On our cycling journey along the North Brittany coast we don’t detour too far off the V4 cycling route. We make exceptions for the towns of Dinan and Cancale. Dinan is one of the best preserved medieval period towns in Brittany, and Cancale is the oyster capital of the region. For those with a car and limited time, both towns can be easily visited as day trips from Saint-Malo. Even on a bike, this is doable, but spending a night in each of romantic Dinan and delicious Cancale is a real treat.
We visit Dinan en route to Saint-Malo. The detour off the V4 is surprisingly easy with the extra 20 km (12.5 miles) all on the flat V2 cycling path that follows the Rance River to Dinan.
We arrive at Dinan’s attractive riverside marina. From the 11th century, Dinan was an important trade centre, and its port was a busy place with ships arriving from England, Holland and later Spain. By the 13th century, ships outgrew the river port and trade migrated downstream to Saint-Malo. Now, the old port is used only as a marina for pleasure crafts and river tours from Saint-Malo. It’s lined with pretty restaurants and cafes.
Beyond the riverside, the old centre of Dinan (uphill) is no place for bikes. The tiny cobblestone road—Rue du Jerzual— that leads up from the river is breath-defyingly steep. This road has been the main route from the port/marina to the upper town for ten centuries. We’re drenched in sweat by the time we’ve pushed our bikes to our guesthouse. It’s worth the effort; Le Logis du Jerzual, a 15th century tanner’s house is a gem. With very little pre-planning we’ve ended up on the most charming and historically significant street in town.
We spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring the old town. It’s an enchanting place of half-timbered houses, narrow laneways and majestic old churches. Dinan is remarkably well preserved thanks to being spared from World War II bombing.
I love all the the little art shops and quirky boutiques. Mike has little patience for shopping so we agree to meet at a cute wine bar (there are plenty of those).
Historic Dinan is surrounded by ramparts dating back to the 13th century. The 2.7 km (1.6 mile) wall is the longest city fortification in Brittany. We stroll along the top of the mighty walls; it’s surprisingly peaceful compared to the bustling centre. From here we get a bird’s-eye view across the town and down to river. We’re happy that we decided to spend a night in Dinan before continuing on to Saint-Malo. If you’re cycling the V4, it’s definitely worth the detour.
Cancale is only about a 25 km (15.5 mile) bike ride from Saint-Malo, which includes a 7.5 km (4.7 mile) detour off the V4. Signage for bike routes isn’t good approaching Cancale, but we still manage to make it in time for an oyster lunch (our main reason for visiting Cancale).
Cancale is famous for oysters and they’ve been cultivated here since Roman times. A disease wiped out local wild stocks in the 1920s, so these days young shellfish are brought in from nursery beds in southern Brittany and then reared in Cancale’s shallow, plankton-rich bays.
It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Cancale is busy with visitors. The main thoroughfare is lined with restaurants promoting the best oysters in town. It’s tempting to stop at one the attractive patios but we’ve heard that the quintessential Cancale experience is buying the oysters from vendors at the end of the pier.
We’re overwhelmed by the number of booths selling oysters and all the different size and quality classifications of the tasty molluscs. Our French isn’t good enough to compose questions about the various options, so we simply point and say we both want a dozen oysters. They are quickly shucked and laid on a plate with a lemon wedge. A conveniently located wine truck sells wine by the glass. This simple dining experience— raw oysters and a chilled glass of Muscadet—on the pier overlooking the Cancale Bay oyster beds is pure heaven.
We’re pretty relaxed after perhaps one too many glasses of wine in the sun, but feel we need to visit Pointe du Grouin Nature Reserve just north of the city. The ride feels much longer than 5 km, but the views from the Pointe are sensational; we can almost make out our next destination: Mont-Saint-Michel. It’s a lovely way to end our day in Cancale (but first, there’s more seafood to come at dinner).
Next posts: Unexpected gems along Brittany’s V4 cycle route and amazing Mont-Saint-Michel.