Continuing on from our first 3 days exploring the South of Brittany (if you have not read it yet, I cover Vannes, Rochefort-en-Terre and Pont Aven), we headed North for our last three days.
Day 4 (Monday) : Elven.
It’s a 1hr45m drive to Dinan from Vannes, and we took a detour to Elven.
This was a spontaneous decision because we had seen the signs along the highway for the castle in Elven over the past few days. A quick search online piqued our interest and we decided to make a quick stop.
Well, the quick stop ended up being not so quick, as it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
After paying a small entrance fee, we enjoyed the first shaded forest stroll on our trip. How lovely it was not to be baking in the sun, and instead, be surrounded by lush trees!
It’s a short walk of about 20 minutes to the Largoet Fortress. Now, this is the ruins of a 13th century castle, so some imagination is necessary as you explore the site.
The leaflet we were given was informative in showing us where the different rooms would have been and what they were used for.
We spent about an hour and a half there, and this visit turned out to be a highlight for us. Also because of our lunch. We drove into Elven town thinking of grabbing a quick bite. Instead, we ended up at the wonderful Restaurant Joseph and had a gourmet three-course lunch which we thoroughly enjoyed with some wine.
Next stop in Brittany, Dinan:
We arrived around 3pm, just in time to check-in to our accommodation in the heart of the old town. We love staying smack in the middle of historic old towns, and in places that are unique. Please do not make the mistake of staying in hotels when you drive around little French towns, you will be missing out on really feeling the place!
More on our Dinan accommodation at the end of the article.
After settling in, we strolled the charming cobblestone streets, admired more half-timbered houses, went past St Saveur church, stumbled into a little museum, but it was closed.
Well, as I had mentioned in my previous article, the thing about these lovely towns of France is just to walk around, admire the sounds, sights and smells!
Eventually, we walked up to the ramparts overseeing the Port de Dinan Lanvallay and had a panoramic view of the famous Dinan Viaduct.
Because we had arrived late in the afternoon, it was soon close to dinner, and on a Monday night, many places are closed, but we still had a good meal at a “brochette” restaurant.
Day 5 (Tuesday) : Cap Frehal and Fort La Latte.
This was D-Day. Well, it was meant to be, at least. Because this was the 6th of June. History buffs would know the date as D-Day in 1944 when the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in an attempt to liberate France from the Germans.
Seeing as how we were near(ish) Normandy, we had planned to visit Juno and Omaha beaches, Caen and Bayeux.
But, we wisely scrapped that idea for two reasons.
One, by the time 6th June came around, we had spent endless days, roasting under an unrelenting sun, so walking around beaches did not appeal anymore.
Secondly, as we were heading in the same direction to Mont Saint-Michel the next day, if we had gone to Normandy, we would have been repeating that journey twice.
Gorgeous Hikes Along the Brittany Coast:
Instead, we spent a glorious time hiking in Cap Frehal, along the beautiful northern coastline of Brittany.
Wait! Did I not just say that we were sick of the sun? Well, we were lucky during our hike. It was cool, breezy and we did not feel the burning heat at all.
Plus, being surrounded by the dramatic cliffs, the gorgeous heathers and greenery sure beats walking on vast, open expanses of unshaded beaches. Especially when I am not exactly a die-hard WWII D-Day fan.
The real highlight of the hike, asides from the magnificent cliffs (I love cliff coastlines), was our little picnic right by the edge. Well, almost right by, we weren’t dangling our legs off the cliff, or anything.
After Cap Frehal, it only makes sense to head next door to Fort La Latte (Chateau de la Roche Goyan). You can walk, it’s close to an hour hike, but because we had already walked for around two hours, and with my foot injury, we chose to do a 9-minute drive over instead.
Once you’re at the Fort, there would be more walking anyway, exploring the coastal defence fort, one of the most visited sights in Brittany. From dungeons to drawbridges, you can easily spend at least an hour at this pink granite castle.
After which, sustenance can be found by way of crêpes at the nearby restaurant.
It was a 50-minute drive back to Dinan, we took the early evening return to relax a little in our pretty courtyard and then headed out to explore the famed Rue Jerzual – a street with, you guessed it, more half-timbered houses.
It led us to the port where we had a lovely dinner at Pilote – made even lovelier, when the owner realised we make music, and started playing our songs for all to hear!
Day 6 (Wednesday) : St Suliac, St Malo, Cancale and Mont Saint-Michel
Ah, the grand finale! Almost.
This was the day for Mont Saint-Michel.
Before we left Singapore, I had already researched high and low tide timings and we decided to visit in the evening as there would be low tide around 5pm.
A low tide visit means you can walk around the massive bay of Mont Saint-Michel versus just walking on the boardwalk that leads to the abbey.
While it’s only a 45-minute drive to Mont Saint-Michel from Dinan, since we were only heading over in the evening, we planned to drop in at three other towns along the way.
St Suliac and St Malo:
First stop was St Suliac, a charming little village in between Dinan and Dinard. We walked around for less than an hour, visited the St Suliac church, a small one, but interesting, then sat by the river Rance for a while.
Next was St Malo. Well, this was quite the opposite of St Suliac.
We were not expecting it to be so buzzy. The town centre is full of shops, including international brands, like Superdry.
I can imagine if you want to add shopping to your French towns itinerary, St Malo would be a great place as a base.
Reading more about its architecture now, I realise why I had the perception that it felt a little more “big” and commercial than the other small towns.
It’s because most of the buildings in the historic centre were destroyed during WWII and were rebuilt, keeping the original style, but you will feel that they are taller than the half-timbered houses you see in the rest of Brittany.
It’s not all shopping, of course. The main thing really is to walk the ramparts that enclose this walled port city. You will have a panoramic view of all the little forts built onto the islands surrounding St Malo, and you should consider walking out to the tidal islands during low tide.
We ended up spending a little more time at St Malo than expected, and had a tough call to make regarding Cancale to satisfy our oyster desires. We were concerned about the timing to reach Mont Saint-Michel after.
But we decided to drop in at L’Atelier de L’huître just to try the freshest oysters possible and we were glad we did. It was an oyster-in-and-out expedition!
Well, about as “fast food” as it can be, French standards. We were seated, still served bread, naturally we had to have a Muscadet and they were relaxed in taking our orders, relaxed in shucking the oysters, and relaxed in settling the bill. We were seriously reconsidering the visit to Mont Saint-Michel as we were afraid it may close by the time we reached!
Et enfin, la pièce de résistance of our Brittany trip!
Still, we managed to make it not that much later to Mont Saint-Michel as planned, around 5.15pm or so. And realised that in summer, they are open till 11pm anyway, not the abbey, though, but the grounds.
Well, even though we couldn’t get inside the abbey itself, I think the most fun part was walking around the bay and trying to get the best shot of Mont Saint-Michel. We probably spent close to an hour taking photos as we walked over, on the bay, and inside the grounds!
The teeny town is teeming with tourist shops and there are restaurants but we didn’t patronise any. If you’re so inclined, you could kill time having a meal while waiting for high tide to hit, so you can enjoy Mont Saint-Michel in both high and low tides.
So what exactly is Mont Saint-Michel? Is it the bay, a tidal island, a village, an abbey, a fort? Well, it is all, and that’s one of the reasons why this UNESCO-heritage site draws over 2M visitors a year!
As we headed back to Dinan, Dol-de-Bretagne was somewhat on the way, so we decided to drop in for dinner. It was close to 8.30pm, so we didn’t explore too much, but enjoyed a delicious meal of Bouchot mussels and a burger.
Day 7 (Thursday) : Rennes
Our last day in Brittany. We had arranged to return the car in Rennes so that we could take the TGV back to Paris at a particular time.
After breakfast, we had just enough time to briefly visit Rennes (45-minute drive from Dinan). We had wanted to visit the Museum of Bretagne but as it opened only at 11am and our train was around 1.30pm, that was not possible.
Which was fine, because I had my final dose of half-timbered houses, in fact, my favourite for the trip was the row at Place du Champs Jacquet.
We also checked out the oldest house in Rennes, known as Ti-Koz.
It’s next to St Peter’s Cathedral which, for once, after the countless European churches I had seen throughout my life, was something interesting to me because when you walk in, you feel like you’re inside the Vatican thanks to the 44 Roman columns that line the way inside. Wasn’t quite what I expected in Bretagne.
Well, it was off to return the car, conveniently located near the train station and our journey continued in Paris for the Men’s Finals at Roland Garros.
Our Accommodation in Dinan, Bretagne:
Once again, we chose well. We prefer to stay in the historic centres of French towns, and always look for places with personality. We consider the convenience and price aspects as well. With all that, our wonderful apartment at 1 Rue De La Chaux was perfect.
It’s called The Secret Court, and it’s no wonder – this entire charming little courtyard was ours for the stay! We had our apero there each evening before heading out. In the night, little fairy lights come on, so it’s a nice feeling when you come back home.
The owner, Pierre, is very friendly and helpful. As the location is on a pedestrianised street, we parked nearby just so that we could find the place. It’s near the bell tower, and we were warned that it rings from 8am to 9pm (or thereabouts) but it was not an issue. We were never woken up by the bell.
The entire place is furnished in a very Bretagne country cottage style, many adorable details to savour. Fully equipped kitchen with a Nespresso and a coffee machine – capsules and ground powder provided.
Best part was the washing machine and a dryer!
Well, the location was the best part really. Step out, and you’re smack back in medieval Brittany, and walking distance to all the places to visit.
The owner provides key card access to the garage parking about 5 minutes walk away, so that is great, too.
We booked the apartment via Booking.com. It is called The Secret Court Dinan.
Au Revoir, La Bretagne!
Brittany showed us yet another side to France, and while we had probably only scratched the surface, with about a week, I think we had seen some of the highlights and definitely felt some of the best vibes we could!
As my French friend who had moved from Paris to Brittany says: “I’ve been here a few years and I still have not covered all the sights of Bretagne.”
Well, there is always next time for the rest of La Bretagne, then!