Barely half an hour’s drive from Saint-Malo, this historic Breton town boasts an imposing castle and pretty cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and a picturesque river port, not to mention a wealth of tempting shops and eating places.
Perched on a rocky outcrop above the Rance valley, Dinan has always kept an eye open for ambitious invaders, in particular the neighbouring Normans eager to commandeer the town’s strategic position. The siege of Dinan by William the Conqueror in 1065 is portrayed in stitch on the Bayeux Tapestry, but it wasn’t until the late 13th century when, as a ducal city, Dinan was encircled with ramparts.
By then, the river below had become a vital trade link between inland Brittany and the sea, the harbour attracting many merchants and craftsmen to the town. Follow Rue du Petit Fort uphill from the river today and as you pass beneath Jerzual gate, it’s easy to imagine the movers and shakers of the Middle Ages treading these same cobbles.
Once the only road between the harbour and the town centre, Rue du Jerzual is today one of the must-see sites of Dinan, lined with period properties in wood, stone and slate.
Many date from the 15th century, resplendent with their painted timbers, medieval overhangs and floral trimmings. But we’d recommend starting with the excellent free exhibition at the Tourist Office next to the castle which gives an insight into the huge restoration programme that has gone on here to restore and maintain Dinan’s 115 timber-framed houses. Then pick up the free map that details three self-guided walking tours – Old Dinan, the Ramparts, and the Religious Treasures – to make sure you see the highlights.
There’s a good view from the walls of the castle which forms part of the ramparts, for a real panorama, head to the top of the 15th century clock tower – La Tour d’Horloge where a short film also gives visitors an insight into 18th century local life.
And don’t leave without soaking up the atmosphere of this impossibly pretty town from one of Dinan’s many café tables – the bustle around Place des Merciers or Place des Cordeliers perhaps, in the heart of the old town, or maybe the tranquil river views from the quayside beneath the viaduct. Better still, do both!
www.dinan-tourisme.com or call at the Office de Tourisme, 9 rue du Château, telephone 0033 (0)2 96 876 976.