Cancale, founded by St. Meen

Cancale (Kankaven in Breton) is a small fishing village situated on the Emerald Coast and on the shore of the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel.

Saint-Méen, a preacher monk from Cornwall founded Cancale during the 6th century AD.

Origin of the oysters of Cancale

Cancale lighthouse
Cancale lighthouse

If you like oysters, Cancale is the place to visit as it the oyster capital of Brittany!

The exceptional quality of the plankton that grows in the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel indeed triggered the establishment and reproduction of wild oysters.

As a result, Cancale has since ancient times specialized in the culture of the native indigenous oysters with flat shells (huître plate) or Belon.

The Romans already collected oysters when they invaded France some 2000 years ago.

Soon, small fishing communities appeared on the shores of the Baie du Mont St. Michel in order to exploit the wild oyster beds.

A thriving oyster farming industry developed.

The French kings were so fond of shellfish that Cancale became the official supplier to the royal table!

Jetée de la Fenêtre in Cancale
Jetée de la Fenêtre

Oysters have always been a delicacy in France.

However, their consumption spread to all well-off French classes in the early 19th century, when seaside resorts became trendy.

Oyster farming thrived until 1920 when an unknown disease decimated them.

However, the import of wild flat-shell oysters from Auray revived Cancale’s oyster farming.

This other Breton fishing port, located on the mouth of the river Auray in Morbihan in southern Brittany, had indeed escaped contamination.

The other French areas specialized in oyster farming imported oysters from Japan, a species with rounded or hollow shells (huître creuse).

French oysters peculiarities

As a result, there are now two kinds of oysters in France.

Cancale - Oyster beds at low tide
Oyster beds at low tide

The flat-shell oysters (Ostrea edulis), which are native to the French coasts, and the rounded or hollow Japanese oysters (Crassostrea gigas).

An official code and a series of inter-professional agreements defining calibration applies to the trade of hollow-shell oysters.

The caliber thus defines the weight of a basket of 100 oysters.

The native flat-shell oysters, on the other hand, are only subject to inter-professional agreements.

France is the first European producer of oysters.

The annual production of 130,000 tons (98% made of Japanese oysters) represent 90% of the consumer demand.

The Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, however, has specialized in the farming of the flat-shell Belon oysters, which represent only 2% of the national production!

Cancale, the Breton oyster capital

Cancale oyster beds spread over 7km2 and produce about 25,000 tons of oysters per year.

Cancale oyster beds
Oyster beds

Farming is a long process.

It indeed starts with the breading of the larvae which attach to various collectors such as tiles, slates, wood, iron or plastic.

After 6 months of age, the young oysters are placed in plastic bags or pockets (poche) mounted on iron table in oyster beds.

The water is changed regularly and the oysters graded.

Then comes a phase of refining when they are placed for 6 months in special ponds called claires where the quality and colour of their flesh and hardness of their shell is improved.

Cancale oysters
Osyters on the beach!

The oysters are ready for commercialization and reach your table after 2 to 3 years!

When visiting Cancale stroll among the oyster beds at low tide.

The air is indeed saturated with the smell of plankton and seaweeds; it is really invigorating.

You can also buy a basket of oysters from the producers’ stalls along the beach!

They prepare them for you on the spot; all you have to do is to sit along the beach and enjoy!

Cancale, an active fishing village

Cancale is an active fishing village, but most of the fishermen cottages lining up the Port de la Houle waterfront today house crêperies and sea-food restaurants.

You can seat at their terrace to eat fresh oysters while watching the fishing boats dancing on the water at high tide.

Fresh oyster for sale on the beach of Cancale
Fresh oyster for sale on the beach of Cancale

You can also take a stroll on the beach among the fishing nets left to dry by the fishermen.

The picturesque Port de la Houle is a shallow harbour.

Coastal navigation is therefore limited and only boats with a shallow draft can access it in order to unload their catch.

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Jetée de la Fenêtre.

The department restored the Eiffel type metal structure jetty between 2009 and 2011.

Composed of 345 tons of steel, this jetty is equipped with oak breakwaters and a crane for unloading fish.

It boasts spectacular views over the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel, and by clear weather you can perfectly see the abbey breaking away in the distance.

The sea takes a multitude of shades of green that evolve with the day light and you understand why this coastal area is called the Emerald Coast.

Around Cancale

If you have time and enjoy hiking, you can follow the Sentier des Douaniers (Smugglers Path), a steep trail that runs along the jagged shoreline.

Rocher de Cancale, marina and oyster beds
Rocher de Cancale, marina and oyster beds

It starts nearby the War Memorial and a small megalith at Pointe des Crolles, above the Port de la Houle.

The War Memorial, an impressive monument representing the Vierge des Mers -Virgin of the Seas flanked by soldiers, overlooks the village.

It serves as a beacon and guides the fishing boats sailing on the Baie du Mont Saint-Michel.

The trail takes you first to the Pointe du Hock (not to be confused with La Pointe du Hoc in Normandy), the headland that overlooks the marina.

It boasts prime views of the Rocher de Cancale, the Ile des Rimains and its fort built in the 1780s.

The two islands were separated from the mainland by sea erosion and are among the tourist attractions of Cancale.

The trail leads to the Pointe du Grouin, another exceptional site which boasts superb view over the Baie du Mont Saint-Michel and the Iles Chausey.

A highly recommended walk!

Department of Ille-et-Vilaine
Coordinates: Lat 48.670375 – Long -1.855381

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