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    A Day in the Medieval Wonderland of Dinan

    If you are visiting Brittany I am sure you already have the town of Dinan on your list. Known as the most beautiful medieval town in Brittany, Dinan really lives up to its name. I was lucky enough to live in this pretty town in 2020. And yes, that meant I got to enjoy the quiet beauty and ancient architecture almost to myself. We didn’t see too many tourists that year. There is plenty to do in Dinan and I recommend spending at least a couple of days there, but the following is my idea of how to spend 24 hours in this magical town.

    Place des Merciers, Dinan

    How to get there?

                  Before you can spend the perfect 24 hours in Dinan, you have to figure out how to get there. I’m basing my 24 hour day on the idea that you arrived the night before and have woken up ready to explore. So how did you get here?

    The nearest airport is in Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Transport links from here are readily available. If you’re travelling from the UK, Easyjet fly into Rennes from London Gatwick.

    Trains from Rennes do not run directly to Dinan, the quickest connection is to take a train via Dol De Bretagne. The journey takes around 1 hour 25 minutes, and the train station is just outside the centre of Dinan. Making it very easy to walk everywhere from the station.

    If you are on a budget there is also the number 7 bus that runs from Rennes train station to Dinan and only costs €5. You can find the timetable at Breizhgo.

    Coming from Paris? All public transport from Paris will still take you via Rennes!

    08:00 – Breakfast

                  In France boulangeries will open at 7 o’clock in the morning and will be full of locals buying their daily baguettes. This is a French experience not to be missed and my personal favourite in Dinan is Boulangerie Herbert.

    Open every day except Sunday. This boulangerie is right in the heart of Dinan and has two entrances. One facing the church of Saint Malo and the other on the main street that runs through town – Rue de Marchix. Look beyond the delights that you see on the counter and you will see their enormous rotating oven that bakes everything here to perfection.

    A classic croissant or pain au chocolat from here is the best way to start your day in Dinan.

    09:00 – Château de Dinan /
    Jardin Anglais

                  Dinan is a historically important town and was once the capital of Brittany. This is due to its proximity to the important port town of Saint Malo and the fact that at one time the medieval bridge at the port was the northernmost crossing of the Rance river.

    Discover more about the history of the town by visiting its castle. The Château de Dinan is one of the oldest in France and we know this because it appears in the Bayeux tapestry. However, construction of the castle we still see today didn’t start until 1384. Tickets to visit the castle are €7,50 for adults.

    However, if you want to imagine the history of Dinan by seeing more of it on foot. Then head to the Jardin Anglais. From here, amongst the beautiful trees and flowers that decorate the gardens behind the church, you can walk along a section of the ancient city walls. Here you have the same vantage point that put Dinan on the map. Look up the Rance river and down to the port.

    11:00 – Horloge de Dinan

    There is no better way to see a place than from a great height! If you want to look out over the rooftops of Dinan’s half timbered houses then you’ve got to climb the clocktower. This tower was erected at the end of the 15th century and you can only access the very top by climbing a small ladder. This will really take you back in time. Also of interest is the clock mechanism itself. Duchess Anne of Brittany granted the people of Dinan the privilege of putting a clock in this tower in 1501 and the original mechanism can be seen on your visit.

    Find the tower on the aptly named Rue de l’Horloge – ‘horloge’ means clock in French! Price – €4

    12:00 – Walk the Rue de Jerzual

    Now you’ve seen Dinan from above, you’ll want to see it from below. It’s hard to imagine how this town is perched above the Rance river, without a trip down to the port. The best and only way down to the port is via the Rue de Jerzual.

    The road has not much changed in the last 1000 years. This is the most picturesque road in all of Dinan, so don’t forget your camera. It was once the main road used to transport goods from the port up into town. Important to note before starting the descent is that the gradient of this street reaches 33% in parts and is entirely made from cobble stone. If you are concerned about your knees walking up or down the street, in the summer there is a small tourist train that runs from the centre down to the port.

    Walking up the Rue de Jerzual

    The street is lined with art galleries, shops and the occasional café. Around halfway down you will pass under the Porte du Jerzual, a stone archway that marks the edge of the ramparts and was part of the towns defences. If you want to get another view of the ramparts you can climb the steps at the side of the arch here.

    Once you reach the port you can admire Dinan from a completely different angle. It feels like a separate town. Dwarfed by the viaduct that crosses the river at the towns level. Walk along the promenade and admire all the boats anchored here. There are also many cafés and crêperies at the port.

    I know I have already recommended one boulangerie in Dinan but while you are at the port you cannot miss Gât & Vous. Famous for one thing in particular. Kouign-Amann. A Breton delicacy that you will find in every boulangerie in Brittany. But you won’t find them more perfectly baked than on this corner. Try the classic or my favourite, raspberry Kouign-Amann. You can thank me later for all the buttery goodness.

    13:00 – Lunch

                  Put down the Kouign-Amann! For now. You’re down at the port, you’ve walked all over town and it’s been a while since breakfast. I think that means it’s lunchtime.

    The port of Dinan

    While there are many options at the port, there is only one for me. Les Roger-Bontemps. You cross the medieval bridge and the restaurant is on your left. It has the best view, looking back up at Dinan and across the river. On a sunny summers day sit out on the terrace and you will feel like you’re right on the water. You will be seated based on what is available, so you might end up making some new friends. I really enjoyed the family style seating that forces social interaction and ensured everyone is welcome.

    The menu is French and limited daily based on the fresh ingredients in the kitchen. You will find a varied menu; simple salads, seafood platters, cheese plates and burgers (I even found a veggie burger here! Which isn’t easy in France) Everything is homemade and fresh.

    The staff are very friendly and helpful, none of the expected French coldness here. This could be due to it being a fairly new addition to Dinan (2021) and that the 3 owners are young and passionate about the success of the restaurant.

    If you are a beer lover, you’ll be excited to hear that Les Roger-Bontemps also brews its own beer. It is a registered brasserie and they have several refreshing beverages to choose from.

    15:00 – Walk to Léhon

    Full up on delicious food and beer you might want to stretch your legs. If you were to head north, the river becomes an estuary and opens out to the channel between Dinard and Saint Malo. However, today, we are heading south. Just a 28 minute walk along the river – you can begin from the restaurant and follow the footpath just after the bridge – you will find the village of Léhon. It is so close to Dinan that it is barely its own village anymore but after a relatively short stroll along the flat river path, you have again found one of Dinan’s jewels.

    Stroll along the rance river

    As you approach the village you will see, across the bank and through the trees, a 12th century Abbey. It was the monks of the former Benedictine Abbey that built Léhon when they arrived here in 850.

    If you take a stroll through the village itself, you will see why it has been named as on of France’s ‘Little towns of Character’. The locals take pride in maintaining the greenery and flowers that you will see throughout the village. The ancient architecture and quiet cobbled streets are charming.

    You can make your way back to the port of Dinan the same way you came or choose to follow the footpath on the other side of the river. This path is sheltered by trees and is a beautiful route but it not paved and can get muddy and wet.

    17:00 – Churches of Dinan

                  Making your way back up into the town centre you will have already noticed the towns two churches. They are both open to the public and hold regular services. The reason that there are two churches in Dinan, is that in the 1100s the town was divided into two different lordships. Olivier II, lord of the North of Dinan and Alain I, Lord of the South of Dinan.

    The Church of Saint Malo is built in an impressive gothic style. The first stone was laid for this church in 1490 but due to a lack of funds and slow construction it was not completed until 1885! You’ll also notice that it has no spire, but holds 4 bells in its large bell tower. This is probably due to the painfully slow construction of the church. By the end of the 16th century, the church had to have a thatched roof while construction was halted.

    The Saint Sauveur Basillica is Dinan’s second church. You will have already seen it if you visited the Jardin Anglais, which is in the place of the old cemetery. This church has sections that date to the 12th century but has been extended and rebuilt, creating a blend of architectural styles. You will also see sculptures decorating the churches interior and exterior of wild animals and imaginary beasts. These were said to have been discovered by crusaders on their way to the holy land. They also served to frighten parishioners and stop them from sinning.

    18:00 – Go for a drink

    After a long day of exploring this beautiful town, join in the local Breton tradition of drinking. Grab yourself a classic Brittany cider or one of the many local beers offered in the following fine establishments. There are two local bars that I highly recommend. Both are in the centre of town and if you want to start the night in one and end the night in the other, you’re practically a local!

    Aux Vieux Saint Sauveur

    Firstly, there is Aux Vieux Saint Sauveur. You will find this bar opposite the Saint Sauveur basilica, in Place Saint Sauveur. On a summer evening you can sit out on the terrace under the trees that surround the square. Inside it feels almost like an English pub thanks to its historic 15th century setting. If you’re visiting during the colder months, you’ll find a roaring fire inside too. They offer a large menu of drinks and aperitif snacks.

    Les Oiseaux de Passage

    My next choice would be Les Oiseaux de Passage. Nestled in amongst medieval buildings, the interior is something altogether different. Styled like a flea-market with arcade games, cinema seats, posters, marbles, jars, instruments and all manner of things hanging from the walls and ceilings. The owners of the bar are a warm and welcoming. They will happily recommend an independent local beer to you or a cocktail if you prefer. If you do happen to take to one of these beers, you’ll find their shop at the end of the same street.

    19:30 – Dinner

    Dinner in France begins no earlier than 19:00. And if you decide to book a table for 19:00 or even 19:30 you will likely be eating alone, the French tend to eat later. However, in peak summer you will want a reservation no matter what time you want to eat.

    There are many great restaurants to choose from in Dinan and maybe after a big lunch at the port you’ll want a classic Breton galette from one of the many crêperies. But my personal restaurant of choice in Dinan has to be La Tomate.

    A sharing platter at La Tomate

    Situated right at the top of the Rue du Jerzuel, this is a French Italian restaurant. They primarily advertise their pizzas and for good reason. But there is so much choice here and all of it made with fresh, quality ingredients and generous portions.

    As a vegetarian I enjoy their vegetable spaghetti, the aubergine gratin, or the ‘Allegro’ calzone. Yum. My boyfriend’s favourite is the pan-fried veal liver.

    And for dessert you must order the Café Gormand. A bite sized selection of their homemade desserts with an espresso to finish the meal.

    If you decide not to go for a restaurant at all and would rather take something back to your hotel room or sit on a grassy knoll beneath the ramparts and watch the sunset. The best takeaway pizza is from Panino Pizz. On the corner of Place Saint Sauveur, owner Pascal makes pizza to order on a wood fire. No fuss. Just excellent pizza.

    22:00 – Sleep

    Are you getting sleepy? Where you stay is up to you and there are lots of options. I tend to choose hotels on the more affordable end or if I’m traveling by bike I stay in the local campsite.

    For the full Dinan experience, stay on the famous Rue du Jerzual itself at Le Logis du Jerzual. You will be sleeping in an authentic former tanner’s house with antique furniture. Sylvie et Guillaume will treat you to a generous French breakfast. With rooms starting at 88 euros a night, you can’t go wrong with this charming Chambre d’hôtes.

    My other hotel suggestion would be the Café Hôtel du Théàtre. This hotel starts at 66 euros a night which is very reasonable considering its central location, modern furnishings and delicious breakfast. With rooms overlooking a picturesque square, this simple hotel is perfect for a stay in Dinan.

    For the camper van enthusiasts or cycle tourists like myself, you don’t have to venture far from town to pitch your tent! The Camping Municipal Chateaubriand is only a 10 minute walk south of the centre. Be sure to book during peak season.

    Another camping option is Camping International de la Hallerais located a little further north along the river. If you don’t mind the 30 minute walk or 10 minute cycle into Dinan then this is a great option for cycle tourists or families that need a bit more space.

    I hope you enjoy your time in Dinan. Whether it be 24 hours or more. I would love to hear if you enjoyed my recommendations or felt that I missed anything!

    Want to learn more about Brittany?

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