Brittany expert Wendy Mewes, author of this excellent guide to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, has this overview of Dinan, a popular stopping point for cyclists on French cycling holidays in Brittany.
One of the liveliest and most attractive towns in Brittany, Dinan has a medieval facade and a modern vibe. It’s a place that attracts young and old alike, with its mix of historical interest and lively bar scene.
The well-preserved ramparts offer a walk around the edge of the former ville close, with views in places down to the port area on the Rance far below. The steep cobbled streets rue Jerzual and rue du Petit Fort, lined with little artisans’ shops, link the two. The Tourist Office (9 rue du Chateau) has good leaflets (in English too) for different themed circuits on foot around the town.
Up in the main town, the narrow medieval streets around the bell-tower (open at certain times for great views) in the rue Horloge teem with visitors all year round. Half-timbered gems abound such as the Hotel Keratry at No.6, and many others in nearby Place des Merciers.
There’s a big market on Thursdays in the Place du Guesclin, where the greatest soldier of medieval France has an equestrian statue and a plaque commemorating the duel he is said to have fought here with Thomas of Cantebury in the 14th century. If you want some very good Cheddar (made in Brittany by an Australian), seek out the market stall of Erika Hicks.
Dinan was a ducal possession from the 13th century. Part of the former château contains an excellent museum with quality artefacts from the region’s past, and a highly atmospheric visit down to the Salle des Gisants in basement of the Tour Coëtquen. Two very striking churches are well worth a look. Eglise St-Malo has a beautiful magnolia tree outside and a largely Gothic interior, although some interesting early 20th century windows show scenes from the town history’s, including a visit by duchess Anne de Bretagne. Eglise St-Sauveur probably has a crusaders’ connection, and eastern influences are apparent around the doorway (look for the camels). In the north transept is the tomb containing the heart of Du Guesclin, who was born not far away in Boons. Behind this church is the terrace often called the Jardin anglais (English garden). It’s a good place to sit and rest from the crowds or enjoy the view of the river down below.
Transport buffs will want to visit the Musée du Rail at the train station.
The attractive seaside resort of Dinard with its long English connection is 25 minutes to the north of Dinan, and it’s worth a pause to stroll across the barrage over the Rance on the way. From Dinard you can take a short ferry trip across to the famous walled city of St-Malo (reconstructed after war-time bombing). Dol-de-Bretagne to the east has some of the oldest houses in Brittany and a Scottish Stuart link – the cathedral is also well worth a visit. The château at Combourg, once home to the famous writer Chateaubriand, is 26km away and open to the public.
Cycling in Dinan
The crowded, narrow and cobbled streets of the medieval city don’t make for easy cycling, but access to the Rance towpaths down in the port makes Dinan a good base for cycling holidays on Brittany's green ways network. Dinard, St-Malo and Rennes are all within easy reach along Green Way 2/3, with links to other long-distance walking/cycling trails. Red Dog Books publishes Brittany's Green Ways: A Guide to Re-used Railway Tracks and Canal Towpaths (for cyclists and walkers), with full maps and details of all the existing routes.
In season, it's usually possible to hire bikes on the quays with easy access to the Rance towpaths. For more bike hire options in Brittany, see our bike rental listings.
Getting to Dinan
Dinan is 20 minutes south of the ferry at St-Malo. See our ferries to France section for more information and links. The main N176 (if coming from Normandy) passes the town. It is also accessible by train from Rennes via Dol-de-Bretagne, a journey of about 80 minutes. See also our information on taking bikes on French trains.
Accommodation and food
For cycling accommodation in Brittany, zoom into the map below.
For a good-value very central stay in a nice old building, the Hotel Arvor at 5 rue Auguste Pavie is your best bet. If it’s a special celebration vacation, go for the magnificent Hotel Le d’Avaugour (1 place du Champ) which has a beautiful garden and terrace at the back – ask for a room on this side. For a riverside hotel, try the Hotel Dinan Port Le Jerzual.
Dinan is full of nice places to eat. For a good range of cheap, well-made choices you won’t do better than La Petite Cantine (17 rue de l’Apport) in the medieval centre. To push the boat out a bit (although the set lunch is good value) wander down to the port to the Auberge des Terres-Neuvas at 25, rue du Quai, where you’ll get friendly service and quality fish dishes. There are many other options alongside the river here too. On the way, see if you can resist the cakes in the baker's shop Barnabé at the bottom of rue du Petit Fort.
Books and maps
See Wndy's Footprint guide to Brittany for a thorough overview of the region; Footprint also has a new Brittany With Kids guide for families, while Lonely Planet has a Brittany and Normandy book.
IGN has a map that features St-Malo, Dinard and Dinan. Michelin has a regional Brittany map , as well as a green guide to Brittany available in book format and for Kindle. IGN also has a regional map of Brittany.
See also Wendy's Freewheeling France guide to cycling the Nantes-Brest Canal, as well as her history of the Nantes-Brest Canal. She's also written a regional overview of Brittany, and guides to Brest, Rennes, Quimper and Vannes.
Wendy Mewes is the author of eight books about Brittany, including the Footprint guide to Brittany and the Red Dog guide The Nantes-Brest Canal. She organises many walks and provides professional guided visits through Brittany Heritage Services. You can follow Wendy on Twitter @brittanyexpert