Kankaven (Cancale; Gallo: Cauncall)
The real tang of the sea
This picturesque fishing port and seaside resort on the western side of La Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel lies along the coast to the east of Saint-Malo. Founded by Saint Méen in the 6th century it became a city in 1545. Originally a haven for pirates before becoming a base for the 'terra-nuevas', those sailors who thought nothing of braving the elements to go fishing for cod in the North Atlantic on the Newfoundland ('Terra Nueva') Banks. From its inception it has had very strong religious beliefs; you only have to see the thanksgiving plaques in the Chapelle du Verger and the procession ritual dating back to 1540. Over the centuries it has seen, like so many coastal towns, invasions by the Spanish and Portuguese, attacks by the English, Corsairs and battles with the Chouans, a group of insurrectionary royalists during the First Republic (1794 – 1800). Their name derived from their muster by night at the sound of the “chat-haunt” (tawny owl), a nocturnal bird of prey with a distinctive cry. Their motivation was their staunch opposition to conscription and their support of the Catholic faith. Suppose you could say they were involved in, what is really, a guerrilla war.
The city is divided into two distinct parts, along the shoreline is Port de la Houle, once an isolated domain of fishermen, mixed with the oyster farms. In later years protected by a dyke built in 1836. This bustling, animated area, the quays along the port teems with people unloading oysters, repairing nets, cleaning boats, or just waiting the arrival 'of the fishing fleet at high tide. Go to the Fenetre jetty for a view of the bay and, at low tide, of the oyster beds. The port is surrounded by a picturesque district where sailors and fishermen lived. The Vaubaudet or Val du Bau'c!et was the only link with the town. Today, the restaurants along the quayside are always busy, bursting with Oysters and Mussels, some offering the “Pied de Cheval” (flat variety), sometimes so substantial they are eaten with a knife and fork. Although not are pretty as some other towns along the coast, it is a superb place to visit, especially around lunchtime. The cuisine is fabulous, freshly caught fish from the bay served in a way only the Cancalaise know how.
Rising above the shore, the 'Sentier des Douaniers' (the Customs Officers' Path - an old smugglers' trail) provides magnificent views across Pointe du Grouin 7km away and beyond.
Above the harbour area is the town, home to merchants and shipowners until the strike by the “terra
neuvas” in 1911.
Today things have changed as this is a wonderful place to spend a holiday because it has so much to offer, the scent of flowers growing on the cliffs, peace, tranquillity and a chance to relax in the shelter of its coves and beaches, and a wide range of water sports. The Cancalaises have very successful in preserving the natural beauty spots and the environment so that they can enjoy them all year round and visitors can discover them for themselves whatever the season of the year.
The town has always been famous for its oysters, even the Romans, during their colonialist period, were fond of them. It became famous for its oysters which were supplied to royal tables in the 17th and 18th centuries. We are led to believe that Louis XIV had his oysters brought to Versailles from Cancale. Centuries later, the farming of oysters is still a major activity in the port and there are oyster beds covering about 7.3 square kilometres easily seen from the pier at the harbour. These beds harvest about 25,000 tons of oysters each year and are very popular with visitors many of whom are drawn by its reputation as the 'oyster capital of Brittany'.
In the later decades of the 19th-century Eugène Feyen painted Cancale and the oyster-picking Cancalaises.
Vincent van Gogh wrote that "Eugène Feyen is one of the few painters who pictures intimate modern life as it is really, and does not turn it into fashion plates".
This vast structure built between 1875 and 1939 deserves a visit, designed by Frangeul, the nave measures 65 metres by 36 metres at the crossing of the transepts. The various chapels bear testament to the different social life of the local populations. The chapel of "Péris en Mer" is of particular importance as it depicts the sufferings and social miseries of the past. The Cancalaise are very attached to their church, and to celebrate the year 2000 on the initiative of their priest, a new bell was placed in the steeple to replace two existing bells. Allow time to climb the 189 steps to the upper platform of the tower where you will find a viewing table. The panoramas across Mont-St-Michel Bay to Granville are breathtaking. On a clear day it is possible to see Îles Chausey.
Musee des Bois Sculptés
Here you will find an amazing collection of wood carvings by Abbot Quemerais (born in Cancale 1879. d 1955). More than 300 figures are sculpted in high relief on oak panels with such minute detail that each scene (Ode to the Apple. Apotheosis of Sport. etc) appears to be animated.
La Ferme Marlne Musée de l'Huitre
This museum is located in St-Kerber, at the heart of an oyster-breeding farm, has displays depicting the evolution of oyster-breeding techniques as well as the activities of oyster farmers across the centuries. A beautiful collection of shellfish (in excess of 2,000 from around the world). Films and dioramas illustrate the way of life of this "gardener of- the sea". There is a guided tour of the workshops, pools and shellfish tanks, as well as an explanation of tides, some of which are the strongest in Europe.
Musée des Arts et Traditions Populalres
Housed in the old Église St.Méen (1714. now deconsecrated), the museum is devoted to the popular arts and traditions of the Cancale region (fishing, oyster breeding, farming, costumes, furnishings...) and to the life of Jeanne Jugan, There is also an exhibition depicting the work of the sailing school (École de Navigation des Rimains), which has been located in the town for over a hundred years.
Monument aux Morts
This war memorial on Boulevard Thiers affords an extensive view of Mont-St-Michel Bay, Mont-Dol and the port and the oyster beds below.
Maison de Jeanne Jugan
Situated on Avenue de General de Gaulle, this house is the birthplace of Jeanne Jugan (1792-1879), founder of the order known as the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Finally, don’t forget to visit the Sunday Market.
Depending on your fitness, there are two different ways to see the coast.
“A Pied - On foot”, our way of seeing the area:
There is a pleasant coastline hugging walk across heathland, beaches and rocks that finishes with a magnificent view over Côte d’'Emeraude and across the bay towards Mont Saint Michel at the semaphore signal at Pointe du Grouin.
Take Le Sentier des Douaniers (Customs Officers Path), a watch path, runs into Rue du Port (after some steps), it continues on 7 km to Pointe du Grouin. At Pointe du Hock you have magnificent views of Cancale Rock (Rocher de Cancale), Mont-St-Michel Bay and the Mont itself; below on the right, at the foot of the cliff, are the oyster beds. On either side of Pointe du Hock you may take Sentier des Douaniers and enjoy a walk overlooking the shore. If you follow the coastline as far as Port-Mer. you will get splendid view of Pointe de la Chaine opposite Cancale Rock.
Alternatively, you can drive to Pointe du Grouin, not as much fun or as interesting:
Leave Cancale by Rue du Stade .. , then turn right into the road which leads straight to the Pointe du Grouin, At the end of the road, after the Hotel de la Pointe du Grouin, leave your car in a vast parking area arid take a path the to right of the Semaphore Station, which leads directly to the point.
Polnte du Grouin is a wild, rocky headland overlooking the sea from a height of 40m - 131ft with views that stretch from Cap Frehel to Granville and Mont-St-Michel Bay with L’Îles Chausey in the distance. If you are careful at low tide you can take the path to a cave in the cliffside (height 10m - 32ft. depth 30m - 98ft). A very interesting experience!!
Just offshore is Île des Landes, an inaccessible island bird sanctuary and nature reserve. Members of
l’association Bretagne Vivante (SEPNB) are allowed to land on the island once a year for the purpose of bird counting. The sheer cliffs provide shelter for several types of sea birds away from any
During the summer months the co-ordinators of SEPNB (Living Brittany) welcome visitors to the area, giving advice on what to observe and explaining the lifestyle of these winged creatures. Members of the association provide guided tours of Polnte du Grouin to discover the wildlife and the flora, Tuesday to Sunday from 1300 to 1900 hours, departing from the blockhouse at the end of the Point. The price of the tour is 1,50€ for adults, FREE for children under 12 years. Please support them in their work, it’s important to us; more information is available by telephone 0033 (0)2.98.49.07.18.
In 1970, this island was the first place in Brittany to see cormorants. Today, they are to be seen along
many of our coastal roads. The colony here consists of around 200 pairs. Also there are Oystercatchers by the thousand to be seen.
Over the years the vegetation has adapted to its surroundings, maritime cliffs swept by violent winds loaded with sea spray. In the past 20 years, some twenty types of vegetation have disappeared due to a combination of the winds and bird excretions. However, nature being what it is, new, more resilient vegetation is now growing.