I needed to get out last weekend and, as the weather had yet to turn cold, Dinan seemed a great idea. When I want a change from Dinard and Saint Malo, Dinan is a great choice. The old town and the port make for a nice afternoon walk and I’m guaranteed a good snack. If you go to Bréhat for the scenery, you go to Dinan to just enjoy the medieval architecture. Surrounded by 13th century ramparts (city walls), the city sits perched above the Rance River. Dinan has seen its share of history. Founded in the 11th century, Dinan played an important military and commercial role in Brittany and later France. The city even figures in the Bayeux Tapestry! There are no must-see museums or sites but plenty of neat streets full of half-timbered houses to wander around and enough cafés and crêperies to make sure you never go hungry! The town does have its own museum and a couple of sites which charge admission but I would never spend any money visiting them. Dinan’s old town has managed to survive the centuries more-or-less unscathed i.e. it’s why you’re there.
For those coming with children, the old town is full of cobbled streets–it adds to the atmosphere but like at the Mont Saint Michel it will destroy your stroller. This is another one of those visits designed for baby carriers or forcing your child to walk and/or carrying him or her when they get tired. It is also important to think about where you want to park and how you want to pace your visit. If you don’t know the city, it’s easiest to pay to park. However, if you’re feeling adventurous and are willing to drive around a bit, you can find free parking on the side streets.
The rue du Jerzual links the walled city on the hill with the port below. It’s a wonderful street to walk, but, be forwarned, it is very steep and if you are carrying a small child can seem to go on forever! (Maps do not do justice to it; it looks deceptively short and not half as steep!) I recommend starting in the port and walking up to explore the city and its ramparts. It’s a lot easier to convince your child to walk downhill later when they’re tired or even to carry them if necessary. Several benches line the way so you can stop and catch your breath. Keep in mind that there are plenty of places to grab a snack at the top as a reward and you will pass a crêperie or two on your way up as well. As you wander up take the time to admire the architecture and all the little details. Laura’s favorite house has Saint George battling a dragon on it!
As you head up Rue du Jerzual, you will go through the Porte du Jerzual–at one time one of the Dinan’s gated entrances. From this moment on, you are in the walled city itself and can pretend that you’ve gone back in time! Keep heading up to the place des Merciers and the place des Cordeliers–two squares full of half-timbered houses that look like they were designed for a movie-set but better still are the real thing. There are plenty of window shopping opportunities here. Walk towards Saint Sauveur church (follow signs or just look for the steeple) for great views of the valley below. The church itself is a mix of styles and epoques. If you’re a fan of churches, it’s worth the visit, otherwise admire its exterior and keep walking. Behind the church, you can relax in the Jardin Anglais, let your kids run around and then walk over to the Tour Catherine for great views of the Rance River valley and port below. Part of the ramparts is also accessible from here for the more adventurous!
Looking for a bit more excitement? Dinan celebrates its medieval heritage ever two years in July. The Fête des Remparts brings together costumed actors, musicians, jousting knights, etc for a weekend of fun. Held in even years, the Fête will be back this summer on July 21-22. If you’re visiting outside of the winter season, another neat way to experience the city is to take a boat ride on the Rance River. Depending on where you want to start, Compagnie Corsaire offers river cruises to and from Dinan–Saint Malo/Dinard. Children under 3 sail free, those over 3 pay a reduced fare. While you can connect the cities by 20 minutes with a car, the cruise lasts 2 hours 45 minutes.
If you’re child-free or can find a baby sitter for the night, head over to Léhon (suburb of Dinan) for a great meal at the Marmite de l’Abbaye (15 Le Bourg, 22100 Léhon). Open from March to November, this little restaurant serves great food in a cozy setting. I have seen families with children there. That said, I tend to think of it as a more “adult” restaurant for a romantic evening and I doubt that most children would appreciate the cuisine.
Finally, if you come by car in the summer, it is worth stopping by the Gavottes factory just outside of town for a tasty souvenir (route de Dinard, Taden). Crêpes dentelles are one of my favorite local cookies. Thin, buttery crispy cookies, crêpes dentelles are a mess to eat (crumbs everywhere!) but absolutely delicious! The batter is spread out and cooked like a crêpe and then rolled into a cookie. They are good on their own with tea, they can be pounded into crumbs for a cake or just served with ice cream! While you can buy them in any French supermarket, you can also get them direct from the factory. You can buy souvenir tins (one of my favorite gifts for friends/family) as well as bags of not-quiet-perfect cookies that still taste just divine. The factory outlet is open Saturday mornings in the summer, otherwise, it is open during the week the rest of the year. Do you really need any more reasons to visit Dinan now?
Note: The photos here come from a variety of afternoons in Dinan, not just last weekend.