Saturday, February 23, 2013

The delights of Dinan

Dinan is without doubt one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany. With its ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port and cobbled streets filled with art galleries and craft shops, it’s worth a day, at least, of anyone’s time.

The most attractive part of Dinan is arguably its port, which is where you’ll arrive if you take a boat from Dinard or St Malo. The quay is lined with old stone houses, many of which are now waterside restaurants and chandlers’ shops. Take a walk along the old towpath or cross the 15th-century stone bridge to Lanvallay to find out about life on the river in the Maison de la Rance discovery centre. Wherever you are, you won’t miss the 40m high viaduct.  

And if you are game make your way up the very steep Rue du Petit-Fort, which was Dinan’s main point of access until the 18th century. This cobbled hill with its half-timbered houses appears on many a postcard; have a browse in the arts and crafts shops.

Dinan’s old town is a warren of narrow streets where it appears that time has stood still it really is medieval perfection. The quaintest part is Place des Merciers where you’ll find the best examples of the town’s half-timbered houses; just opposite is the pedestrianised Rue de la Cordonnerie, also known as ‘thirsty street’ as it has nine bars.

To get your bearings, climb the 158 steps to the top of the Tour de l’Horloge for wonderful views over Dinan and the surrounding area – you can see as far as Mont St Michel on a clear day. Nearby Place du Guesclin is the site of the Thursday-morning market.

The 13th-century castle now houses the town’s museum and this is the best place to start a tour of the magnificent ramparts, which are the oldest and most impressive in Brittany. The basilica of Saint-Sauveur is an interesting mix of roman and gothic styles and also worth a visit. The heart of Bertrand Du Guesclin - saviour of the town in a battle against the English - is buried here.

The spectacular Fete des Ramparts is held in Dinan every July

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