I don’t know about you, but when I think of Brittany, I think of windswept coastlines and little fishing villages. What I don’t think of is quaint cobblestone streets, potted flower window sills and all manner of artisan boutiques. But that’s exactly what Dinan is- the unexpected town.
In fact, the town is unusual in more ways than one; rather than being a typical riverside settlement, the majority of the town is constructed high above the river Rance on the surrounding hillside. People have settled in Dinan and its’ surrounding area have been inhabited since time immemorial. With the discovery of ancient ruins and a dolmen (like the ones at Carnac), it’s likely that Dinan has been inhabited for thousands of years.
Dinan: The most beautiful town in Brittany?
Some of the buildings that are still standing in this ancient walled town date all the way back to the 13th century- making for a pretty impressive day out. The town is even depicted as an important battleground in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Incidentally, Dinan is one of the few places whose name is the same in both French and Breton (the Celtic language that has its’ origins in the region of Brittany).
Port of Dinan
Although Dinan may have been known for its’ hilltop architecture, inevitably the inhabitants of the town still had to have access to the outside world- hence the presence of a port. The port is lined with fishing boats and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to wander, take photographs and enjoy a refreshing drink. If you’re looking for something a little more unusual to do, there’s also the opportunity to hire boats or go kayaking along the Rance.
Medieval and fortified Ramparts
Considering that this IS a walled town, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that you can visit (and even walk along) the fortified ramparts. If you really want to get a feel for the town, then your best bet is to climb the steps up onto the still standing medieval wall and take a good look at the town from above. From here, it becomes just how apparent how well packed the houses in Dinan are. Small roads and lanes meander through stone built houses, brought to life with patches of greenery and bursts of floral colours.
La Rue du Jerzual: a winding medieval street
I’m not lying when I say that this road was probably the most picturesque road I’ve seen in my entire life. The medieval road encompasses a 75 m slope and the street façade has changed little in the past few hundred years. You can almost picture medieval apprentices running their errands, and horse-drawn carts pulling merchant wares up and down this cobblestoned roads. Fortunately, the road no longer smells like it presumably would have done in the middle ages!
The street is littered with timber-framed houses, stained glass windows and other quirky examples of medieval architecture. Although the street gets pretty busy around lunchtime, I found that there weren’t too many tourists past 5 pm- despite the fact that we visited at the weekend.
There is literally a photo opportunity at every single point along this road! This little table facing a quaint café would have been the perfect place to sit with an expresso and write a new blog post…
Basilica Saint Saveur
The Basilica Saint Saveur of Dinan sits high up on the hill as the crowning jewel of the town. With its’ vantage point at the top of the hill overlooking the river Rance, it’s stood here since the 12th century. Throughout the ages, various additions and alterations have taken place in the basilica, creating the building we see today. It’s so steeped in history that it’s now classed as a French Historic Monument.
Sample a local delicacy: Kouign-Amann
Even if you’ve only been reading this blog for all of five minutes, you’ll know that I have a real sweet tooth. And by that, I mean literally, any pastry that comes along is great. Particularly fresh ones. The local boulangerie had this sweet treat in two I opted for the raspberry version- having already sampled a good portion of my friend’s ’traditional’ one!
The Kouign-Amann is made in a few layers (like puff pastry) and comes from the Breton Kouign (cake)-Amann (butter). It’s slowly baked in order to allow for richness of flavour. Yves-René Scoria is often credited as having invented it in the mid-late 1800s. The recipe is about 40% dough, 30% sugar and 30% butter- no wonder it tastes and looks so rich!