Laura has become interested in the months, seasons, and time in general as of late. She was explaining the seasons to me this morning and I had to laugh. According to Laura, the four seasons are autumn, winter, spring and vacation. Wouldn’t it be nice if summer equaled vacation for everyone? Anthony certainly liked her idea. Laura is actually in the middle of two weeks of fall break right now and today is the last day of a long weekend for many people here in France. Rather than brave the holiday crowds in Dinard or Saint Malo, we drove down to Dinan and went to the Maison de la Rance today. (While the Maison is technically in Lanvallay, for all due intents and purposes it’s situated in the Port de Dinan. The Maison also has its own parking lot with limited free parking.)
The Rance River is one of the defining parts of the landscape here. Every day Elise and I walk up the hill from our house and watch the boats sailing up and down the river. The dam that separates the river and the Channel generates electricity from the tidal currents and creates back-ups on the hour when the bridge goes up to let the sailboats go in and out. Little ports and the remains of mills still exist and as you walk along the river paths, it’s possible to forget the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The Rance is also an ecosystem full of fish, shellfish and birds galore. For tourists, a boat trip from Dinard/St Malo to Dinan makes for a relaxing afternoon. The Maison de la Rance seeks to highlight the history, flora and fauna of the Rance. I’ve been wanting to visit it since last summer when I learned of its existence. That said, the Maison opened back in 2001! The Maison bills itself as a family friendly outing.
First impressions? It’s small and very-Francophone. I wouldn’t base my day around a visit here but it does make for a nice spot to visit as part of a larger trip to Dinan. The Maison is located in the port at the bottom of the Dinan. You can visit and then walk across the bridge and up into the old town. This also has the added advantage of letting you come back down the Rue du Jerzual (great road full of medieval houses, very steep) when you’re tired and ready to go home rather than knowing you have to climb back up again to reach your car. The Maison has a gift shop and bathroom facilities for visitors.
Admission was reasonable. The girls were free and we paid 3€ each to visit. I wouldn’t pay more. If you don’t speak French, I would hesitate to visit. If you can’t read French either, don’t go at all–simply looking at the exhibits won’t provide you with enough information to appreciate the exhibits. The texts truly complete the displays and provide necessary background information to visitors. Other video-based displays require you to understand spoken French (no subtitles even for the hearing-impaired) and a short documentary film makes for a key moment in the visit. I have to admit that trying on all the headphones was easily the highlight of the visit for Laura and Elise.
The Maison feels like it’s aimed at a “local” audience–school groups, community centers, and local adults seem to be its targets. Indeed, the Maison offers outreach programs for older school children on Wednesdays and during the spring/summer months offers a variety of reasonably priced outings. There are four main areas in the “museum.” Brief English summaries are located at the start of each section; the rest of the captions are all in French. The opening area is full of wonderful maps of the area. I happen to love maps so I had no trouble at all spending time here. Lights highlight local prehistoric sites, mills, churches, etc. Exhibits in this area also highlight the economic impact of the Rance on local life–fishing, granite, shipping, etc. Certain parts try to be interactive. The section on fishing, for example, has question/answer flaps for children to lift. To be honest, the museum is aimed at older school-age children–the flaps were located too high for either of the girls. I lifted Elise to help her open them. A documentary film follows in a small cinema area. Anthony and I played name-that-place while watching it. The film focuses on the impact of the Rance on local history. The film is entirely in French without subtitles (even for the French hearing-impaired). Following this, visitors can choose between visiting a temporary exhibit (currently a visiting artist) or continuing directly to the permanent exhibit.
The area devoted to the flora and fauna of the Rance was my favorite part of the Maison and easily the most child-friendly. The life-size and lifelike displays caught the attention of the girls. They enjoyed looking through the glass at the fish and being eye-to-eye and then trying to spot the birds above ground. Hands-on touch and feel activities are also located in this area but were once again aimed at school-aged children. Laura and Elise lost interest in seconds when they couldn’t reach the displays without help and Mommy/Papa reading out loud to them. Ironically enough, it was the final area that they enjoyed the most–an entire room full of videos on waves, tides, and other water-related subjects and the chance to wear headphones and listen! They stopped at every single one and listened for the entire presentation. I’m not sure what they understood but they were happy! A series of model ships ends your visit. The models also show off the various types of boats which flourished on the Rance in days past and explain their uses. We spent a little under an hour in the Maison visiting the exhibits before heading out and walking up to finish our afternoon with a walk around Dinan and tea and crêpes for tea time. A perfect vacation day until next summer and vacation season!