We had enjoyed two good days in Dinard and St Malo but the next morning it was time to move on. We woke earlier than planned on account of some seagulls flying past our window and screeching so loud it was as though it was a fleet of police patrol cars driving by on the way to attend an incident with emergency sirens blaring.
Before travel I always carry out careful research but sometimes something just crops up while you are away. At a shop in Dinard I was looking at postcards and came across one for the nearby town of Dinan and it looked exactly like the sort of place that we should visit. Kim was elsewhere in the shop and spotted exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Simultaneously we said “come and look at this, I think we should go here” and we decided there and then that we should.
It took longer to drive to Dinan than it really should have on account of major road works which required a lengthy and tedious detour which doubled both the distance and the time to our destination but as it turned out it was well worth the inconvenience.
Even as we arrived I was thinking half an hour might be more than enough but I was forced to recalculate very quickly when we arrived in the old town which is a warren of narrow streets where it appears that time has stood completely still. Dinan it turns out is one of the best preserved medieval walled towns not just in Brittany but in all of France. After only a moment or so in this picturesque setting I had elevated it straight into my top ten of favourite places even leaping above Santillana del Mar in Spain, Shiltach in Germany and Hallstatt in Austria and before very long we were looking in the Estate Agent’s windows.
From the town we made our way down the steep Rue du Petit-Fort, which was Dinan’s main point of access until the eighteenth century. An uneven cobbled street, the stuff of picture postcards flanked with half-timbered houses and arts and crafts shops on account of the fact that Dinan has been designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History) and is filled with artists, sculptors, engravers, bookbinders, glassblowers and more.
The road twisted and turned and seemed like it would never end as it spilled half or mile or so down towards the River Rance and the old port, passing through the ancient main gate of the walled town and down to a medieval stone bridge which crossed the river towards another labyrinth of tiny streets on the other side.
The sun was shining and the temperature was rising and there were a string of inviting bars and restaurants alongside the banks of the river so we stopped for a while before tackling the return journey back up the steep hill.
At the mid way point we climbed the fortress steps and took the path around the castle walls with magnificent and commanding views over the surrounding countryside. The town walls are sadly incomplete so it cannot become my favourite walled city and that distinction has to remain with Londonderry in Northern Ireland.
What a fabulous place, what an unexpected find and if you take only one piece of advice from me then if you are ever in Brittany or Northern France then I urge you to visit Dinan. At the end of the visit Kim declared it the highlight of the holiday and that included Mont St Michel.
Reluctantly we left Dinan clutching a fist full of property details and followed the road back to the coast and St Malo. We were behind schedule so the sensible thing to do now was to go directly to Mont St Michel but Kim was intrigued by a visitor attraction marked on the map called the sculptured rocks so sensing another unexpected delight we left the main highway and set out on the coast road.
Let me now give you a second piece of advice – unless you are really determined to see rock carvings do not take an unnecessary detour to Les rochers sculptés! We were expecting a stack of rocks standing in the sea pounded by waves into interesting formations but the site is a small area of stonemason carvings in the side of the granite cliff.
These sculptures were carved just over a hundred years ago by a hermit priest, Abbé Fouré, who had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to hear and speak and the story goes that he began these sculptures as a means of alternative communication. I am not trying to underestimate the value of the work here you understand, what I am saying that it is a tedious detour and the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes.
If you do want to go and see them then I would do it soon because after one hundred years they are seriously eroded by the sea and the rain and it can’t help a great deal that visitors are allowed to climb all over them.
I was impatient now to get to Mont St Michel but stuck on the coast road progress was infuriatingly slow as we passed through several towns and villages all with inconveniently snail like speed limits. Out in the Gulf of St Malo we could see the abbey on the island but it seemed to take a frustrating age to get there as the road snaked around the coast and every few miles or so we came across a tractor or a school bus which slowed us down even more. Several times I cursed the decision to go and visit Les rochers sculptés.