Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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The Ultimate Brittany Road Trip (Bretagne Road Trip) – Nature & Culture19/05/2023
Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
If you are looking for ways to spend 5 days in Brittany, look no further. This 5-day Brittany road trip from Dinan to the Bay of St. Michel covers two French departments (Côtes d’Armor and Ile et Vilaine) and will take you through some of the main sights Brittany has to offer. This Brittany itinerary by car is a good combination of natural sights, picturesque small towns, and good food. We’re sure you will enjoy it as much as we did!
This road trip Brittany is one of the most beautiful road trips in France, plus driving in Brittany is super easy. Click here for the best road trips in France.
Brittany Road Trip Overview
- Start: Dinan
- Finish: Mont St. Michel
- Duration: 5 days
- Suggested Route: Dinan – St. Malo – Mont St. Michel (or vice-versa, if you are coming from Normandy)
- Total distance: 185 km, 3 hours drive in total
- Regions covered: Brittany
- Best for: nature, outdoor activities, medieval towns, and food.
Actually, this Brittany road trip is a Normandy – Brittany road trip because the last stop of this itinerary is Mont Saint-Michel, which belongs to the Normandy region. I hope you don’t mind ending this Brittany itinerary with the Wonder of the Western World!
Bretagne Road Trip Map
Road Trip Brittany – Itinerary 5 Days
This road trip Bretagne starts from Dinan. For this road trip, you don’t need the car until day 2. If you need to hire a car, wait until then to pick up your rental car in Dinan. Click here for our best tips to rent a car in France.
Day 0 | Arrival in Dinan
The first stop of this Brittany road trip is Dinan, a picturesque medieval town where you will spend three nights. For your stay in Dinan, we recommend the Hotel Ibis Styles Dinan-Centre Ville, which is beautiful and central. There’s paid parking just in front of the hotel, but there’s no problem parking in the streets behind the hotel for free. Try to get a room facing the square, with its beautiful carousel.
Day 1 | Dinan – Vallée de la Rance
Morning in Dinan
Day 1 of this Bretagne road trip explores Dinan and its surroundings. Dinan is one of the prettiest small towns in Brittany. It was a powerful trading city in medieval times, and you can still see many remains of this glorious past.
A stroll around Dinan is like a step back in time with its medieval ramparts, cobbled streets, and half-timbered houses: exploring Dinan is pure wonder!
The list of fun things to do in Dinan includes:
- Dinan’s 13th-century ramparts
- Climb up the Bell Tower (La Tour de l’Horloge)
- Stroll the cobblestone streets, visit the small squares
- Browse the art galleries
- Try Breton gastronomy
The Rue du Jerzual, which connects the upper town to the lower town and its port, is one of Dinan’s most beautiful streets, but – you are warned – it is also very steep! Take your time and enjoy the beautiful facades with their intricate, antique doorways. The shutters, wrought iron, historical plaques, and stonework are a photographer’s dream.
Afternoon at Vallée de la Rance
Dinan developed on the shores of the River Rance, which flows into the English Channel. From Dinan’s port in the lower town, take a bike* or an electric boat (no boating license required) and follow the River Rance upstream to explore the Vallée de la Rance. As soon as you leave Dinan, the houses disappear, and nature takes over again.
*We had our own bikes, but you can rent bikes at the Port of Dinan-Lanvallay (Location de Vélos Kaouann 21 Rue du Quai, Dinan).
Exploring the valley on two wheels is easy (the path is flat) and allows you to explore neighboring villages.
Stop at Léhon, a lovely village located a few kilometers south. Stroll through Léhon’s streets and visit the abbey and its medieval garden. The garden was reconstructed as it was in medieval times from ancient illuminated manuscripts.
In medieval times, the garden’s design and layout had strong symbolism. For example, the central fountain represented Heaven, and it divided the space into four sections that represented the four rivers of Paradise. The plants were carefully selected both for their virtues and symbolism.
After exploring the Vallée de la Rance, travel back to Dinan, where you will spend the night.
Day 2 | Cap Fréhel and the Breton Coast
Morning in Cap Fréhel
After one day of sightseeing, it’s time to pack some sandwiches and head to the coast for a hike and a dip in the sea. Cap Fréhel in Côtes d’Armor is a peninsula and one of Brittany’s most spectacular sights. This beautiful place is home to a seabird reserve and a historic lighthouse.
It is possible to climb up to the top of the lighthouse, or you can spend your time hiking around the area. There’s a paid parking on-site, but it gets full pretty fast.
Hiking the Sentier des Douaniers (GR34)
One of the top things to do in Brittany is the Sentier des Douaniers (GR34), a multi-day hike that follows all of Brittany’s 2,000-kilometer coastline.
This incredible hike – one of the best hikes in France – starts at the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel and ends in Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique), covering most of the coastal sites, Cap Fréhel included. On the way, hikers cross 5 French departments while enjoying great views, lonely lighthouses, and some of Brittany’s best towns.
To get a taste of the GR34 (spoiler: you will want more), you can drive to Plage de Château Serein, the starting point of one of the sections of the GR34 hike. Despite the name, there’s no castle but a beautiful isolated beach, which is great for a picnic and a dip in the sea. From the car park, it’s a 5-minute hike down through the forest to the beach.
From here, you can follow the GR34 and hike to Fort La Latte, a spectacular 14th-century fortress built on a rocky outcrop above the sea. This is an easy 10-km hike (return) through the forest, it is mostly flat and has beautiful views on the way.
Day 3 | Saint-Malo
From Dinan, drive to Saint-Malo, where you are going to spend one night. For your night in Saint-Malo, you’ll want to stay central and close to everything. We recommend La Maison des Armateurs, a 4-star hotel near the cathedral and Saint-Malo’s marina, with a good choice of restaurants nearby.
Day at Saint-Malo
Take the day to explore Saint-Malo, the city of pirates and corsairs, and a popular destination in Brittany. The old walled city stands on a granite islet that is joined to the mainland by an ancient causeway and also by an avenue bridging the inner harbor.
In the 10th century, the Norman invaders forced the population of this area to seek shelter on an islet and to begin fortifying it. In the 12th century, a bishop settled on this islet: it was the beginning of the existence of Saint-Malo, a city which over the centuries will gain in importance in France.
Saint-Malo developed into a city of merchants and sailors. Cod fishing, the conquests of distant lands, and the hessian trade contributed to the city’s development and wealth. By the end of the 17th century, Saint-Malo was the first harbor in France and the headquarters of many shipping companies. The beautiful private mansions built by the city’s wealthy inhabitants that remain bear witness to this rich past.
There’s an excellent self-guided tour of the Old City. Starting from Place de Chateaubriand, follow the arrows.
The list of exciting things to do in Saint-Malo includes:
- Walk the ancient ramparts that protect the old city
- Fort National (low tide only), built by Vauban and Garangeau (1689)
- Petit Bé Fort (low tide only), also built by Vauban (1695)
- The Cathedral of Saint-Vincent
- The 16th-century Solidor Tower, with three linked towers
- Visit the Corsair frigate L’Étoile du Roy, a perfect replica of the 18th-century Corsair ship of the same name
- The churches of Sainte-Croix and Saint-Ideuc
- Grand Aquarium of Saint-Malo
Day 4 | Cancale – Mont St Michel
Early morning at Le Grand Bé
Day 4 of this driving tour of Brittany explores some beautiful sights. If possible, wake up early – when the tide is still low – and hike to Le Grand Bé, an uninhabited islet located a few hundred meters off the ramparts of Saint-Malo. It is here that the illustrious romantic writer François-René de Chateaubriand (Saint-Malo 1768 – Paris 1848) rests for eternity, near the edge of the cliff and eternally facing the sea and the storm of which, he said, “the noise rocked my first sleep.”
Chateaubriand’s tomb does not have any inscription, but a non-nominative plaque (one without his name) was however placed on the wall behind the grave with the following inscription:
“A great French writer wanted to rest here to hear only the wind and the sea. Passerby, respect his last will.“
This place also provides an incredible panorama of Saint-Malo from the beach.
GOOD TO KNOW: You can only visit the Grand Bé for a few hours a day when it is low tide. Roughly, you will have an access window of 3 hours. For this, refer to the low tide time of the day (check the link to the tide times for Saint-Malo at the end of day 3) and add 1h30 before and after this reference time. This is your window of opportunity to visit the Grand Bé.
Head back to St. Malo and linger over a second coffee (and perhaps a second breakfast) before leaving the city for Cancale.
Spend the Remainder of the Morning at Cancale
Located on the Bay of Mont St. Michel, Cancale is a seaside resort best known for its fishing port and oyster farming center. Here you can get a taste of the famous Cancale oysters, which in the 17th and 18th centuries arrived at the tables of the King and nobles twice a week by special courier.
Cancale, today, is a small village that you can visit in a couple of hours or so. The houses along the quays were, in the past, the fishermen’s homes, while the houses set further back in the village were the ship owner’s and noble’s homes.
DID YOU KNOW? In Cancale, they have harvested oysters since at least Roman times. The village has the label ‘Site remarquable du goût,’ but their oysters are not protected by an AOC (Apellation d’Origine Contrôlée) as yet. Cancale’s specialty is the huître plate / flat oyster (Ostrea Edulis), which was the only oyster known and eaten until the 19th century. Due to intense harvesting today in Brittany you can find this oyster only in deep water in the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, which makes it more difficult to harvest and, therefore, more expensive. Cancale was saved ‘in extremis’ by the arrival of the Portuguese oyster, also known as huître creuse / hollow oyster (Crassostrea Gigas), that we eat everywhere in France. When you visit the harbor of Cancale, try both kinds of oysters, they taste very different! The oyster price depends on the type of oyster and its size (which range from Nº1 to Nº5 /Nº4).
On the way to Mont Saint-Michel, the most adventurous may want to stop at Hirel to discover or re-discover sand yachting on the Bay of Mont Saint-Michel. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced sailor, this 1-hour tour (3 time slots in the morning, many more in the afternoon) will allow you to have a good time in your sand yacht on the beach of Hirel. The large stretch of sand of Hirel Beach, only 15 minutes from Saint-Malo, is a perfect place to practice sand yachting in Brittany. This is a rather physical activity, and we recommend bringing gloves and a windbreaker (helmets are provided).
Afternoon at Mont St. Michel
From Cancale, drive to Mont St. Michel, where you will spend the last night of this Brittany road trip. For a unique stay, book one night at La Vieille Auberge, a 14th-century half-timbered house located on Mont St Michel tidal island. Enjoy the charm of this old hotel with exposed beams and period furniture in the most magical setting. It is truly magical.
Day 5 | Mont Saint-Michel (in Normandy)
Day 5 of this Bretagne road trip is dedicated to visiting Mont St. Michel. Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy is one of the wonders of the Western World and one of France’s most spectacular sites.
Explore the medieval abbey, visit the bay with a local guide, and taste Mont St. Michel’s unique dishes, such as the omelet by La Mère Poulard or the Lamb (AOP) Prés salés du Mont-Saint-Michel (a unique type of lamb that is raised in the salt-marsh meadows of Mont-Saint-Michel). For the history and what to see and do at Mont St. Michel, head to this article.
TIP: Mont Saint-Michel is a very popular destination that sees the crowds from spring to the end of fall. Don’t waste any of your time when visiting, click here to buy a ticket for priority entrance.
Experience tandem skydiving and fly over the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to admire the Wonder of the Western World from a unique point of view! The departure point is from Val-Saint-Père, 25km northeast of the island, while the drop zone is located by the sea, which allows you to admire the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel from a unique point of view.
If this sounds too scary to you, then try the microlight flight over Saint Michel Bay in Normandy, accelerations that will certainly remind you of a motorbike, except that you are in the air!
This road trip Brittany ends in Mont St-Michel, one of France’s most beautiful sites. With more time available, consider this Normandy road trip that covers the D-Day landing beaches and other related sites.
So, what are you waiting for? Book this Brittany road trip today!