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Hunting For the Best Oysters in France

Just 50 kilometres from one of France’s most widely visited landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel, and very near another de rigueur tourist resort, Saint-Malo, lies Cancale, which guards a very special culinary secret. This small town in Brittany boasts what are considered to be the best oysters in France. Some even dare to claim they are the best in the world. Whatever their actual rating, the oysters of Cancale are clearly world famous and it is worth making a stopover just to try them.

The Romans are said to have been the first to discover the fine quality of the oysters here, while centuries later, Louis XIV and Napoleon counted them among their favourites, and no wonder! Just as wine is a reflection of the earth that nurtures the grapes it is made from, the quality of this prized mollusc is determined by the place where it is found. It transpires that this stretch of coastline in Brittany is endowed with excellent nutrients, which would account for their special flavour.

Cancale, where fishing has been the major source of income for centuries, has now been given over to oyster cultivation. Your visit will take you to see the oyster rafts and, even more impressively, the ritual of harvesting. A word of warning, though – the success of this display will depend on the state of the tides, so take this into account when planning your trip. Should this not be enough for you, and assuming you would like to gain expertise in the matter, be sure to visit the Ferme Marine de Cancale, an exhibition area where you can boost your knowledge of these prized molluscs and learn about the “Gardeners of the Sea”.

However, Cancale is not only a place to learn about oyster culture, but to taste their exquisite huîtres (oysters), too. In the harbour, next to the Pointe des Crolles lighthouse, you will find a number of stalls where you can get your hands on a good helping of these small delicacies and savour them right there on the beach. There are many prices and types – flat oysters are the most highly valued – and, optionally, you can also squeeze lemon juice on them and ask for them to opened.

If you prefer to eat the oysters or other sea delights more comfortably seated, there are several restaurants along the esplanade where you can indulge in this pleasure, and a generous helping of seafood is reasonably priced. A classic to order is mussels and chips, a traditional dish in the area.

For those seeking quite another gastronomic experience and who have a sizeable current account, this is the land of the acclaimed chef, Olivier Roellinger. Very near Cancale, the Château Richeux houses Le Coquillage, a magnificent restaurant which bears out, day after day, just why it was awarded three Michelin stars – which Roellinger turned down, incidentally – and why his cuisine continues to be exquisite. And – you guessed it – the splendid oysters of Cancale are on the menu.

So, now that you have scoped the spot where the best oysters in France (and the world) are said to be cultivated, it’s time to book your Vueling to Rennes – less than an hour’s drive from Cancale – and treat yourself to that exquisite delicacy.

 

Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Julien Barrier, sam.romilly