Dinan et St Malo: Aventures en Bretagne

Dinan

After Nantes, we headed north to the Atlantic coast in Bretagne.  We spent two nights in a little medeival town called Dinan, which is about an hour south of the shore (by train, so probably closer by car).  I didn’t really know what to expect other than it’s in Bretagne, which has a reputation for cold rainy weather and celtic influences, since it’s right across from England.  A teacher at the school I worked at said she went there and loved it, and it’s slightly less touristy than the coastal towns (but still quite a few tourists when we went there), so we decided to go there.  It turned out to be a really good choice!  It did rain one day, but if it had to rain during our vacation, I’m glad that it was in Bretagne since that seems to be the natural states of things there.  It only rained 2 days during our whole month of vacation, and in Bretagne the rain is kind of romantic anyway.

on the ramparts in the rain

When you go to the tourist office and ask what to do in Dinan, they give you a map and just say follow the line that gives you a tour around the town, and then walk around the ramparts.  So that is what we did.  You can basically see the whole town in a few hours, but it is so cute and there are so many delicious things to eat that we definitely didn’t get bored.  There’s also a little port on a river with a view of a pretty aqueduct, and lots of artisan shops and restaurants.  I kind of felt like I was in a real-life renaissance festival.  All the little shops and all the good food and the cute little houses and the cobblestone… It’s super adorable!  It actually kind of reminded us of Le Puy, being a small medieval town.  We’re used to that now, which is strange.  It wasn’t surprising to see houses from the 15th century, it was more comforting because we were in an environment that we recognized.  Funny how things change like that… I think I’ll be afraid of big roads and cars now in the US.

they had a harp museum!

artisan shops

purple!

view of the ramparts

On our way down to the river, we stumbled upon some really good looking seafood restaurants and we realized just how close to the ocean we were!  There was so much seafood, and it was so cheap!  We unknowingly picked probably the best restaurant in town; we were only seated because we were eating abnormally early (6:30), and by the time we left all the table were full with people who had reservations.  It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip!

For my first course, I had prawns and some big shell creatures served on a silver platter with ice. So fancy!

Igor had oysters for the first time, and I’m pretty sure the waitress thought it was hilarious when he asked how to eat them. She said that the shallot-infused vinegar makes it taste better and also helps to kill it. Apparently the oysters are so fresh that they’re still alive, and you have to detach them from the shell! (I think most places in the US serve them already detached)

Fisherman’s pot. Sea creatures are really hard to de-shell when they’re in a soup! Good thing I don’t mind getting messy and playing with my food!

Igor’s main course was a fish that they brought out raw and grilled on the fireplace in the dining room, right before our eyes! Can’t get any fresher than that.

On our second day in Dinan, we had another great meal when we went for breakfast at a tea salon.  The special that day was Irish breakfast, and there was an actual Irish woman cooking it for us!  She made us unlimited pancakes, and they were probably the best pancakes I have ever had in my life.  So light and fluffy!  Then, despite the rain, we walked around the city and the ramparts and made sure we didn’t miss any of the sites.  Here they are:

the castle

the clock tower

Some of the oldest buildings in Dinan, I think they are from the 13th century

Basilique Saint Sauveur

view from the ramparts

a drawbridge! view from inside the castle

view from the top of the castle

In the dungeons of the castle there were a bunch of tombstones of knights. This one is Rolland de Dinan, who died in 1186. The tombstone wasn’t carved until 1230 or 1240 though (weird). It’s remarkably well preserved, as you can still see the chainmail detail. Pretty cool!

Our last night in Dinan was quite a success.  We found an awesome pub with really good live jazz, and they even had Sam Adams!  Igor was really excited, and so was the bartender.  Apparently he had been trying to get Sam Adams in the bar for over a year, and he had just gotten it in the day before!

St Malo

Our next stop was St Malo on the Atlantic coast.  Seeing the Atlantic was amazing; it was so nice to be back on our home ocean!  The Mediterranean is beautiful and bright and sunny, but the Atlantic at St Malo is a strong, stormy, powerful ocean.  For the first time, I really understood the difference between a sea and an ocean.  St Malo seems like the type of place where a poet could hole himself up in a house on a cliff with a view of the ocean, and he could get all the inspiration he needed.  It’s the kind of ocean that is even more beautiful in the rain, and the tide is absolutely incredible.  When we first arrived, it was pouring rain, so we just took a short walk to the beach to see the view:

There were people parasailing in cold, rainy weather! The people of St Malo must be really hardy, because it rains all the time, and yet everyone there was so nice and smiling all the time. They were the most open people we met on our whole trip!

A few hours later it stopped raining, so we decided to walk to the old walled city and walk around the ramparts.  Here is the view of the same spot on the beach:

The tide was insane!  There was a walled walkway by the beach, and we had to be careful where we walked because the waves were so strong that they were going over the wall!

beware of the man-eating waves!

first view of the walled city

The flag of Bretagne flying high!

St Malo was another city filled with beautiful sights and great food.  Bretagne is probably my favorite region for food specialties, especially sweets.  Crêpes, Galettes, cider, salted butter caramel (on/in everything!)… SO GOOD!  We also discovered our new favorite pastry, a Breton specialty called the ‘Kouign Amann’.  It’s like a little butter pastry/caramel roll thingy, and it is amazing.  Then there is the seafood, of course.  We had another incredible meal, this time with a view of the ocean right outside our window (yay for making reservations!).  There can’t be anything better than sharing a great meal with a view the waves rolling in just feet away from you, and a beautiful sunset.  I will never forget it.

Kouign Amann. This one has apples in it!

first course: seafood platter with crab, langoustine, tiny shell creatures, giant shell creatures, and oysters. SO GOOD! (further research has shown me that these unknown shell creatures whose names I didn’t recognize in French and didn’t know in English are actually whelks and winkles, or small and large edible sea snails. They are delicious.)

mmm oysters!

the view at the beginning of dinner

Igor was very proud when he finally was able to get one of the tiny sea creatures out of its shell. We wondered for a while if they were actually just garnishes because it was so much work sticking a tiny pick into a tiny shell to get such a tiny piece of meat. But they were so good!

For the main course, Igor got a 3-fish sauerkraut, and I got my new favorite meat, duck.

Dessert was a millefeuille made with speculoos, and a crème brulée for Igor

By dessert, the sun was an amazing orange and the waves had risen to just below the window. We watched the sun slip below the horizon.

Our last day in St Malo, we got lucky with some sunny weather (although still very windy and a bit chilly!) and we did a short tour of the old town, including lunch at a Crêperie on the ramparts, which used to be a military post.

The first time we saw this view, the beach was totally covered with water. Now, at low tide, people can walk to the fort!

My last gallette in Bretagne.  For dessert I had a flaming crêpe with Grand Marnier!

Last Kouign Amann, complete with the Breton flag!

The port of St Malo

Needless to say, we will miss Bretagne.  It is a region of culinary delights, tumultuous ocean waves, a rich, unique history, and friendly people.  For now, I will have to survive with fond memories and photos, but I like to think that we will meet again someday!  Goodbye, my new favorite region!

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