The quaint little town of Dinan is one of the best preserved medieval villages in Brittany, France and has a completely different atmosphere from other small towns in the area. It was the first town that my husband and I visited during our recent cruise along the coasts of France, Spain and Portugal and what a delightful treat is was.
Our first port of call was in Saint-Malo, France and most of the people on the Seven Seas Explorer were going to visit Mont Saint-Michel. While Mont Saint-Michel is “a must see” if you are in the area, we had already visited on several of our previous trips to France. Instead, we decided to visit the historic hilltop town of Dinan, about 15 miles south of Saint-Malo. Dinan has been called one of the “prettiest towns in Brittany” so we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit it.
Dinan escaped bombing in WWII and is wonderfully preserved. It has a picture postcard old town that is still surrounded by most of its thick ramparts and has almost all of its defensive towers still standing.
The walled old town is a maze of very narrow, steep cobblestone streets lined with arcaded ancient stone and overhanging half-timbered buildings.
Place des Merciers is where you can find some of the prettiest buildings. Many of them date back to the 15th century and have been wonderfully restored although some have such a lean to them that you wonder how they don’t topple over. Lots of the old structures are now boutiques, galleries, crêperies and restaurants…the town just oozes with charm.
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The Tour de l’Horloge, an impressive 15th century clock tower, can be seen from many parts of the old town and offers wonderful views if you climb to the top.
Nearby the Maison de la Harpe, a 16th century half-timbered house, is now the headquarters of International Celtic Harp Committee.
Behind the St. Sauveur Basilica, which is in the center of town, there is a small English garden and nearby you will find St. Catherine’s Tower. You can get a wonderful view down to the River Rance and what used to be the old port from the tower and ramparts here.
The Rue du Jerzual is a steep, picturesque street that leads down the hill to the river and the little port. At the bottom, there is a 15th century stone bridge that crosses the water to the other side. The river front and the streets behind are lined with pretty stone houses, many of them waterside restaurants and it is also where you can find boats that offer cruises along the river.
It had been many years since my husband and I had been in this area of France. Somehow during our travels to Brittany and Normandy, we never visited Dinan. I have a feeling it was because we couldn’t find parking nearby for the historic walled old town. I’m so happy that we got a chance to visit on this trip.
Brittany, with its own language, Celtic traditions, music and traditional foods, almost feels like visiting some other country instead of being in the most westerly region of France. If you get the opportunity to visit Brittany, I would encourage you to visit the medieval village of Dinan. Once a mighty walled citadel, now the charming town really is one of the prettiest in Brittany. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to visit on a sunny, warm day when there is one of the numerous traditional festivals being held. While there, take time to sample a few of their crêpes, both savory and sweet, along with a glass of cider.