This guide to Dinan covers the old town, how to get there and the annual festival.
This splendid medieval town is set in a captivating location on a hillside overlooking the River Rance. If street after street of perfectly preserved timber buildings are not enough to lure day trippers down from St-Malo, Dinan has also retained an almost complete circuit of massive walls which enclose the town over a distance of 3 km.
Dinan, situated around 12 miles to the south, can be reached easily from St-Malo. There are good connecting roads for those with their own transport and a local bus service also serves the two towns.
The most enjoyable way to visit the town is via the River Rance and one of the boat trips that depart from the Porte de Dinan quayside. They take 2¾ hours and if time is an issue can be booked one way to allow for an alternative return.
Those arriving by boat are treated to the Rue du Petit Fort, a well preserved cobbled street that climbs steeply for several hundred feet up from the quayside to the Old Town. High above the river can be seen the impressive stone railway viaduct built by Gustave Eiffel, now used for road traffic on the N176.
Although there are many interesting historical attractions within the walled citadel the main draw of Dinan is the town as a whole. One of the best ways to enjoy a visit is to simply spend a day wandering the picturesque squares and atmospheric old streets, perusing the shops or admiring the buildings whilst relaxing at a pavement cafe.
For those with an appetite for historical discovery, Dinan does not disappoint and a stroll of the town walls is a good place to start any visit. Highlights include the Tower of St Anne or Castle of Dinan which was built in the 14th century and at 34 m high provides great views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Its previous roles include that of residence, prison and artillery platform while today it hosts a small museum.
In the centre of the town the lofty La Tour de l’Horloge dates back to the 15th century. In those days this was the meeting place for the town council and today the clock tower provides another opportunity for exhilarating views.
St Saviour’s Basilica exhibits a mixture of architectural styles from the Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque periods and is famous as the resting place for the heart of Bertrand du Guesclin of Brittany. This famous 14th century soldier hero regained for France much of the ground lost to the English at the start of the Hundred Years War.
Behind the Basilica is the pretty public garden of Jardin Anglais which backs onto the ramparts, with pleasing vistas over the viaduct and old port of Dinan.
Festival of the Ramparts
Every two years in July the Festival of the Ramparts takes over the town (or to be more exact the walls). Thousands flock to the town from all over Brittany for this extravaganza that encompasses all things medieval including food and drink, skills and crafts and even jousting.
A highlight is the night procession by torchlight with thousands taking part in medieval dress.