The lovely medieval town of Dinan lies inland of Saint-Malo in Brittany, northwest France. Important as a port on the River Rance since medieval times, little has changed here for centuries; its three-km (1.75-mile) protective ramparts were constructed to protect the town from piracy in the 13th century, and its enchanting, cobbled squares of Place des Cordeliers and Place des Merciers are lined by crooked half-timbered buildings with steeply pitched roofs; they are propped up by arched wooden arcades now filled with shops and cafés. Although there are a couple of museums here, the charm of Dinan is simply to meander the ancient streets and capture the Breton essence of the place, from its arty shops to its medieval quays.
The best place to start a tour is Place du Guesclin for the 700-year-old craft and produce market (Thursday) before heading into the spiders’ web of backstreets to discover the castle, Romanesque churches, the Gothic basilica and English-style botanical gardens. Heading ever upwards, the Tour Ste-Catherine (St Catherine’s Tower) has commanding views over the river port and the viaduct – built in 1852 – over the Rance. From there, it’s a scramble down steep Rue du Jerzual from the old town to the river towpath and a well-deserved seafood lunch along the waterside.
Dinan Tourist Office is at 9 rue de Château and opening hours are Mon–Sat 9:30am–7pm, Sun 10am–12:30pm, 2:30–6pm. It is 33.5 km (21 miles) south of St-Malo by car along the N176 and the D137.