Cycling from Rennes to Dinan and St Malo in Brittany

Hilde and Heather on the road.

Heading down to the river at Dinan.

Hilde Morris and her partner, Heather Godrey, enjoyed a leisurely ride from near Rennes to Dinan and St Malo along the Canal d'Ille-et-Rance. They sent us this route report.

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We visit northern France for a couple of days' cycling every summer and this year had planned to cycle from St Malo to Rennes, getting the train back from Rennes on a Saturday morning, having first visited the weekly market there. 

Everything was organised and hotels and B&Bs booked, when a couple of months before our trip, disaster struck. Firstly, my trusty, not-very-old bike was condemned (cracked main-frame, no reprieve), so a new bike had to be purchased. 

Secondly, while on holiday in Indonesia, I fell down a storm-drain during a ferocious monsoon rain storm (don't ask...) and cracked a couple of ribs. Home in England, even if I'd had a bike, I would not have been able to ride it. To cut a long story short, I chose a new bike (Trecker 7.2 - ace!), but could only manage to mount it 10  days before our French trip. 

Unsure of how my ribs would stand up to the cycling, we decided to do it in reverse, the easier way, downstream, Rennes to St Malo, but starting just outside Rennes as we had only allowed two full days of cycling and were unsure of how long it would take us to get out of that city. 

I should tell you that we are getting on in years and cycle for the fun of it, exploring as we go. The actual bike route we took here from Rennes to St Malo could easily be done in a single day, but we enjoyed taking our time, stopping off for the odd beer or two en route.

We used the book Brittany's Green Ways: A Guide to Re-Used Railway Tracks and Canal Towpaths (UK, US, Fr) – suggested by freewheelingfrance.com! – and found it invaluable.

Day 1 - Portsmouth-St Malo, train to near Rennes and cycling to Hédé-Bazouges

From Portsmouth we took the overnight ferry to St Malo, arriving around 8am Thursday morning. The first train to Rennes that would take our bikes left around 11.30, so we spent an idyllic morning wandering round the old town of St Malo, having breakfast in a little cafe and generally relaxing into the French way.

Cycling to the train station in the new part of town, we booked tickets to a little village Montreuil-sur-Ille some 20km out of Rennes, where the railway line/station is very close to the Canal d'Ille-et-Rance. The journey through the French countryside took about an hour and, having left the train, we soon found the towpath.

After a sunny picnic lunch, we set off north towards our first B&B. The path was wide and well-maintained, the surface was good, varying from small gravel to compacted soil and this part of the journey is visually stunning as there are no less than 11 locks over a few kilometres.

We arrived at Hédé-Bazouges late afternoon and were too early for the B&B, so after a beer in the little square, we set off to explore the ruined castle and check out the eating places. Our B&B, Maison d'hôtes de la Parfraire, was very close to the canal, situated in a lovely garden. Having dumped our stuff and locked our bikes in the garage, we sat in the lovely garden, enjoying the last of the sun before going to a little bistro which serves a very limited menu of local dishes. Smashing!

Canal d'Ille-et-Rance. Photo: Hilde Morris

A stretch of the Canal d'Ille-et-Rance with no fewer than 11 locks. Photo: Hilde Morris

Day 2 - Hédé-Bazouges to Dinan

We woke to fine drizzle on Friday, our longest day, so we donned our rain gear and set off. Another lovely ride, more locks, small villages and good coffee. Soon after lunch the sun came out as we arrived at Lehon, a beautiful and tiny, medieval village just outside Dinan, with a stunning abbey. That was a bonus and we enjoyed wandering round the abbey gardens. 

After Lehon, the path has been diverted – we're still not sure why but we were directed away from the river. However, we soon got back on track and found ourselves gazing up at the ramparts of the delightful medieval town of Dinan, our second night's stop. 

We had been warned that the path directly up from the river was very, very steep, so we pushed our bikes along the winding road to the top, then sat in the town square for a well-deserved ice-cream. 

Our hotel, Au Refuge, was opposite the station; having dumped our gear and put the bikes in the garage, we again set off to explore. Dinan is a smashing town and we wandered everywhere – through the old shops and along the ramparts before choosing a restaurant for the evening. There, we sat in the sun with a beer.

Day 3 - Dinan to St Malo

The next day, Saturday, we planned to cycle to Dinard, explore that town, then catch the ferry back across the mouth of the river to St Malo where we had booked a room for our last night.

This time we walked the cobbled road straight down to the river (it was exceptionally steep and difficult walking our bikes down – I was glad we had decided not to walk them up it!) 

Not far out of Dinan, the cycle track leaves the river and follows an old railway line between high hedges, these gave some protection as it was again drizzling a bit. However the ride was not nearly so interesting as all you can see are occasional glimpses of flat fields.

Approaching Dinard, we had been warned that we might have difficulty finding our way and this proved to be so. There is a large area of land (apparently the old railway station and grounds) which is being re-developed. At present (summer 2013), it is a huge, flat, featureless area criss-crossed by various tracks. The cycle route is signed intermittently, but often the track indicated peters out.

Fortunately by then the weather had improved and we managed to find our way, arriving at Dinard in time to spend a couple of hours in the Saturday street market, another of our favourite activities. 

After lunch in the park, we cycled down to the promenade for a beer and then found we could cycle all round the headland east towards St Malo. This was beautiful, and a smashing way to end our trip.

We reached the landing stage late afternoon and after a short journey found ourselves back in St Malo's old harbour from where we cycled up to the Hotel Restaurant L'Equipe. We spent a leisurely evening in the old town, enjoying another wonderful French meal. 

The seafront at Dinard. Photo: Hilde MorrisHeather on the Canal d'Ille-et-Rance towpath. Photo: Hilde Morris

The seafront at Dinard and (right) Heather on the Canal d'Ille-et-Rance towpath. Photos: Hilde Morris

Day 4 - St Malo (ferry to Portsmouth)

The next morning, Sunday, we cycled back to the harbour to take the day ferry to Portsmouth and the train home.

This was a 4-day short break, with two days of cycling; it suited us just fine. However, if I did it again, I would definitely take the train all the way to Rennes and cycle from there. You could easily ride from Rennes to Dinan in one day, however if you did that, you would not have time for exploring, so it depends on the type of trip you're after.
 
Can't wait for next summer – we are going to try the cycling along the Loire. (Lyn @ FWF writes: we'll post Hilde's adventures on the site when she gets back!)

Hilde Morris and Heather Godrey are two sixtysomething cyclists who live in England. They are already planning their next French cycling holiday.

More information on cycling in Brittany

See our overviews of St Malo, Dinan and Rennes. We also have this blog about cycling around Dinan and St Malo (it's the one I posted following Hilde's original email to us asking for tips).

For a full overview of cycling Brittany's voies vertes and greenways, see this excellent article by G.H. Randall, the author of the best-selling guide, Brittany's Greenways, which Hilde mentions above. We also have this guide to cycling in Brittany.

Accommodation for cycling in Brittany

For links to bike-friendly hotels, gites and campsites, see our Where to stay section.

Bike hire in Brittany and organised cycling tours of Brittany

For bike hire outlets, see here. For self-guided rides that include accommodation, route notes, luggage transfer and on-ground support, search our Organised tours section here.

Ferry information and tickets, plus trains in France

For ferry ports, route maps and useful links to buy tickets, see our Ferries to France page. See voyages-sncf.com for train times and ticket prices. See also our information on taking bikes on French trains.

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