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Dinan France: An Historic Medieval Village in Brittany

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Whether you are taking a day trip from Paris, spending a weekend in Brittany (Bretagne), or looking for more beautiful medieval architecture after seeing the magnificent Mont Saint Michel, the village of Dinan France should be on the top of your list of places to visit. Mr. Misadventures and I spent a week in Brittany and spent 2 days exploring this adorable cobblestoned town with parts seemingly frozen in the Middle Ages! We had only planned on 1 day, so the fact that we went back for more tells you how much we absolutely loved it.

Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France.jpg
Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France. [Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 12-24mm; Aperture: F16]

Our home base for the week was in Cancale, which is 40 minutes from Dinan, but the village is accessible from Paris (4 hours); Mont Saint Michel (1 hour); and 40 minutes from Saint-Malo (St. Malo) by car (more transportation options are at the bottom of this post). The first time we visited Dinan, it was part of an all-day road trip from Cancale to Dinan on to Saint-Malo and back “home” to Cancale again. On our second visit, we spent sunrise at Mont Saint Michel and then headed to Dinan mid-morning to experience a little more of medieval France.

Cancale Dinan St Malo Day Trip
We drove from Cancale to Dinan to Saint-Malo and back to Cancale. More detailed itineraries coming!

However you get to Dinan, from wherever you come, I assure you, you will love this quaint medieval village. One of the things I most enjoyed was how walkable Dinan was. Sure, we all know that most cities, towns and villages and Europe, France included, are “walkable” but it is always something I always remark on. I don’t take it for granted that I can visit a place, park my car (or get off the train or bus) and spend the whole day on foot while seeing so much. I truly appreciate that. In doing research, Mr. Misadventures put together a walking route for us to catch most of the historic center’s highlights.

Dinan Centre Ville Walking Route
Our Dinan Centre Ville walking route.

The Visitor’s Center in Dinan has done a really good job creating itineraries (we love this one, even though we didn’t follow it 100%) and they sell walking maps in the center (0.20 Euros), but we always run into the same problem. The absolute best time to visit any place in France so that you have the streets (and historic sites) to yourself is in the morning before 10. As soon as 10 hits, the stores open and out come the locals and tourists. I always recommend and will continue to recommend that you wake up early and hit your most coveted spots before 10! We did eventually stop into the visitor’s center after it opened (they open “early” at 9:30), but I recommend being prepared by using our map or getting information ahead of time. The visitor’s center (called Dinan-Cap Fréhel Tourisme) is located very close to the Dinan Chateau at 9 Rue du Château. And like I said they have a great website.

The main historic or medieval part of Dinan sits in 3 pieces: the hilltop, the hill, and the river port. Dinan sits on the Rance River and the regional area is called Rance Valley or Vallée de la Rance. Our walk took us through all 3 parts. If you do take my advice and arrive early, there is plenty of parking near the chateau which is the perfect place to start on foot. You have to pay to park, so have coins or a credit card. It isn’t too expensive, a few Euros for a few hours. That is exactly what we did and then we walked into town for the first time ready for our Dinan adventures.

What to Do and See in Dinan France

We focused our time in Dinan in the historic medieval area (and not in the more modern parts of town). Throughout the village, you can find beautiful buildings, some dating from the 13th century, the city has done an amazing job of restoring them and keeping them protected. There are still large portions of the protective walls and ramparts. The most impressive buildings are the half-timbered houses. There are 130 of them throughout Dinan with their frames, studs, and beams on the outside. The ones in Dinan were built between the 15th and 18th centuries and they are quite impressive to see!

The Hilltop

Medieval Half-Timbered Houses in Dinan France
Medieval half-timbered houses near the Clock Tower. [Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 12-24mm; Aperture: F16]

The Clock Tower/Tour de l’Horloge

The Clock Tower is the highest point in Dinan and in typical French fashion was built in 1498 as an “F-you” from the bourgeoisie (middle-class townspeople) to the church and the elite. If you can make it up the 100 steps you’ll get a gorgeous panoramic view of the valley and the Rance River. It costs 4 Euros to go to the top and is open from 2:00 – 6:30 pm (April 1 – May 15) and 1:00 am – 6:30 pm (June 1 – September 30), the rest of the year you are out of luck! Location: 23 Rue de l’Horloge.

Place des Merciers et des Cordeliers and Halles de Dinan

Place des Merciers et des Cordeliers Dinan Brittany FrancePlace des Merciers et des Cordeliers Dinan Brittany FranceMedieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets in Dinan France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 12-24mm; Apertures: (left and center) F16 (right) F9.0]

Although there is shopping to be found just about everywhere in Dinan, the boutiques and restaurants in the Place des Merciers et des Cordeliers area have a lot of character due to the fact that they are in such beautiful old buildings. We walked and shopped through these streets picking up some clothing (have to go with the mariner stripes when you are in Brittany) and sardines, we cannot resist the products from La Belle-Iloise!

Front Entrance to the Les Halles de Dinan - Dinan Food Hall in Dinan Brittany FranceLes Halles de Dinan - Dinan Food Hall in Dinan Brittany FranceBack entrance to the Les Halles de Dinan - Dinan Food Hall in Dinan Brittany France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 12-24mm; Apertures: (left and right) F11 (center) F8.0]

We also stumbled into the beautiful food hall, Les Halles de Dinan where we admired the gorgeous glass hall and picked up some cheese – bien sûr! The front entrance to the food hall (first photo above) is located on Rue de la Ferronnerie and the back entrance (last photo above) is located off the Rue du Petit Pain a little pedestrian street with shopping off of Place des Merciers. It is open every day but Monday.

Saint-Sauveur Basilica/Basilique Saint-Sauveur de Dinan and the Sainte-Catherine Tower/Tour Sainte-Catherine

Looking down on the Rance River from the Tour Sainte-Catherine in Dinan Brittany France
Looking down on the Rance River from the Tour Sainte-Catherine in Dinan. [Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Aperture: F16]

This stop hadn’t been on our initial walking tour, but the second time we visited Dinan, we parked behind the Saint-Sauveur Basilica (for free, the early bird gets the free parking!) and walked through the beautiful English Gardens (Jardin Anglais) to get to Sainte-Catherine Tower where we had a good view of the river and port from above. You can walk along the ramparts here for quite a ways and you can quickly understand why the city is in such good shape, the defenses were incredible! In total there are nearly 2 miles of walls with 10 towers and 4 gates. Address for the Saint-Sauveur Basilica: 14 Place Saint-Sauveur.

Saint-Malo Church/L’église de Saint-Malo

The Saint-Malo Church sits just outside the historic area of Dinan, but its famous magnolia tree and Gothic architecture make it a nice spot to visit. It has quite a history of ups and downs when it comes to construction, reconstruction, and restoration. 500 years later they are still “working” on it. It’s worth a peek inside to see some gorgeous stained-glass windows. But the pièce de résistance is what is considered to be THE masterpiece of English organ builder Alfred Oldknow. The organ inside the Saint-Malo church is the only surviving Oldknow organ in Brittany and is a cherished historical landmark. It sits on a raised platform and if you get an opportunity to hear someone play it or practice on it, stop and definitely listen!

Dinan Chateau

We parked by this baby, an imposing castle near the Visitor Center. It was built in 1384 as a residence for a duke and has terrific views of the neighboring village of Léhon. There are several parts to the chateau including a town museum and medieval tomb. There is also the keep or donjon of Duchess Anne (from the 14th century), but I think the best parts are on the exterior: the Tower or Donjon Ducal/la tour ducale; the Gate of the Wicket/la porte Guichet and the Artillery Tower Coëtquen/la Tour Coëtquen all built in different centuries – the 13th, 14th, and 15th and brought together as a unit in the 16th century. We didn’t spend a ton of time here, but it is worth a quick stop, and as I mentioned we easily found cheap parking here in the morning, it was the perfect spot to start and finish our day in Dinan.

The Hill

Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France
Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets on Rue du Jerzual. [Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Aperture: F14]

Rue du Jerzual

When I refer to the hill in Dinan, I’m mainly talking about my favorite part of the city, the Rue du Jerzual, the delightfully-pretty-completely-photographable street that leads from the port to the top of the hill. It has been used for 10 centuries to transport goods (and now locals and tourists) up and down the hill and it is famous all over Brittany. We spent a lot of time walking up and down and up again because everywhere you turn there is something to take a photo of (remember, go early before the shops open and the French wake-up!).

Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets in Dinan FranceMedieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceMedieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France
Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France 5Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceMedieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France

[TOP: Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 12-24mm; Apertures: (left) F10, (center) F8.0; (right) Lens: FE 35mm; Aperture: F14]
[BOTTOM: Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (left and right) F14, (center) F8.0]

The half-timbered homes in a rainbow of colors, the ancient gardens, the friendly shopkeepers, I love this street! Dare I say my favorite medieval town in France! There is a lot of regional pride in Brittany and in particular the area around St-Malo. The production of local/artisanal goods is highlighted everywhere, but I felt it even more so on Rue du Jerzual where nearly every storefront boasted a “made in Dinan” or “Dinan entrepreneur” sticker. It was encouraging to see!

Made in Dinan StickerMaison Bleu Lin on rue du Petit Fort - Jerzual in Dinan FranceMaison Bleu Lin on rue du Petit Fort - Jerzual in Dinan FranceMaison Bleu Lin on rue du Petit Fort - Jerzual in Dinan France

The shopkeepers are extraordinarily friendly and we chatted with a few of them about the Rue du Jerzual, about Dinan and about France. They really were quite lovely. In particular, we had a nice conversation with Claude, the owner of Maison Bleu Lin, a textile store with quite a bit of history. The shop itself is beautiful, Claude is quite gifted at displays, she is also passionate about photography and does amazing color-themed flat-lays that she turns into postal cards and journals. She is dedicated to sustainable products and staying local and has even been noted in a book on French artisans called Made in France (I’ve already picked up a copy for myself). Oh! I could have talked to her all day!

The reason why we went up and down the Rue du Jerzual so many times is that there is so much to photograph, so many details, I never got tired of discovering something new each step I took (plus you know, I was burning Kouign-Amann, see below!).

Street details on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceHalf-timbered home Shell wall detail on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceBike on Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceGarden Plaque Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France

Ramparts

Medieval Houses taken from the Ramparts in Dinan Brittany France
Medieval houses taken from the Ramparts in Dinan. (Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Aperture: F16)

I’ve already mentioned that there are nearly 2 miles of ancient medieval walls in Dinan. With the walls comes the ramparts (remparts in French) the top part of the wall that you can walk on. There are the ones on top of the hill by Sainte-Catherine Tower, but there are also those in the middle that runs through the Rue du Jerzual. Halfway down the Rue du Jerzual, you will run into the Porte du Jerzual and there will be signs on both the left and right side guiding you to access the ramparts.

Entrance to the Ramparts in Dinan FranceMedieval Houses taken from the Ramparts in Dinan Brittany FranceMedieval Houses taken from the Ramparts in Dinan Brittany France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (all) F16]

The ramparts are surrounded by beautiful stone homes and offer great views of the hills above and river below. Everything about Dinan is picturesque!

Le Bignon Guy

Depending on where you entered the ramparts at the Porte du Jerzual if you walk away from Rue du Jerzual you will exit the ramparts on a lovely little street called Le Bignon Guy. We could not get enough of the house below which entrance was surrounded by a blooming wisteria which was so fragrant you could smell it from very far away. That little bench was also very inviting!

Beautiful home on Le Bignon Guy in Dinan FranceBeautiful home on Le Bignon Guy in Dinan FranceWisteria Close-up Dinan France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (left and center) F16]

We walked a few down the hill and struck up a conversation with an elderly madame. She quickly told us she was 85 years old and that she had moved to the house she stood in front of with her husband when she was 20. She had a crackpot English terrier that observed us from a distance and would not allow us to take a photo. I took a photo of the garden gate, taking a peek into her backyard, I would have loved to have spent an afternoon in there soaking up the sun. After conversing with her for a few minutes, we headed back up the hill to the Rue de l’École which intersects with Rue de l’École to hunt down lunch! But not without first admiring a little courtyard with a flowering red tree. I tell you, everywhere you turn in Dinan, there’s a photo!

Stone home on Le Bignon Guy in Dinan FranceBeautiful courtyard at the top of Le Bignon Guy in Dinan France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (left and right); (center) F16 Lens: FE 12-24mm Aperture: F11]

The Port

Bridge over the River Rance in Dinan France Brittany
Bridge over the River Rance at the port of Dinan. [Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Aperture: F16]

Rue du Jerzual turns into Rue du Petit Fort and at the bottom of the street is the port of Dinan which sits along the Rance River. We crossed over the river and turned right following a well-worn path along the backside of more medieval homes and found ourselves lost in time for a bit. With some of the remaining stone structures, you can easily imagine townspeople dating back to the Middle Ages doing laundry in the river, transporting goods, and enjoying the security of their walls. But back to the port. It is the base for lots of water-focused activities. During the boating season from April to October, there are a large number of cruises and boat trips on the Rance River. Along the banks, there are trails for walking and cycling and you can partake in water sports such as kayaking and canoeing. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and terraces to enjoy in good weather as well.

Best Views in Dinan

View from Sainte-Catherine Tower in Dinan FranceThe Clock Tower in Dinan FranceView from the Ramparts in the middle of Rue du Jerzual, the Porte du Jerzual in Dinan France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (left and right) F16; (center) Lens: FE 12-24mm; Aperture: F11 ]

Based on our time in this pretty village, there are 3 places that offer the best views of Dinan.

  • Sainte-Catherine Tower
  • From the top of the Clock Tower
  • The Ramparts in the middle of Rue du Jerzual, the Porte du Jerzual

Special Events: Dinan’s Fête des Remparts

During the 3rd weekend in July, every even-numbered year, the town has a Ramparts Festival (ête des Remparts) where locals get dressed up in medieval clothing and have a party. There is medieval music and other merriment to be had!

Where to Eat in Dinan

Dinan is in the region of Brittany France, therefore, the vast majority of restaurants are focused on seafood, crepes, and meat (pork from Brittany and beef from nearby Normandy). Like any town of a certain size, you can also find plenty of pizza joints (the French love pizza) and franchise or chain restaurants. I always recommend trying to stay local to get the freshest ingredients and to get to know the place you are visiting.

Creperies in Dinan

French Crepe
Photo credit: Gigi Griffis

The best crepes in France are from Brittany so you can [almost] never go wrong by eating in a creperie in this region. And as you travel through Brittany you will see that there is quite a few of them. Dinan is no different. They say the best creperie in Dinan is Crêperie Ahna (7 Rue de la Poissonnerie) [P.S. there are several restaurants to choose from on Rue de la Poissonnerie.] but when we went to go eat there, it was packed so we headed to another creperie near Place des Merciers that had caught our eye, Créperie Le Connétable (1 Rue de l’Apport) which we found to be delicious. First of all, they served my “complete” (ham, cheese, and egg crepe) with a gorgeous pat of salted Brittany butter on top, something I’ve never had before and now never want to eat a crepe without again! And secondly, I was introduced to their “house” cider (Cidre Bouché De Bretagne from Ferme des Landes) which was delicious and very inexpensive. Turns out we would drink this brand at least 3 more times during our trip, no complaints from me!

More than Creperies

I offer 3 other suggestions for restaurants in Dinan that aren’t creperies.

  • You cannot beat the 29 Euros for 3-courses at Le Restaurant Les 3 Lunes (22 Rue de la Lainerie), a wonderful little restaurant just beyond the top of Rue du Jerzual.
  • While the Le Bistrot du Viaduc (22 Rue du Lion d’Or) is located across the river from Dinan in Lanvallay, it does offer great views of Dinan and chef Dominique has a great reputation for simple and generous meals using fresh regional ingredients.
  • Lastly, there is Le Cantorbery which is outside of the center village (6 Rue Sainte-Claire) but is well known for its intimate (aka romantic) 17th-century setting and a fantastic menu focused on local seafood and beef.

Pastries in Dinan

Kouign-amann from La Maison De Tatie Jeanne in Dinan Brittany France
Kouign-amann from La Maison De Tatie Jeanne.

I have one word for you. Kouign-Amann. And one place. La Maison de Tatie Jeanne. If pushed, I might even confess that our second trip to Dinan happened because I needed to have another raspberry Kouign-Amann from this bakery. We ate many Kouign-Amann during our 10 days in Britanny, but none were as good as the ones from La Maison de Tatie Jeanne. A Kouign-Amann is a Breton specialty the words translating to “butter” and “cake” and is laminated croissant dough that’s 50 percent butter and 50 percent yeasted dough. It is considered one of the “fattiest” pastries in Europe – but I say when you are climbing up and down the ramparts and Rue du Jerzual, who cares! La Maison de Tatie Jeanne is at the bottom of Rue du Petit Fort on the righthand side just before the bridge, at 82 Rue du Petit Fort. The good news is they open at 8:00 and doesn’t close until 7:00 pm every day except Wednesday when they are closed.

Where to Stay

We were staying in Cancale and visiting Dinan as part of a day trip and a road trip. But there is enough to do in Dinan to make it worth staying for a couple of days or for a weekend. This beautiful fortified settlement is the home of over 10,000 residents and has plenty to offer in the way of accommodation, but much like our explorations, I would want to stick to the historic center, otherwise, I feel like I could be in any other town, not the medieval village that is core to Dinan’s attractiveness.

Medieval Half-Timbered Houses and Cobblestoned streets at the top of Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceBeautiful passageway on the Rue du Jerzual in Dinan FranceBeautiful blue door on the Rue du Jerzual in Dinan France

[Sony A7RIII; Lens: FE 35mm; Apertures: (left and right) F6.3 (center) F11]

Hotels in Dinan

  • Le Logis du Jerzual Dinan Bed and Breakfast Côtes d’Armor (25 Rue du Petit Fort) I do not love B&B’s but I passed by this one several times on our trips up and down Rue du Jerzual and Rue du Petit Fort and the location is absolutely phenomenal plus they have great reviews.
  • Hotel Le Davaugour (1 place du Champ Clos) is a beautiful stone building that overlooks the ramparts.
  • La Maison Pavie (10 Place St Sauveur) the owner, Jérôme is well known to be a fantastic host, and its location right smack dab in the historic district makes it a bonus!

Airbnb Recommendations in Dinan

The next time I visit Dinan, and we will be back, I’ll probably stay in an Airbnb. I did some research to find 3 spots to stay in the historic district. All the owners have really good reviews and I would stay in any one of these!

The Village of Lehon

Lehon village of Dinan France
Lehon, a village of Dinan.

If you are spending a day in Dinan, take some time out to visit Lehon, a neighboring village incorporated into Dinan in 2018. You can drive there in 5 minutes from Chateau Dinan or you can walk or bike there along a beautiful path along the river. Once you get to Léhon, visit the Abbaye Saint Magloire de Léhon begun by 6 monks in the 6th century. Over time additions have been added, but I think the best part is the garden. I was so impressed with the gardens here and on the Rue du Jerzual. Someone has taken great care to educate visitors on the original medieval plants and flowers and what their purpose of medicinal value was. I learned so much!

Medieval plants in the village of Lehon Dinan France
Medieval plants in the village of Lehon.

How to Get to Dinan

Dinan France Train Station
The train station in Dinan.

Dinan is a 4-hour drive from Paris on major Autoroutes – A10 to A11 to A81 which will cost you about 35-40 Euros in tolls before you eventually find yourself on national and departmental roads (which I love looking at the scenery on!). We rented our car from Sixt at Charles de Gaulle airport and have done so for years. They have great customer service – they even bailed us out on Easter Sunday when we locked the keys in the car! As I mentioned we were on a 10-day trip to Brittany so we drove to Dinan from Cancale, an easy 40-minute trip. If you are visiting Mont Saint Michel it is also only 40-minutes by car or you can continue on your Brittany adventures with a stop in St.-Malo which is one hour by car.

The train from Paris on TGV to Rennes is about 80 Euros and then take a bus or regional train to Dinan. More info is available on the OuiSNCF.com site (in English) or check out Rome2Rio.

Camera Equipment used in our Dinan photos

Photos that were taken by me were done so on an iPhone and Sony Cybershot RX100. I love this camera, so small and easy to travel with! I use 3 accessories: a Sony VCT-SGR1 Shooting Grip; and 2 straps: the Peak Design SLL-AS-3 Slide Lite Camera Strap, and the Peak Design CL-2 Clutch Camera Hand Strap. I used my ancient Osprey 18 backpack (the closest thing to it) to carry it all. However, for Mr. Misadventures (anything with a Sel & Poivre Photography watermark), the real pro in the household, he used his Sony A7RIII and the following lenses: Sony FE 12-24mm, and Sony FE 35mm. Under each photo, we have provided the lens and aperture information. His camera equipment was carried around in a MindShift Gear BackLight 18L backpack.

Places to Visit Around Dinan

  • Check out the medieval port town of Saint-Malo, 40-minutes from Dinan.
  • Mont Saint-Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage Middle-Aged monastery 1 hour from Dinan.
  • Fougères another medieval fortress-of-a-town with a chateau and half-timbered homes just over a 1-hour from Dinan.
  • Fort La Latte, a historic 14th-century fort/chateau on the coast just under a 1-hour drive from Dinan.
  • Cap Frehel – peninsula in Côtes-d’Armor with 2 well-known lighthouses, just under a 1-hour drive from Dinan.
  • And of course our home base of Cancale, a beautiful fishing port and the oyster capital of France.

Because of Dinan, I have a newfound love for French medieval villages and have my eye on Sarlat in the south and Bastides in the southwestern regions of France.

Our time in Dinan was part of a 10-day trip to Brittany so I have much more to share, but I wanted to write about Dinan first because we fell head over heels in love with this village!

How about you? Have you been to Dinan? Or other parts of Brittany in France? Do share! If not, have I inspired you to visit? Do tell!

For a visual summary of this post, check out my Dinan web story!

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Dinan France: An Historic Mediaval Village in BrittanyDinan France: An Historic Mediaval Village in BrittanyDinan France: An Historic Mediaval Village in Brittany

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