Tag Archives: Dinan

Dinan, full of history and full of life

Dinan is a medieval  town, with roots going back to the 9th century. It is a very special place to visit as it retains so much of its medieval character and architecture. It’s known for its half timbered buildings which date as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries. Sculpted wooden pillars support the upper floors which jut out above the street, offering shelter from the rain. In medieval times they also offered relief from taxes, as the tax rate was based on the building’s footprint.

The Celtic heritage of Brittany is very much alive here. The name of the town comes from the ancient Celtic words “Dunos” and “Ahana”: hill of Ahana, goddess of the living and the dead. Britanny’s ancient symbol—three linked spirals—signifying water land and air, is everywhere — on signs, jewelry and sculpted into the valley floor, visible from the ramparts.

On the weekends, musicians fill the streets and squares with music, ancient instruments and melodies echoing through the air. On even years the “Fête des Remparts” is held over the 3rd weekend in July, a great time to visit.

This instrument incorporates a crank, a keyboard, with the sound box of a stringed instrument.

Although shaped differently, this instrument is related to the hammer dulcimer.

Dame Beatrice plays two lutes, a stringed instrument called a Psaltatron, bells and drums all at the same time.

Here she is playing a bird shaped ocarina. Such enchanting melodies!

The Rue du Jerzual is probably Dinan’s most famous street. Steep and narrow, it descends from the old town on the hill to the port below. It is lined with restaurants, shops, and stone houses.  But, it isn’t well suited for riding down or up with skinny-tired bikes!

So instead of taking Rue Jerzual we descended to the port on our bikes barreling down the paved road that winds around the town and under the huge Viaduct spanning the river valley below.

Riding down to the port you pass under the enormous viaduct which frames the village below.

Sail boats, small motor boats and barges line the river on either side, along with plenty of cafés and restaurants.

We got there just in time to see the “Competition Nautique”, featuring long row boats fitted with elevated platforms designed for a nautical jousting match. The object was to be the first to knock the jouster off the other boat into the water. The crowd cheered as the boats faced off on the river until a well placed blow unseated one of the “knights”. Teams from towns all around compete for the honor of winning, with proceeds going to a local charity.

Rowing towards each other at top speed, each team hopes its champion will unseat the other.

We rode out the path along the river, admiring the great variety of boats tied up on the bank. A beautiful old Dutch sail boat with wooden “leaboards” caught our eye. The leaboards look like a fish fin and function as stabilizers much like a center board or keel. These boats are designed to sail in rivers and other shallow waters.

A beautiful wooden Dutch sail boat was among the many boats tied up near the port of Dinan.

A long low canal boat was tied up nearby. Pots of flowers and a couple of bikes stood on the roof. We met the English couple who have called it home for 10 years, traveling the rivers of France. What a life!

According to Malcom and Lucie, living aboard a canal boat is the best life ever.

That night in the square in front of the Saint Sauveur Basilica a traveling troupe staged an amazing performance, juggling flaming batons, tossing them into the air, and blowing great clouds of fire up into the night sky, seeming to summon gods more ancient than the basilica.

The next afternoon the basilica was open and we explored its vaulted interior in the daylight. Rivallon le Roux, Lord of Dinan built St. Sauveur Basilica around 1120, after returning safely from the first Crusade. It was rebuilt and extended during the 15th and 16th centuries, blending many architectural styles.

The huge stained glass windows project rainbows of color into the cavernous spaces below.

It seems as if the entire population of Dinan must have once fit within these walls.

Many of Dinan’s beautiful buildings have survived the centuries intact, and are still part of the living fabric of this lovely town. Its well worth a visit.

Two Bikes + Four Trains = Arrival in Dinan

We left our “Gite” Amboise at 6am, barreling down the steep narrow streets towards the Loire to catch the first of the four trains we needed to take to get to Dinan in Brittany. The Amboise train station is on the opposite side the river, but it only took us about 15 minutes to get there by bike early in the morning. The sun was a giant orange ball as we crossed the bridge over the Loire, and the sky glowed orange pink as we waited for the local train to Tours.

At 6:30am in Amboise, the first train approaches the station.

Our Bromptons are folded and ready to take on the train.

There are bike cars on many of the trains in France, and we settled into the velo (bike) car with our bikes and luggage for the short trip to Tours. At Tours, we were relieved to see that it would be easy to catch our next train, as the platforms were all together except one. The french train system is easy to navigate, especially if you purchase all your tickets in advance and just need to make the connections.

Waiting for the number of the track to be posted in Tours. Our bikes are in push mode, with the bags attached. This makes it much easier to transport our luggage in the station.

The station at Le Mans was busier, and a couple conductors questioned whether we could fit the folding bikes on the train, but we managed to find a spot for them. Someone was sleeping in our reserved seats, so we stayed near the bikes, settling in to vacant seats.

Our train was delayed leaving the station at Dol de Bretagne, but the conductor assured us that local train to Dinan would be held so that everyone could make their connection. Soon we were happily aboard the light rail line that took us the final stretch of our journey, arriving just before noon. Riding from the train station to our hotel the streets were busier and wider than we were accustomed to, but once in the old quarter the streets were narrower with less traffic.

The Cafe – Hotel du Theatre was a great home base in Dinan.

We soon found our hotel, Cafe-Hotel du Theatre, a small bar/hotel on the Rue de l’Horloge (clock tower), a pedestrian street. The proprietors were very friendly and relaxed and we soon felt right at home. The hotel is opposite the Theatre des Jacobins, originally built in 1224. Our cozy room above the bar looks out at the theatre and square below where there is lots of room for tables and is a great place to sit and people watch. Along the street vendors sell crafts, as they have for 700 years.

Theatre des Jacobins

Looking down the Rue de L’Horloge on the right is a beautiful half-timbered building from the 1500s that was moved to Dinan and restored. Down the street is the clock tower that the street is named for.

The view from the ramparts down to the port and valley below is breathtaking.

The viaduct/bridge was built in 1852, and towers above the port.

The construction of the ramparts dates back to the 1200s and protected the town and its status as a center for trade for centuries. The fortifications continued to be improved through the 16th century when Dinan finally submitted to the French King Henri IV during the French Wars of Religion.

We spent the evening wandering the town, happy to explore its many narrow streets and ancient buildings.