thanks to its waterfront and numerous activities.
The port of La Houle was built on the north coast of Brittany. Over time, two breakwaters were added to clearly delineate the port as we know it today.
Dining in a Small Restaurant Facing the Sea
Cancale is a very touristy town. If you go there in the peak season (July – August), you may have trouble finding a parking spot! But as soon as you’ve parked your car, I recommend looking for a good little restaurant.
The majority of dining options are located facing the sea, which is truly enjoyable. It really sets the vacation mood, doesn’t it? Whether it’s a seafood restaurant or a creperie (well, we are still in Brittany), you’ll find something to satisfy your cravings!
And if you don’t have time for a full meal, how about a quick break for coffee or a crepe?
Take a Break on the Beach
When you think of Brittany, you think of beaches! Well, don’t get too excited, the beach at the small port of Cancale is a small beach. During high tides, it disappears under the water, so the sand can remain wet when the water recedes. It might not be the ideal spot for sunbathing, but it’s still very pleasant to relax for a while.
And I think this beach really embodies the Brittany feel! It’s covered in small seashells, and you’ll also find quite a bit of seaweed. All of this, combined with the salty sea breeze, the sound of the waves in the background, and the seagulls singing above your head, and you’re there: the true Brittany, just as we love it.
But if you’re looking for a larger beach, know that there are some real gems nearby. For example, Anse du Guesclin or Plage du Verger are on the coast.
Discover the Chapelle du Verger
Located a bit outside the city center, this small chapel overlooks Plage du Verger. It’s in neo-Gothic style and dates back to the 19th century, but its construction began centuries earlier. It’s a true seaside chapel and holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Cancale.
Every Wednesday from May to September, you can attend mass at 7:30 am. But you can also visit the chapel every day. Inside, you’ll find many ex-votos (commemorative plaques) that testify to the devotion of fishing families.
Enjoy an Oyster at the Market
If you like oysters, I recommend going to the end of the port. As I mentioned in the introduction, Cancale’s oyster farmers sell their production there. The must: enjoy them on the spot with a squeeze of lemon and a glass of white wine, facing the sea. And the nice thing is that you can directly throw the empty shells back where they came from: in the water! If there’s one thing to do in Cancale, it’s this.
Indeed, Cancale is mainly known for this activity, which I must say is quite enjoyable! I’m not a big fan of oysters, so I don’t always stop, but I always like to stroll among the vendors at the little market… And even if you don’t like them at all, I still recommend going there because that’s where you’ll have the most beautiful view of the oyster farms, the place where oysters are raised, and it’s really impressive to see!
Of course, you can also buy a bag of oysters and take them with you. It’s not mandatory to eat them on the spot.
Explore the Heart of the Village
The center of the borough is also very charming. There’s the beautiful Saint-Méen church, a bit higher up, which can be seen from miles away. In fact, it’s the first landmark I spot when I’m on the Coast road between Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. I admit I’ve never been inside, but I plan to do so because its architecture is beautiful.
Near the church, there are also plenty of small shops: butcher, bakery, fish market, supermarket, pharmacy. Ideal if you decide to stay a few days in Cancale. Plus, you can do everything on foot!
Don’t miss observing the “Les laveuses d’huitres” fountain located on the square in front of the Church. Made of bronze, this statue depicts Cancale women washing oysters by hand. They represent the women of Cancale who kept the town running while the men went to sea for months to fish. It’s a true symbol for the city.
Admire the Beautiful Cancale Buildings
Once you’ve reached the heart of the village, why not stroll through the surrounding streets a bit more? I love wandering there and admiring the lovely houses you’ll find.
By the way, you can see one right in front of the central square: Manoir Bellevue. Several decades ago, this mansion was the center of a large estate, but unfortunately, the property has been divided, and now you’ll find Carrefour City on the ground floor of the building!
But don’t worry, if you venture a bit away from the city center, you can see houses that haven’t lost their charm. I’m thinking of Manoir de Bricourt on Rue Duguesclin or the presbytery on Rue de la Vallée Porcon. It’s recognizable thanks to its large wrought-iron gate. You’ll see a sculpture representing Saint-Méen arriving in Cancale around 545 AD. In front of this gate, in the garden, a cannonball is displayed. It is highlighted to remind us of the English attack that took place at the end of the 18th century.
Finally, you can finish your walk on Rue Surcouf, where the most beautiful houses line up facing the sea, with a direct view of Mont Saint-Michel. Can you picture yourself there?
Venture to Pointe du Grouin
If you’re looking for a breathtaking view, I can only recommend going to Pointe du Grouin. Located just a few kilometers from Cancale, it’s a small wild gem, and the view of the Emerald Coast is sublime. It’s a protected reserve for birds, and sometimes you can even spot dolphins – although personally, I haven’t had the chance to see them yet!
Pointe du Grouin has two beautiful facades: one facing Mont Saint-Michel and the other extending toward the Emerald Coast. Regardless of which side you look at, you’ll be amazed by the beauty of the landscape and the changing colors of the sea with the weather. When it’s the season, the mimosa trees make the spectacle even more magical!
There’s also a hotel-restaurant at Pointe du Grouin. Living in the region, I’ve never tried the hotel, but the restaurant is really well-known. With menus starting at 32,50€, it’s the perfect place for a lunch break with a sea view.
If you don’t have time for lunch on-site, there’s also a small bar that offers refreshing drinks.
Hike on the Customs Officers’ Path (Sentier des Douaniers)
The Customs Officers’ Path is a small footpath accessible only on foot, along the coast. This trail, also known as GR-34, stretches for several hundred kilometers, but most walkers cover it between Mont Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. For your information, GR-34 was voted the Favorite Path of the French in 2017 and 2018.
The Pointe du Grouin, for example, can be reached from here.
More than 13km of footpaths surround the town, allowing you to discover the surrounding flora while enjoying different types of hikes. A hiker’s paradise! In fact, the most adventurous choose to visit Cancale and the surrounding region by walking only the GR-34. But if you’re not particularly sporty, you can take just a short stretch of the trail, just for the pleasure of the stroll.
The Custom Officers’ Path starts at Pointe des Crolles. A sign even indicates the “Kilometer 0” of the GR34 trail!
Pointe des Crolles overlooks the oyster beds and the harbor, providing a first glimpse of what awaits you. By the way, if you embark on the GR34 trail at this point, know that you will be exactly 7km from Pointe du Grouin and 32km from Saint-Malo. And if you plan to complete the entire GR34 trail, I wish you good luck for the remaining 1650km to reach Morbihan 😉
My advice? If, like me, you're not a fan of long hikes, I recommend exploring the section of the GR 34 trail at Pointe du Grouin. It's easily accessible by car!
Take a Ride on the Cancalaise
A true emblem of Cancale, the Cancalaise is a traditional fishing sailboat that sails in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. It is a replica of the bisquine “La Perle,” which sailed in the early 20th century. Since 1984, the Cancalaise Bisquine Association has been dedicated to showing how navigation on a typical regional old rig works.
If you want to visit Cancale in other ways, it’s possible to embark on a day at sea to discover the Cancale coast, the Chausey Islands, or Saint-Malo. All trips (which can also take place in the evening to enjoy the sunset) are guided and provide insights into the surrounding maritime environment.
More information about the Cancalaise can be found on the association’s website.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to spot dolphins in Cancale! You have two options: watch the horizon from the coast and hope to see fins emerge, or turn to professionals who know the coast very well.
This is the role of the Al Lark association, which offers sea outings around Cancale. Founded in 2004, the association is run by guides and marine biologists. Their role is to educate and raise awareness about the protection of marine biodiversity. And one of the ways to achieve this is by offering sea outings.
While the outing can’t guarantee you’ll see dolphins 100%, you’ll at least have the opportunity to learn more about the entire biodiversity surrounding Cancale.
Admire the View from Pointe du Hock
Not far from the Houle Harbor and easily accessible from the city center, Pointe du Hock offers a magical view of the Emerald Coast.
Years ago, a small fort stood on this point. But it was razed when a larger fort, Fort des Rimains, was built slightly higher up.
Now, nature has taken over, to my great delight. It’s natural, and you get one of the most beautiful views of Cancale overlooking the Mont Saint-Michel Bay. By the way, the GR34 trail also passes through this point.
Photography enthusiasts, don’t miss this stop!
Visit the Marine Farm of Cancale
The Marine Farm opened its doors in 1989 after its founder, Joseph Pichot, came up with the idea of showcasing the oyster farming to the general public.
The Marine Farm aims to present the oyster farming business of the Parcs St Kerber. During the approximately 1-hour tour, you’ll discover a lot of information about the history of oysters and details about how they are produced. Of course, each tour ends with a small oyster tasting!
If you’re interested, you can also learn more about seaweeds and their culinary and medicinal virtues.
The tour costs €9.70 for adults and €5.70 for children. But you can find all the details on their website.
When to Visit Cancale?
I hope I’ve given you a desire to visit Cancale in France by presenting the 16 things to do to make the most of the city! I’ve always loved this little village, and even today, after going there dozens of times, I still take the same pleasure in rediscovering its landscape.
Spring is probably the best season to go there: pleasant weather and not too crowded.
My advice? Check the tide times before you go and choose days with high tides. You'll have the opportunity to see two completely different landscapes!
Where to Eat in Cancale?
There are plenty of good places to eat in Cancale, but here are some names I’ve personally tested and approved:
La Mère Champlain
Located facing the port, this restaurant is an institution in Cancale. Open all year, the establishment mainly highlights seafood on the menu. You’ll find a beautiful selection of freshly caught seafood and fish. But don’t worry, there’s also meat on the menu if you’re not a fan of fish!
I haven’t tested the Breizh Café in Cancale, but I’ve been to the one in Saint-Malo, and I loved it. The restaurant’s concept is simple: mix Japanese influences with Breton cuisine. For example, the savory crêpes (galettes) are presented like sushi, rolled up! It’s really friendly and, above all, very good. The place also offers dishes worthy of the finest gourmet restaurants if you’re not in the mood for a crêpe.
Where to Stay in Cancale?
Cancale, like all tourist towns in Brittany, has no shortage of accommodations. Nevertheless, you know, I’m a girl from Saint-Malo! While I know some nice places in the Corsair City, I’ve never had the opportunity to stay in Cancale.
So, my advice would be to push on to Saint-Malo to spend the night. I also have some accommodation suggestions in my article on the Corsair City.
But if you have accommodation recommendations in Cancale, please feel free to share them in the comments!