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krisek Dinan - A travel report by Krys
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Dinan,  France - flag France -  Bretagne
18786 readers

krisek's travel reports

The most picturesque town in Brittany. Dinan.

  11 votes
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The small town and port of Dinan is the prettiest, the most picturesque and packed with the largest number of really old houses I've seen in Brittany. The narrow and steep alleys and the squares were surreal, and seemed to teleport me to the 13th century.

Dinan travelogue picture
Dinan is a small town at the river la Rance. The name 'Dinan' is apparently a contraction of two Celtic words 'Dunos' and 'Ahna' meaning hill of Ahna, goddess of the living and the dead. In the 9th century, monks settled at on the banks of the river, who were given lands and certain privileges by Nominoë, "first Breton king", and they promised to found a monastery housing a saint's relics. By the 12th century, Dinan became an important trading post, known as far as the Arabia, whose geographer, Idrisi, also reported that Dinan was surrounded by a stone wall. The year of 1283 was an important milestone in Dinan's history, which became a ducal town. The duke started erecting the ramparts, which stand until this day and measure 2,650 meters in length. Being close to the English Channel (La Manche) and on the main west-east route, Dinan developed as an important centre indeed. Later, churches were built and the castle, too, increasing the military and religious standing of the settlement.

I never planned to come to Dinan and I cannot remember how I heard about it. Well it was not before I actually found myself in the area. When on the camping trip with my friends to Saint-Malo and Le Mount-Saint-Michel, I studied a few flyers displayed in one of the tourist offices. I saw the photographs of the magnificent medieval structure of Dinan and could not believe places like this still existed. And were so well preserved!

A quick study of the map, and the decision was made. It was only about 30 minutes drive from Saint-Malo, where we camped. And since we had a car, it was almost a no-brainer.

Wandering about this medieval town, without a map, trying to navigate around the narrow streets lined with the wooden and stone facades on both sides leaning towards each other, was an experience! It was such a great day!

Favourite spots:
Dinan travelogue picture
I am struggling to pin-point my favourite spot of Dinan. Had I visited the Castle, it might have been it, but I did not venture there. I was rather overwhelmed with the magnitude and the perfect preservation of the town and its historical layer that I almost became dizzy and over-excited. I forgot to concentrate on picking a place I liked best.

Rue de Lehon and its wooden structures was one of my favourite places, for sure. I think the photo opposite depicts one of the street's stretches.

Then, there were Place des Cordelliers et les Merciers and L'Apport, perfect little squares, that other medieval towns around the world could only aspire to have like that. I had seen many large and small medieval squares around the world, but this one in Dinan was as if it was taken out of the film set, a film about the brave and incredibly young for fearless soldier, Joan d'Arc. The wooden beams supporting the facades, whether brown, grey or red, looked fantastic.

What's really great:
Dinan travelogue picture
Dinan's state of preservation, not unlike many other little places in northern France in fact, was mind-boggling. The wooden facades everywhere seemed to defy the destructive power of time. They looked fragile and surreal in equal measure. The atmosphere of the entire town was as if it was taken out of a dream about knights, dragons, and medieval markets where toothless rugged women traded their produce shouting and pushing around, while odoriferous blokes in torn clothing chatted about impossible stories of whitehead princesses and beasts of the forest.

Wandering around the narrow alleys, under the archways and between the leaning clay-and-wood-beam facades, was a definite highlight of Dinan. The plentiful old style shops and boutiques occupying the medieval interiors of the as-if-crumbling mansions, selling body oils, fragrant waters, body lotions and face creams, as well as the apothecary counters only augmented the ambiance.

Dinan travelogue picture
Le Château de Dinan (the Dinan Castle, Château de la Reine Anne) with fortifications, started by Jean IV le Conquérant, duke of Brittany in 1384; the Romanesque St Saviour's Basilica dating back to the 12th century; the Gothic-Renaissance St Malo's Church, started in the late 1400s and completed in the 19th century; the 15th century Tour de l'Horloge (aka Duchess Anne's Tower), standing at 45 meters and offering nice views of the centre; and the incredible Jacobins Theatre built in 1224 - are Dinan's main historical sights. And yet they are just the icing on the cake! The countless centuries-old houses lining the narrow, cobble-stone alleys, some of them steep (and slippery!) and winding, are the real sight, which dominate the town and create its special character.

Dinan travelogue picture
This was a camping trip. I stayed around Saint-Malo, just norht of Dinan, where there were three camping sites: Alet**, Nielles**, and Nicet**.

The first one, Camping d'Alet, was the most convenient for access to the city of them all. This is the campsite we selected, and it offered such a great sight of the Solidor Tower (la Tour Solidor), just a hundred yards away. Onsite, there was even an 18th century fort, fortifications dating back to WWII, and a museum commemorating the 1939-1945 occupation of France. It had 300 pitches, and its officially open between 1 May and 30 September.

The campsite had a grassy plots, three sanitary buildings, washing machine with dryer (€3.60), facilities for the disabled, playgrounds for children, mini-gold ground. There was always someone on duty, 24x7, and personnel spoke several foreign languages, including English and German.

The campsite charged €12.55 for one tent up to 2 people with no electricity supply.

Dinan travelogue picture
As I did not stay overnight in Dinan, I did not have a chance to see if its nightlife would also be somewhat medieval. I could only hope for nightlife experiences in Saint-Malo, but I did not get many. For there was something else for which Saint-Malo was famous for. Or rather the lack thereof. It was decent nightlife. The walled town got very, very dark at night. And spooky! It was a job and a half to identify a nice place to party. Three discotheques; L'Escalier, L'Aviso, and the City Club, the latter two bam slam in the centre, were not very popular for some mysterious reason.

Well, nightlife on a camping trip in Saint-Malo was pretty much a self-creation. Couple of bottles of good Chablis or St Estephe, crackers and some cheese, and there was a night party already. The proximity of the beach was a blessing, too. An ipod with mini speakers was a good DJ-ing platform till the batteries lasted. Plenty of refreshing breeze, open spaces and... the bed was just few feet away.

Dinan travelogue picture
Apart from strolling along the stone alleys (including the incredible Rue du Jerzual), hanging out in Dinan can be done in a few of the cafes and bars. They are often hidden in impossibly narrow streets, and as some of them are decorated in line with the surroundings and the old building they occupy. As if the feeling of the Middle Ages would have been lost if owners opted for a more trendy decor. And that would probably be true. Actually, there are not that many of the cafes and bars, as it seems like shops are the higher priority of trade in the town. But the are spread out in the centre. Some are near the old market, some are near the new (just about a few hundred years younger) squares, surrounded by the stone houses, and a few grand mansions, including the large Place Saint-Sauveur.

Dinan travelogue picture
In the middle of wandering and discovering the incredible (and medieval) qualities of Dinan, I ventured into a very narrow alley and found the La Truye Qui File (14 Rue de la Cordonnerie), a little tavern. It looked almost like an English pub, actually - which might have been connected the large English colony, that lived in Dinan. Its decor was perfect. It most definitely corresponded well to the surroundings. It was atmospheric and warm. The menu featured typical Britannic dishes, and traditional beers. It was also very popular, mainly with the French crowd. Uh, the prices were very reasonable.

Other recommendations:
Dinan travelogue picture
Apparently, every other year, Dinan dresses up in medieval garb, decorates its streets in medieval flags for two days only. The town must then look incredible and the feeling of time-travel back to the 13th century could not be easier. The festival is called Fête des Remparts.

Dinan is about 20 kilometres south of Saint-Malo, just by the N176 highway, from where regular ferries go to Guernsey. Also, about 20 kilometres north of Dinan is the Dinard-Pleurtuit-Saint-Malo Airport (DNR), with connections to East Midlands-Nottingham (EMA) and London Stansted (STN) with Ryanair, and to Guernsey (GCI) with Aurigny Air Services.

There is also a rail station in Dinan (a very nice building by the way) with regular train services east to Normandy and west to the rest of Brittany.

Published on Monday December 28th, 2009

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Mon, Jan 04 2010 - 08:58 PM rating by eirekay

As always, relly first rate! Your pictures really confirm your opening sentence!

Fri, Jan 01 2010 - 04:19 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Lovely report, as usual in you.

Tue, Dec 29 2009 - 10:50 PM rating by gloriajames

another beautiful report ! 5*

Tue, Dec 29 2009 - 09:25 AM rating by horourke

A poetic descripyion capturing almost a thousand years of continuous habitation. Your description of the magic resonance of wood preserved over centuries brings a new significance to dendrochonology

Mon, Dec 28 2009 - 07:43 PM rating by jacko1

A very good report Krys, this part of Brittany is home to some of my favourite places as is St Pol de Leon and others, very well written!.

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