When it comes to France, everyone wants to visit Paris first of all, since it is considered to be the alpha and omega of must-sees, but the hidden gems in Brittany, like the town of Dinan will definitely award your efforts. Take the cycling tour of Brittany to enjoy all spellbinding vistas along the Emerald Coast, including the wonder of Mont Saint Michel and of course the fairyland of Dinan. Mother Nature really went above and beyond when creating this more than 1000 kilometres long wild coastline, along which there are quaint seaside villages and towns, which still retain Celtic traditions and a proud sense of identity.
The first things that come to mind about Dinan are its narrow cobblestone streets, the medieval ramparts and half-timbered houses. Sounds like a little bit common for every Medieval European town, but if you stick around a couple of days, you’ll understand why it is so exciting to let a little Dinan into your soul.
History of Dinan
In 1283 the settlement on the banks of the fast-flowing Rance River became the residence of the Dukes of Brittany. The top of an impregnable 75-meter-high rock was surrounded by a defensive wall with a length of more than 2500 meters. A massive dungeon, four gates, fourteen majestic towers with platforms for artillery were built into the wall to make the settlement a point of intersection of important trade waterways leading to Saint-Malo. During the Hundred Years’ War and the struggle for Breton inheritance the citadel was again a reliable protection for the locals. In 1357 Dinan withstood the siege of the British troops of Duke Lancaster. Bertrand du Guesclin showed special resistance and courage at that time as his brother Olivier was illegally captured during the truce by a knight, who demanded a ransom of a thousand florins. Bertrand then challenged this knight to a duel and won. The opponent had to pay his previously requested amount to the Duke himself. Winning fame in many other battles, Bertrand du Guesclin bequeathed his heart to be buried here in his hometown, for which he had spent all his life in battles. Mindful of the request of their compatriot, the people not only installed a memorial statue in honor of the hero in the town square, but also buried his heart under a gravestone in the Basilica of Christ the Savior (San Severo).
Dinan’s Sights and Landmarks
One can hardly find a building younger than 200 years in the Centre Historique (Historic Center) of the town. This part of the town has a good pocket of history and a great geographical setting. Here outlandish legends become solid facts when you stroll around the medieval ramparts and half-timbered buildings. Visit the town during the Medieval Festival, in a historical costume, join the variegated crowd and see equestrian tournaments, to take in the atmosphere of the town completely. Invest a few hours to wander around the old ramparts, soak up the unbeatable vistas of Jardin Anglais, over the river and countryside.
During the First Crusade a nobleman from Dinan, Riwallon le Roux, getting into a trouble, vowed to build a church in his hometown, if the Lord helped him to escape. Riwallon le Roux returned from the Holy Land safe and sound and in 1120 began the construction of Basilique St-Sauveur, which lasted several centuries. That’s the reason why this architectural masterpiece combines both Gothic and Renaissance styles and has also a Byzantine influence in the decoration. You don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate the stunning stained glass windows and atmospheric flood lighting in the night.
Eglise Saint-Malo de Dinan was built in 1066 outside the town and was the first church dedicated to this very Saint. During the “unreasonable” war between the French King and the Duke of Brittany, the church was destroyed by the French troops (according to the other version, the locals themselves ruined the church not to give it to the enemy). After this all, it was decided to restore the church this time inside the walls. The construction began in 1490, but was continued very slowly. The church was completed after the Revolution in 1865, however, the bell tower was never completed. The Gothic influence of the architecture is preserved in the church choir, but the altar was later replaced with another one by Gallée. Interestingly, due to the location of the church, the altar happens to be on the highest point of the city. St Malo Church is also singled out for its stained-glass windows with historic and religious themes.
The Port of Dinan is the place, where the town originated more than 1000 years ago. The traces of the first fortifications and the foundation of a Benedictine monastery are still visible here. The port used to be an important hub of industry, where goods from Saint Malo (salt, tea, fish) were brought, but eventually the importance of the port was decreased in the course of time. Not far from the port you can see the 15th century Old Bridge or Vieux Pont, which links the banks of the River Rance. With the development of the city and transport the Old Bridge became too narrow, and in the 19th century a viaduct was constructed to replace it, but it was saved as a historical monument.
The Clock Tower or as the locals say La Tour de l’Horloge, is a famous landmark of the town and is located on a quaint old street. The bell of this 15th-century tower was named after Duchess Anne of Brittany and weighs 2.355 kg. If climbing heights is your thing, it’s really worth trying, because you’ll have a good chance to enjoy the view of the old city from the roof.
A walk near Chateau de la Hunaudaye will take you back through centuries. The castle is in ruins, but a few rooms and towers are still preserved, so you can grab your piece of Dinan history here. The castle is a little bit far from the town so a driving effort is required to get there, but it’s really a nice option for a day out in a rural setting. If you want to snap funny photos, you can rent historic costumes in one of the towers and explore the castle and the passages below ground. Don’t forget to taste some delicious crepes at a creperie bar near the Chateau.
If you want to make your eating experience memorable in Dinan, try classic French mussels with a glass of local wine at one of the restaurants along the Canal d’Ille-et-Rance or have a gentle stroll along the banks and soak up the sun in bright weather. Shopping can also be an interesting experience here, if you visit La Craquanterie Dinan or Biscuiterie du Graal, where you can find both special gifts and biscuits, salted caramel sauce, and other delicious stuff, tempting mostly tourists, because the locals are used to that amazing smell and take it for granted.
An ideal place for walks is Jardin Anglais, a 19th-century park on the riverbank. Enjoy the picturesque views of the banks from a boat, which is easy to find in the port. Every two years the Festival of Remparts is held here, during which a grand carnival takes place. The locals and visitors dress up in medieval costumes, hold knight tournaments and play historical scenes. Immerse yourself into the medieval life and traditions, watching street performances and impressive shows and be a part of the festivities.
No matter when you visit Dinan, you’ll definitely feel its cheerful, festive, lively and at the same time quiet and mysterious mood.