Last Updated on 2nd October 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
A magical town characterised by its historic port, cobbled medieval lanes, and wealth of timber-framed houses which are constructed in the typical Breton style, Dinan is a must-see on any visit to Brittany. But despite being one of the most popular towns to visit in the region, there remain a wealth of hidden gems worth discovering. Here’s your guide to the best of secret spots in Dinan.
If you’ve never heard of Dinan before, then it’s about time you did. The town can be found around a forty-five minute drive away from the equally charming walled town of Saint-Malo and is best-known for its well-preserved medieval ramparts, castle complete with 14th-century keep, and Gothic-style built Saint Malo church.
Hôtel du Château Dinan
Of course, if you’ve ever heard anything about French Literature, you’ll no doubt have heard of Victor Hugo, a man who once resided in Paris’ Place des Vosges and who quite literally wrote Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame in English) to save Notre Dame from demolition during the 19th-century.
Well, the one and the same acclaimed French author once visited Dinan and a plaque on the side of the hotel where he stayed for two nights in 1836 commemorates this, close to where the tourism office is today and not far away from the town’s Château turned town museum is to be found. Today, the three-star hotel is fairly well reviewed and you can book a stay for yourself.
If secret quaint courtyards are more your thing, then you simply must visit the interior of Hôtel Beaumanoir, which is in the very heart of the historic city centre, not far from Dinan’s basilica. Though the building itself is private, key features of the exterior architecture include Renaissance porch, decorated windows, a hexagonal tower, and a beautiful staircase, all dating from the 16th-century.
L’Auditoire, rue du Jerzual
Around halfway down rue du Jerzual, the steep main medieval street which cuts its way through the rest of the historic city centre and brings visitors right down to the port, along which plenty of charming restaurants are to be found, you’ll soon discover the building of l’Auditoire, which is pretty plain in its architecture.
Right up until the second half of the 17th-century, judges in Dinan would have worked in the clock tower (which still stands to this day). From then until 1827, it was in the auditoire building where justice in Dinan was dispensed.
It’s worth noting that the building was not only used by court officials, but was also shared with the village’s firefighters! Today, the building, with its little courtyard and plain staircase leading up to the front door is one of the most picturesque spots in all of Dinan and is easily one of the most instagrammable locations in Dinan.
One of the most prominent of the timber-framed houses that can be found throughout Dinan, and particularly along the steep rue du Jeruzal is that of the Governor’s House. Constructed in the 15th-century, the house is made up of two buildings and is set over four floors.
While the ground floor is divided into a kitchen, store, and a warehouse, the upper floors consist of individual rooms complete with their own granite fireplaces, sinks, dresser, and cupboards. This would suggest that at, some point or another, the rooms would have been rented on an individual basis as tenements.
Tour de l’Horloge (Clock Tower)
Higgeldy piggedly and easy to spot from all across the walled French city, today visitors can climb the Tour de l’Horloge (clock tower of Dinan) together with a tour guide and for a small fee in order to be rewarded with one of the best views of the best views of Dinan.
The structure itself dates all the way back to the 14th-century to a time when Dinan was controlled by the council of burgesses. Standing at an (impressive for the time) height of 43 metres, the tower would once have been crowned with a watchtower. The clock tower also functioned as Dinan’s town hall right up until the French Revolution.
Portail Renaissance (Renaissance Porch, Saint Malo of Dinan Church)
Welcoming worshippers into the Église Saint-Malo from the South, you can’t miss the stunning Renaissance Porch when visiting the ecclesiastical building. The sculpted porch was constructed during the early 17th-century in a classical style and features fluted columns and scallop designs.
Bouquinerie du Centre (Bookshop)
No guide to the best-kept secrets of Dinan would be complete without the mention of at least a location where you can pick up a great souvenir in the form of a new book to read. Bouquinerie du Centre, as its name would suggest, is situated in the main square of Dinan and boasts a wide selection of books, both new and second-hand. There are even some English titles and plenty of guidebooks to Dinan and its surrounds.
Of particular note is that there are many (and I mean a great many) of crime books (policiers in French) for sale on the left-hand side when you first approach the bookshop. What is particularly interesting about all of these books is that they’re set in the local area and so you get titles such as ‘Mort sur les docks… à Saint-Malo’. Of all the secret spots in Dinan, this is one of my favourites.