Tag Archives: Brittany

Brittany, Postcards

Brittany Map PostcardDinard, Brittany, FranceDinard BrittanyDinan PostcardMont St Michel Postcard

A Previous Visit to Normandy

“I’ve never approved of the idea of twinning, because places are inevitably matched with places like them.  So if you live, say, in a stunningly beautiful medieval town… then you’ll be twinned with your exquisite European equivalent.  If you live in Warrington or St Helens then you’ll be twinned with another industrial casualty.” – Pete McCarthy, ‘McCarthy’s Bar’

Town Twinning became a big thing after the Second World War as people sought to repair relationships with their neighbours and forge new bonds of friendship.

I have often wondered what the process was in selecting a twin town?

Perhaps it was like the draw for the third round of the FA cup when all the names go into a hat to be drawn out with each other, or perhaps it was like the UCAS University clearing house system where towns made their preferred selections and waited for performance results to see if they were successful; or perhaps it was a sort of dating service and introductory agency.

Anyway, the city of Coventry started it all off and was the first ever to twin when it made links with Stalingrad in the Soviet Union in 1944 and is now so addicted to twinning that it has easily the most of any English town or city with a massive twenty-six twins.  That is a lot of civic receptions and a lot of travelling expenses for the Mayor of Coventry.

Perhaps even more surprising is that Sherborne in Dorset, a town of only ten thousand residents has fifteen twin towns.

From 1975 to 1980 I worked at Rugby Borough Council and there was a strong Town Twinning Association with a regular group of Council bigwigs rotating biannually between visiting the twin town of Evreux in Normandy, France and then entertaining French visitors the following year.  In 1977 Rugby twinned with a second town, this time Russelheim in Germany, and this meant new people were required to fill the coaches and provide accommodation for visitors.  We expressed an interest in the Gallic option and in 1979 joined the twinners.

1979 was a year when the French visited the UK so we joined in the fund raising and the planning meetings in preparation.  We were excited about this cleaned the house from top to bottom, manicured the garden and prepared appropriate menus.  In 1979 I had only been to Europe twice, Italy in 1976 and Spain in 1977 and this hadn’t involved a lot of getting familiar with the locals so to have visitors from France staying in our house was a bit of an adventure.

The visitors from Evreux arrived one evening in September and we were introduced to our guests for the weekend Charles and Marie Rose Freret and we had a interesting first evening of  ‘getting to know each other’.  Luckily Charles and especially Marie Rose spoke good English so this happily meant that we didn’t have to communicate through embarrassing nods, pointing gestures and shouting at each other but this was nevertheless an occasion when I wished that I had paid more attention to Pluto Thompson in school French lessons.

To be honest there wasn’t a lot of time for awkward or uncomfortable moments because the weekend was well planned with a civic reception, a garden party, an evening out and the inevitable visit to nearby Stratford-upon-Avon.  The only clumsy time was when I produced a bottle of Piat D’or white wine.  I thought that this would be a winner because the adverts said ‘The French adore le Piat D’or’ but it turned out that they didn’t actually and Charles had never even heard of it.  I showed him the bottle to substantiate my claims and he drank it but I don’t think he was impressed!

Playing host was good fun but it was even better of course to travel to France and be entertained in Evreux and in the following year we joined the coach outside the Town Hall and set off for the English Channel.

Charles and Marie Rose lived in a middle class suburb just outside the town and the house and the ambiance confirmed what we already knew – that Charles was a traditional Frenchman through and through, proud of the culture and the French way of life.  He knew about wine and had different bottles for each course of evening meal (and he didn’t feel obliged to drink the bottle all in one go, which I thought was strange because doesn’t wine go off once the cork has been removed?), Marie Rose knew about French cuisine and prepared an excellent meal and Charles turned out to be an expert on cheese (French of course) and the order in which it should be eaten.

The itinerary of visits was excellent and we visited Paris (my first time) and did the main sights including to trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower on a disappointingly misty day.  On the second day we toured the pretty town centre of Evreux, visited Monet’s delightful house and garden at Giverney and finished the day with a trip to the Palace of Versailles where in the evening there was the most spectacular fireworks and water fountains display accompanied by Handel’s Water Music.

The final civic reception was held in the countryside at a Chateaux some way out the town and there was a sumptuous buffet of dining treats including caviar on wafer thin savoury biscuits.  Now, this was still at a time when my gastronomic experience could best be described as limited and I had never had caviar before, so I took two.  How I wished I hadn’t because to me it tasted awful and with my fist bite I had a mouthful of slimy fish eggs that was beginning to make me gag and it looked certain I was about to make a show of myself.  I tried to wash it down with a generous swig of champagne and somehow managed to get it past the point of no return without serious incident but this left the problem of the one and a half biscuits still on my plate.  I thought about the toilets but it would have looked odd taking my food to the gents but fortunately there was an unnecessary log fire at one end of the room so I casually made my way across to it and discreetly disposed of it in the flames.

In the following year I changed jobs and moved away to Rugby and that put an end to Town Twinning for a while until over twenty years later in 2002.

Brittany, Mont St Michel and Cinderella’s Castle

Disney Cinderella Castle

“This enchanting landmark is an architectural blend of many European styles, from 13th Century French Fortress to late Renaissance Palace.  Since it was inspired by no single structure, Cinderella Castle represents them all” – Disney Official Souvenir Book

In the 1960s, so the story goes, Disney ‘imagineers’ travelled throughout Europe looking for the perfect castles on which to model Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World.

The lead architect for the project was Herbert Rymanand and what makes this story a bit of a mystery is that there is no documentary evidence to establish exactly which castle became the inspiration for the Disney Magic Kingdom centrepiece.  Disney themselves do no more than confirm that Cinderella Castle was ‘inspired by the great castles of Europe’, but they never explicitly say which one.

So who is traditionally in the running?  Determined Disney researchers claim to have narrowed it down to just one or two…

Alcazar Segovia

Some say that the inspiration comes from Spain and Segovia and the Spanish tourist board are convinced that it is them and but there is no real evidence for this. The blue tiled turrets look right to me but I am not sure about that big square Torre de Juan II.

Others say that it is most likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and this really does seem to be a serious contender.

Neuschwanstein

But, and here is the point of this post, I think everyone making these guesses is missing the most obvious candidate that as far as I can see doesn’t even get a mention.  Surely it has to be Mont St Michel in France.  This magnificent structure has the same shape, the same dainty turrets, the same architecture and having visited both I am certain that we can dismiss all of the other claims and go straight to Normandy.

Mont St Michel Cinderellas Castle

Or is it Carcassonne in the south of France?

Cacassonne City Walls

Which castle do you think was the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle?

Brittany, Doors and Windows

Mont St Michel DoorDoor Detail Dinard Brittany FranceDinan Door Brittany

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Blue Doors of Essaouira

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Brittany (Normandy), Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel France

I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur (Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

After taking the tedious coast road route I was becoming increasingly impatient to get there and we eventually arrived at the elusive abbey and made our way to the car park.  Until quite recently it was possible to drive across a causeway (at low tide – very important) and park close to the walls but in 2012 all of this visitor convenience was ended with the demolition of the causeway (due to environmental (some say economic) reasons) and its replacement with a bridge and a new car park and a swanky visitor centre about a mile and a half away.

Having recently visited Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the horrific National Trust rip-off I was worried about cost but I was pleasantly surprised to find a flat rate car parking fee and no charge to enter the centre.

There is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

Mont St Michel Normandy Brittany France

Once inside I wasn’t so keen because here was a busy tourist street lined with souvenir shops and bars that reminded me of Rocamadour and Carcassonne in the south of France and I was glad to elbow my way through the trashy commercial parts, which made it seem like more amusement park than UNESCO World Heritage site, until the crowds thinned out and we began our weary ascent to the top.

There were an awful lot of steps but at the top we were rewarded with fine views over the sandbanks of the gulf of St Malo and inland towards Normandy on our left and Brittany to the right.  It has to be said that this is a truly wonderful spot and a great place to build an Abbey and later a walled fortress.

From the Abbey’s highest point we admired the natural beauty of the bay and were convinced that we could see the Channel Islands in the distance. The river below us marked the historic border between the two regions of Brittany and Normandy who have long vied for geographic ownership of Mont St. Michel. In fact, the river used to pass Mont St-Michel on the other side, making the abbey part of Brittany. Today, the river’s route is stable and the abbey is just barely, but beyond challenge, on Normandy soil.

According to legend (and the travel writer Rick Steves), the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to “build here and build high.” and added “If you build it…they will come.” Saint Michael, whose gilded statue decorates the top of the abbey’s spire, was the patron saint of many French kings, making this a favoured place for French royalty through the ages.

I always thought that quote came from the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams but it seems the scriptwriters must have borrowed it because it wasn’t only Archangel Michael who said it but also President Theodore Roosevelt who used it to encourage the financial backers of the Panama Canal project.

Mont St Michel Door

I expected to stay longer at Mont St. Michel but the truth is that it is rather tiny and once you have climbed to the top and then back down again there isn’t an awful lot left to do so after a couple of hours we left through the main gate and made our way back to the car park.

It was getting late and no one was really enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk so we lined up instead for a shuttle bus.  This being France there wasn’t a queue but rather a bit of an unruly rugby scrum that would have had a referee reaching for his yellow card and we wondered how long we might have to wait.  We needn’t have worried because Kim is just as an accomplished a queue jumper as any Frenchman and she pushed her way to the front and dragged us all along with her until we had elbowed our way onto the first bus.

mont st michel Normandy France

One very good reason for remaining longer would have been to have stayed on the island overnight in one of the hotels.  I investigated the possibility of this but when it comes to hotel prices I have a tipping point and hotels on Mont St Michel were way beyond mine so I had made alternative arrangements inland.

As it turned out I was really pleased about that because at a fraction of the cost we found ourselves staying at a local Auberge.  It was only £50 a night, with a magnificent night time view of the Abbey from a restaurant that specialised in lamb dishes fed and fattened on the local seawater grass and over evening meal we watched the sun disappear into the sea and the Abbey slowly illuminated in the gathering dusk.

I had not been disappointed by Mont St Michel.

What is top of your bucket list?

Mont St Michel and Sheep

 

Brittany, Dinan and The Sculptured Rocks

Dinan Brittany France

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.

Dinan Postcard

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.

Brittany France Dinan

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.

Dinan Brittany France

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.

Rock Sculptures St Malo

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.

Les rochers sculptés St Malo France

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Brittany, Beach Sports and Moules et Frites

Dinard Beach Olympics

Whilst I sat in the sun with a second beer the girls went to find a restaurant for evening meal and after a while came back and declared that they had found the perfect place so we agreed meal plans and walked back to the hotel as the sky blackened and rain clouds raced in.

It rained for an hour or so but had cleared by the time we had agreed to walk out so we sauntered along the sea front to the Le Citrus only to be turned away because it was fully booked all evening.  We returned to the restaurant that we had enjoyed the previous evening but the result was the same so worrying that we might have to share the last bag of crisps in our room we went directly back to the hotel where the staff helpfully found us a table regardless of the fact that we hadn’t reserved.  Saturday nights in Dinard are busy it seems.

The rain cleared overnight and in the morning there was a clear sky and a dazzling sun rise which shimmered off the surface of the sea and reflected off the chrome decorations on the boats as they swayed lazily on placid water so we planned a day of seaside and promenade walks and shortly after breakfast set off on the first of these.

Strolling along the promenade we came across a lifeguard tournament rather like musical chairs as a series of sand races resulted in an elimination after each round.  We got rather excited about the whole thing especially when our favourite competitor from Biarritz, wearing Basque colours of green and red, fought off all challengers to claim first prize

Racing over we continued our walk under a rock promenade with the sea to our right with views across to St Malo and under the shadow of granite cliffs to our left topped by a succession of magnificent houses and villas.

Northern France Wimereaux

In the late nineteenth century during the show off period of the French  Belle Époque, Dinard was discovered and developed by Saint-Malo’s wealthy shipping merchants who built some of the town’s magnificent houses and after them American and British aristocrats made Dinard popular as a fashionable summer resort and they too built stunning villas on the cliff tops and exclusive hotels such as the ‘Le Grand Hotel’ on the seafront.

The walk took us some way west as we walked away from the town and then when the footpath ran out we climbed a set of steep steps to the road above and made our way back to the beach promenade and our thoughts turned to lunch.

After two days I was ready for moules et frites.  Looking around I could see that almost every table in every restaurant was host to an empty pot of black shells and I wondered if there might be enough to go around.  After Belgium and the Netherlands the French eat more mussels than anyone else and this adds up to a staggering three hundred and fifty tonnes a day which is roughly 25% of all mussels produced in Europe .  This is so much that France itself cannot produce enough to satisfy demand and has to import them from nearby Spain who happen to be the biggest producers in Europe*.

Dinard Moules et Frites

Moules however are nothing without frites and I was interested to discover that there is controversy about the humble French fry, frite or chip, or whatever you may want to call it and there are conflicting claims to how it came to enter the culinary traditions of so many countries.

It is served everywhere in northern France but it is the Belgians who claim that they invented it.  There is a rather unlikely story that in the late seventeenth century the people of the region had the custom of fishing for small fish for deep frying but when the rivers were frozen and fishing became hazardous they cut potatoes in the form of small fish and put them in a fryer instead.

In Spain they say that this is nonsense and the potato wasn’t even grown in Belgium at that time  and claim that dish was invented there, which might make sense because this was the first European country in which the potato appeared via the New World colonies.  It goes on to back up this claim with the assertion that ‘patatas fritas’ were an original accompaniment to fish dishes in Galicia from which it spread to the rest of the country and further to the Spanish Netherlands, which didn’t become in fact become Belgium for more than a century later.

France actually took some time to accept the potato and it wasn’t until a famine of 1795 that they beagn to eat them.  They proved so popular that by 1795, potatoes were being grown on a very large scale in France, including at the royal gardens at Tuileries and within that short time, the French either invented or learned to make fries.  Once discovered they became extremely popular in revolutionary France, particularly in Paris, where they were sold by push-cart vendors on the streets and called ‘frites’.

heap of French fries

Belgium however still stubbornly hangs on to its story and dismiss the claim of the French themselves by arguing that the description ‘French Fries’ originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding.  In old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’ and apparantly US soldiers in the Second-World-War called them French Fries on account of the fact that the official language of Belgium at the time was French.  As though to back this up the Belgians consume the most French fries per capita of any country in Europe.

Of course we don’t care what the Belgians, the French or the Spanish think because we are convinced that they are an English invention and that we make a far better job of cooking them anyway. Traditionally, chips in the United Kingdom are cut much thicker and since the surface-to-volume ratio is lower, they have a lower fat content. According to legend, the first chips fried in the UK were on the site of Oldham’s Tommyfield Market in 1860.

Anyway, we didn’t concern ourselves with the history of the frite today but we all cleared our bowls and plates and declared the simple meal a resounding success.

In the afternoon we did some more coastal walking and by the time we had finished we were satisfied that we had covered every single kilometre of beach and marina side walks in Dinard.  During the day I took the precaution of booking a table at Le Citrus for this evening and after we had spent a late afternoon in the sun we made our way to the restaurant.

We had a very splendid meal, I forget what we ate but I know that Kim had steak with chips and she declared them to be the finest that she had ever eaten.  I cannot confirm this judgement because she didn’t offer any of us a single one but based on that I have to say that she may well have been right.  They did look good I have to say.

Dinard Brittany Boat Detail

*Three countries are responsible for two thirds of all European mussel production. Spain is very clearly the largest producer with over 200 000 tonnes per year, followed by France with a stable production of around 80 000 tonnes. Italy is the third main producing country with 65 000 tonnes. Most of the supplies from all three countries come from aquaculture.

Brittany, St Malo

Dinard Brittany France

Our hotel had a perfect location right on the sea front and the price to be paid reflected that but sadly the breakfast didn’t match up.  Hard bread and selections that disappeared and weren’t replenished left us feeling mugged!  That’s the Hotel de Vallée by the way.

Never mind, the sun was shining, the disappointment was soon left behind and we set off for a walk around a coastal path until we reached a boat trip booking office and we immediately changed our plans – we were on holiday and impromptu decisions are quite acceptable.  So rather than explore the town of Dinard we bought tickets for a fifteen minute boat taxi ride to the city of St Malo instead.

The water taxi negotiated a busy route to avoid the boats bobbing about on the water and the up market yachts streaking across the surface of the sea and brought us closer to the medieval walled city.  Christine wasn’t impressed, she thought it looked like a prison with its imposing grey granite walls rising directly out of the sea but we persuaded her to hold her final judgement and wait until we got inside.

St Malo Brittany

She was glad that she did because St Malo is an absolute gem.  In 1944 it was almost completely destroyed by American bombers and a British naval bombardment and by the time they had finished with it 80% was in ruins.  The French didn’t rush to restore it however and took twelve years from 1948 to 1960 to put the city back together again stone by stone, brick by brick.

And this is an important point – in France war damaged towns and cities were rebuilt in a traditional way with buildings that recreated the spirit of the old communities whereas in England our heritage was swept away by the town planners of the 1960s who approved the destruction of anything of value and replacement with concrete and ugliness which condemns English towns for the next couple of hundred years or so to all look the same whereas in France they have recaptured and preserved their individual identity.

In 2015 this seems to be a feature of our travel destinations – cities that have been bombed and destroyed.  In February we went to Warsaw in Poland, in April to Malta and to Londonderry in Northern Ireland in June all of which, have at some point been virtually destroyed.

We walked through the labyrinth of streets where shops and bars met at the pavement edge and walked straight through to the walls on the other side where restaurants lined the city walls, so many because it is estimated that St Malo has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants in all of Europe with most of them specialising in oysters from nearby Cancale.

Sea Defences St Malo Brittany France

Outside of the walls we walked to the sandy beaches and the rows and rows of timber trunks firmly planted in the sand to provide defence against Winter Atlantic storms that sweep in along this coast and frequently deluge the city under a barrage of high water.  Not today however because the sun was shining and if anything we had to frequently seek shelter of shade to get away from the blistering midday sun.

After walking for an hour or so we rested for a while at a bar in the sunshine and then walked some more just to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything.  First we arrived at the cathedral which was much like any other cathedral but had an interesting plaque outside commemorating a previous citizen of the city, a man called Jacques Cartier.  Now, this is a name that probably won’t mean a lot to most people unless they are Canadian because Jacques Cartier let me tell you is credited with being the explorer who first navigated inland from the North Atlantic Ocean and allegedly gave the country its name.  Lots of people had been to what we know as Canada before Cartier of course but none had ventured so far into the interior before him.

In 2004 the Canadian Broadcasting Company ran a competition to choose the greatest Canadian, when the votes were counted three of the top ten were Scots, Tommy Douglas, John MacDonald and Alexander Graham Bell but despite this achievement the Breton Jacques Cartier did not even make the final fifty.

St Malo was a genuine surprise, I had always thought of it as a ferry port where people arrived from Portsmouth and left the boat blinkered, looked for the green Toutes Directions sign and hammered south, perhaps they do, there weren’t many English tourists here today.

After the lunch stop we walked back to the walls and walked along the western bastions looking out over several island fortifications cut off by the high tide, one containing the tomb of François-René Chateaubriand, politician, diplomat, author and the man who it is popularly supposed that the steak dish is named after.

By late afternoon it was time to take the water taxi back to Dinard and by four o’clock we were back on the seaside promenade.  With the sun still beating down we walked to the beach with the lifeguard championship games and had a drink at the water’s edge before the girls went into town to the shops and to find somewhere for evening meal and I declined the opportunity to join them and had a second beer instead.

If you are from Canada who did you vote for in the ‘Greatest Canadians’ competition?  If you are not from Canada who would you have voted for?

Hotel de La Vallee Dinard Brittany

Brittany, Dinard

Dinard, Brittany, France

When I began my series of posts about a holiday to Wales I told you that this was a result of hastily reorganising arrangements because of the threats of industrial action and ferry delays due to migrant disruption at the port of Calais but we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.

We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

So we left East Midlands airport around about lunch time and arrived less than an hour later in the garden shed which doubles as an airport in Dinard, in Brittany.  The Ryanair flight landed early so the Hertz car hire office wasn’t open because the staff were on their contracted two hour lunch break (in Europe the French work less hours than anyone else) so as it turned out I spent as long waiting in line to sign for the car as I had spent in the air and I had slept through half of that!

Car (Renault Captur) finally allocated we set off for Dinard but spotted a Lidl supermarket and stopped off for beer and wine and spent another ten minutes or so in a check out queue.  I calculated that I had been in France for about ninety minutes and spent sixty of those waiting in line.  This took me by surprise because generally speaking French people don’t like queuing up but as it turned out this wasn’t the only thing that was going to surprise me about Brittany.

Unusually for me I found the hotel without any trouble whatsoever but parking seemed to be a real problem until almost by magic someone vacated a space close by and I drove straight in and immediately got a warm glow in my heart as I was convinced that this short break was going to be a massive success.

We checked in, left our bags and went straight back outside to the sea front.  There was a lot of beach activity because it turned out that this weekend Dinard was hosting the national French Life Guard Championship games and the activity on the beach was certainly exciting the locals as young men and women kept leaping into the sea in a series of races, the rules of which we couldn’t possibly hope to understand.

Dinard Lifeguard Championships 2015

We walked along the promenade until we came across a bar that took or fancy and we sat and drank wine and surveyed the panorama of views.  Dinard is a prosperous beach resort on account of the fact that wealthy fishing fleet owners out of nearby St Malo took a liking to the place in the late nineteenth century and built their cliff top seaside villas here.

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

I got a whiff that this is a special place, a sophisticated France seaside town with none of the unpleasantness associated with anywhere in the UK on the coast.  No amusement arcades, no beach front fairs, none of those £1 rides that so annoy me and no candyfloss or burger bars.  Being a wannabe snob I felt immediately at home.

After a drink and a short walk we returned to the hotel and thoughts turned to evening meal.  This could have been a difficult moment because being on the coast most of the menus were 90% fish and Sue and Christine don’t normally do fish because they have an aversion to anything that crawls, slithers or swims in the sea so I was beginning to get the sweats.

We found a traditional sort of place quite close to the hotel and chanced our arm and everything was fine, Kim and I had monkfish and Sue and Christine had smoked haddock and in anticipation of a chocolate sweet they ate every mouthful and that was quite an achievement let me tell you.

We wandered the short distance back to the hotel under the stars and with the waves caressing the caramel sand as the tide raced in went to our rooms optimistic about the weather in the morning.

Restaurant street Art Mellieha Malta

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