Oyster extravaganza and medieval splendours in Brittany

Dinan, Brittany

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.

Dinan

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.

Overlooking the Dinan marina from the old bridge

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.

A steep push up the hill to our guesthouse on Rue du Jerzual
Rue du Jerzual, Dinan
Rue du Jerzual, Dinan

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).

Place des Merciers: Dinan’s most scenic square
Basilica Saint Sauveur (some parts are almost 1000 years old)

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.

Walking along the Dinan ramparts
Pretty cat graces the Dinan walls
Looking down to the Rance River from the Dinan walls

Cancale

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.

Vendor at the Cancale oyster market
Oysters are shucked while you wait

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.

Incredible meal overlooking Cancale’s oyster beds
Oysters and a chilled glass of white on a beautiful day

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).

Pointe de Grouin Nature Reserve

Next posts: Unexpected gems along Brittany’s V4 cycle route and amazing Mont-Saint-Michel.

Categories: Biking, France | Tags: , , , , , | 45 Comments

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45 thoughts on “Oyster extravaganza and medieval splendours in Brittany

  1. As one of the commentors said, Dinan is such a picturesque place and what great views for your cycling travels. The cobblestone streets look endless and every bit magnificent. It did look like you were spoilt for choice for oysters, and wine by the glass sounded like cherry on top. Great views, great food and great weather. Looked like a great day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mabel. Those days we spent in Dinan and Cancale really were about as perfect as they come. We were super lucky with the weather as we’d read that Brittany gets a fair amount of rain.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely..!! Dinan is so quaint and picturesque..!! ❤
    It feels as if time has stopped over there in Dinant at 14th Century CE.. Lovely to stroll in such idyllic paved roads.. 😊😊
    Thank you so much Madam for sharing such a detailed post with beautiful pictures (Loved the cat.. ❤ ) 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind comments! You’re right, it does feel like you’ve gone back in time as you walk the beautiful old streets of Dinan. I’m a cat lover and it was so nice to see this beauty perched on the old wall with the gorgeous background.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, nice to meet someone who loves cats.. ❤ ❤ I find it hard to click pictures or cuddle cats, I don't know why they get scared of me.. 😛
        You are most welcome Madam..!! You have a great travelogue.. 😊😊 I shall read more about your adventures.. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think like Lexie, this blog post is the first one that really hits me. Will we ever do an international cycling trip again? Each day we feel grateful for all of the incredible adventures we have experienced. Although I’ll take a pass on the oysters, the cycling touring appeals immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t Europe a wonderful place to cycle! We are totally hooked and look forward to more cycling adventures in France and other countries. Just yesterday I got a private message from a reader about a post I did on cycling in Alsace. Re-reading my post I was struck extra hard by how lucky I’ve been to do all this traveling.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Cycling France’s Brittany and Normandy coasts: Top 10 highlights | Writes of Passage

  5. I will pass on the oysters but the rest of this looks amazing! Those close up shots of Dinan look a lot like some of the small towns we saw in Germany. It just reiterates how much I still have to learn about France.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, they look a lot alike. If you just dropped me into Dinan (without the French signs) I really couldn’t tell you whether I was in France or Germany. I think my favourite fairytale towns are the ones we saw along Germany’s Mosel River and the town of Bacharach on the Rhine. But then the ones in Alsace, France are special too. Sorry…you got me dreaming!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, to walk along those charming cobbled streets of Dinan. I would imagine cycling upon them is a little less pleasant. The Captan would be in heaven in Cancale. I am not much of an oyster fan, but I would gladly join you in a glass of Muscadet.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The photos of Dinan hit me hard this morning. We had such an incredible trip to Brittany, and your series on your bike trip has brought back many good memories. At the same time, and for the first time while reading travel blogs during our Covid isolation, I suddenly looked at those charming streets in a faraway place and wondered when we’ll ever get back out into the wider world. 😦 Of course, that’s not your fault! This was just so atmospheric that it gave me a pang, and that’s a testament to your photography and writing skills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lexie, your comments make me happy and sad (and the sad also not your fault…just this damn virus). Thanks for the nice compliments.
      When Mike was peering over my shoulder at this post he commented about how all those charming streets that in normal times would soon be crowded with spring/summer visitors will now be largely empty. It’s going to be so tough for all these places, businesses and people who are reliant on tourism.
      I have no idea when I’ll feel comfortable about international travel (once it’s even an option), let alone domestic travel. Just this morning I got an email from a Vancouver Island kayaking outfitter that I plan to do a trip with in August. They outlined all the cancellation, postponement options. I never would have though even a month ago that I might not be doing this trip, though I’m trying to be optimistic that it will happen…gotta look forward to something!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Things are fast disappearing off my calendar, much to my dismay. My late June mountain event has been postponed a full year, and now even our daughter’s September wedding is looking tenuous. Like you, I would not have guessed that summer and fall events might be affected, but I’m starting to wise up and get my head out of the sand … sadly.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Dinan looks so quaint and charming. I imagine it was worth the detour on your cycling adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, the old town of Dinan looks so pretty! For some reason, Place des Merciers reminds me a little bit of a place tucked amidst Kathmandu’s labyrinthine alleys, although the latter was obviously more crowded and rundown. But I always love that feeling of walking on a street that retains its old look, imagining that centuries ago people also walked down the very same path. Caroline, the more you write about Brittany, the higher this part of France climbs on my wishlist. I mean, fresh oysters with a chilled glass of white wine on a sunny day? That sounds like something I love.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I haven’t been to Kathmandu, but from the pictures I’ve seen I’m thinking that it also has those tightly packed low rise buildings and narrow roads—a place where space is at a premium. Bama, I may have mentioned this before, but I’m sure you’d enjoy this part of the world. There is so much beauty, and so many interesting historical tows/sites in a relatively compact area. Travel is easy, and yes…there’s the excellent food and wine!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Yeah wow! Beautiful….I wish I could hop on a plane….

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve fallen in love with Dinan! What a gem. And that meal in Cancale sounds just perfect.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s pretty easy to fall in love with Dinan. Beautiful medieval towns like Dinan is one of the things we like most about traveling in France, Germany and other European countries.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Ahh the places you visited look so beautiful! I really miss France. This place has just moved onto my bucket list to go to next time I’m there! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi. I’d love to explore Brittany, and this essay has increased that desire.

    By the way, I’ve never eaten an oyster. Don’t know why. I eat mussels and other shellfish.

    See you!

    Neil

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brittany has a lot going for it as a travel destination: scenic, historic, great food, good tourist infrastructure. I hope you get there, Neil.
      Oysters aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t used to enjoy them raw and only ate them baked with lots of cream sauce and cheese (yum!). Hubby has always been crazy about the raw variety.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Dinan looks divine. I could easily spend some time there. And, fresh oysters and a glass of wine overlooking the water, stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband just peered over my shoulder looking at this post and he was reminiscing about how the days we spent in both Cancale and Dinan were pretty near perfect… I love it when everything comes together like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Now I really want to go to Brittany. Dinan looks like a postcard of a place that you think doesn’t really exist because it’s too perfect. But it does exist! Wow, what a great detour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, it really does look like a fairytale place. That also makes it a popular tourist spot . When we were there in mid-September the main squares were busy, but not unpleasantly so. I’d avoid high holiday season/long weekends.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh my goodness, I haven’t been there since I was a child and I dare say I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the place then! What a wonderful trip. I cycled through France in 2018 but didn’t do this whole section … it’s heaven to be reading about it and looking at your pictures! Katie

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know I didn’t appreciate many of the great places I visited as a child. I’m glad I’m getting a second chance on some of them. Do you have a favourite area from when you cycled in France? We’d love to return to do more cycling. Thanks for your comments, Katie!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well I went from Roscoff in the north using la velodyssee down to the south about 150km shy of the border with Spain. Fantastic route although I confess to going ‘off-piste’ rather a lot! There’s only so many canals one can actually take. Funnily enough some of the most beautiful places I saw were in the north, I must have a look back to remind myself exactly where. In fact I think I might have done a post about it as I recall an enormous hill to get there and it nearly killed me. I’d like to do another trip, but am currently living in New York and the cycling here is lethal to say the least, the roads are awful and to get any difference in scenery you have to travel more than one entire state … I think Europe is the best. Sorry, I’m rambling, but your lovely photos brought back such wonderful memories! Katie

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow, this route sounds awesome. We really wanted to see the area around Vannes/Gulf of Morbihan and the Crozon Peninsula. But there was just not enough time and we had to make the tough decision to limit ourselves to the north coast (as we were also visiting Normandy). I agree, Europe is the best for cycling…love, love, love it!

          Liked by 1 person

  17. Wow, you cycled through Dinan too! It was one of my favourite places in all of Brittany! I was amazed by how well everything was preserved and the local markets in Brittany were some of the very best! Freshly baked bread was so delicious nothing else was needed to cure our hunger! Thanks for sharing and inspiring! Aiva 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Aiva! We weren’t initially going to include Dinan. It’s nothing with a car, but adding an extra 40 km here and there can really change the trip when you’re cycling (at least at our slow pace). I’m so glad we made a last minute decision to visit. Now you’ve got me thinking about the yummy bread…I’d love some of that right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Great post. Got to go to Cancale now! Love oysters! Yum!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! If you love oysters, ya gotta go. Seafood in general was amazing in Brittany. Moules-frites (mussels and fries) was one of our staple meals.

      Like

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