We came across the picturesque little town of Cancale located on France’s Brittany coast as we were driving from Le Mont St Michel on our way to Portugal. Cancale, just to the east of Saint-Malo is known as the Oyster Capital of France. Now fresh oysters aren’t easy to come by in Laos where we were living at the time, so this was quite an exciting discovery, and it was lunchtime!!
What is Special About Cancale, France?
The town of Cancale may be small, but it was packed full of seafood restaurants and full of people eating the local specialty, Brittany oysters fresh from Cancale Bay. Unfortunately, the car parks were all full too, and this was on a mid-week day in the middle of February – what must it be like here in the summer?
Finally, after driving around for a while and with stomachs starting to rumble, we found somewhere to park just on the edge of town with views over the oyster beds. Apparently, the oysters of Cancale have been farmed here since Roman times. They also say that Louis XIV had supplies of Cancale oysters regularly sent to his place in Versailles.
Even today, oyster farming is still a significant activity in the town. The oyster beds cover more than seven square kilometres, and more than 25000 tons of oysters are harvested here every year. At low tide, it’s possible to walk down and explore the oyster beds from which come the best oysters in France.
Two kinds of oysters are grown in France. There’s the flat oyster, the Belon, which is indigenous to the region and the hollow oyster which has been imported. Today though it’s mostly the hollow oyster that is farmed as the flat oysters have been dying out due to parasites.
An Oyster Feast in Cancale
As we made our way along the coast back into the restaurant zone, we came across the oyster market (marché aux huîtres). The oyster market is located right by the harbour. Here, fresh Cancale oysters were being sold at ridiculously cheap prices. Served with lemon, we bought a dozen each and then a dozen more and sat down on the jetty walls and admired the scenery. These were the best oysters we had ever tasted. A slight bite as you tucked into them, then an explosion of salty ocean, followed by a little sweetness, and a touch of iodine. In other words; perfect. Truly the best oysters in the world.
Feeling sated, and in need of a bit of exercise before heading off again in the car, we followed the coastal path to the Pointe du Grouin which has sweeping views of the bay, the oyster beds, and you could also just make out Mont Saint-Michel in the distance.
How to get to Cancale, the Oyster Capital of France?
We drove, but it’s possible to get there from Paris. Trains take around four hours, buses take about seven hours.