Dinan - Brittany
Road Trips

The Ultimate Brittany Road Trip – Nature & Culture

12/03/2020

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The region of Brittany (Bretagne) in Western France makes for a spectacular road trip. Driving to Brittany from Paris takes less than 4 hours and it’s only an easy hop away from the UK by ferry.

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 is a good combination of natural sights, picturesque small towns, and good food and we are sure you will enjoy it as much as we did.

This 5-day Brittany Road Trip is one of the most beautiful road trips in France. Click here for the best road trips in France.

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Road Trip Brittany 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.

PRACTICAL INFO | DRIVING IN FRANCE

Practical Info

Getting around France by car

If you are hitting the French roads for the first time, have a look at our Driving in France Guide.

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Road Trip in Brittany Map

Road Trip in Britany Map Made with Google My Maps

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5-Day Road Trip in Brittany Itinerary

Day 0 | Arrival to 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 Hotel Ibis Styles Dinan-Centre Ville, which is beautiful, and very central. There’s paid parking just in front of the hotel but we had no problem parking in the streets behind for free. We were very lucky to get a room facing the square, with its beautiful carousel.

Click here to book your stay at Hotel Ibis Styles Dinan

For your first dinner in Dinan, we recommend Crêperie d’Ahna (7, rue de la Poissonerie). This is a small place in the upper town proposing good crêpes and galettes washed down with cider from the Vallée de la Rance. If the weather is good, you can have dinner outside.

Day 1 | Dinan – Vallée de la Rance

Morning in Dinan

Dinan is one of the prettiest small towns in Brittany. In medieval times, it was a powerful trading city 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 little squares
  • Browse the art galleries
  • Try the Britton gastronomy

The rue du Jerzual which connects the upper town to the lower town and its port is one of the most beautiful streets of Dinan 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 Chanel. From Dinan’s port in the lower town take the bike* or an electric boat without a license 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 bikes but you can rent bikes at Maison de la Rance, in the port

My Peugeot Bike!

Stop at Léhon, a small cité de caractère which is a wonder. Stroll through Léhon’s streets and visit the Abbey and its medieval garden. The garden was reconstructed like in medieval times from ancient manuscripts and illuminations.

Léhon

In medieval times, the garden’s design and layout had a strong symbolism. The central fountain, for example, represented Heaven, and it divided the space into 4 sections which represented the 4 rivers of Paradise. The plants were carefully selected both for their virtues and symbolism.

Being an architect, I am more interested in buildings than gardens and I had my wow! moment when I visited the abbey’s attic (le comble in French) with its wooden structure from the 17th century!

Evening and night at Dinan

Back to Dinan, there is a wide choice of restaurants to have dinner. We booked a table at La Fontaine du Jerzual (21bis rue du Jerzual) because we liked its menu and beautiful terrace and we can only recommend it.

Day 2 | Cap Fréhel and the Breton Coast

Morning in Cap Fréhel

Le Sentier des Douaniers

After one day of sightseeing, it’s time to pack some sandwiches and head to the coast for a hike and a sea bath. Cap Fréhel in Côtes d’Armor is a peninsula and one of the most spectacular sights in Brittany, home to a seabird reserve, and a historic lighthouse.

It is possible to climb up to the top of the lighthouse but we preferred to spend our time hiking around. 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 borders all of Brittany’s coastline for over 2,000 kilometers.

This wonderful 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 the best towns in Brittany.

To get a taste of the GR34 (spoiler: you will want for 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 pretty lonely beach great for a picnic and a bath. To reach the beach from the car park there’s a 5-minute hike down through the forest.

From here, you can follow the GR34 and hike to Fort La Latte, a spectacular 14th-century castle built on a rock above the sea. This is an easy 10-km hike (return) through the forest, mostly flat and with beautiful points of view from time to time.

Back to Dinan, try La Fleur de Sel for dinner (7 rue Sainte-Claire, Dinan), a good restaurant very successful at mixing flavors (sweet and salty, sea and mountain) always using fresh, regional produce.

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 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.

Click here to book your stay at La Maison des Armateurs

Day at Saint-Malo

Take the day to explore Saint-Malo, the city of pirates, and corsairs, and a popular destination in Brittany.

In the 10th century, the Norman invasions forced the population to seek shelter on an island and they fortified it. In the 12th century, a bishop settled on this island: 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. The cod fishing, the conquests of distant lands, and the hessian trade contributed to the development and wealth of the city. By the end of the 17th century, Saint-Malo was the first harbor of France and the headquarters of the shipping companies. The beautiful private mansions built by the city’s wealthy inhabitants are still a witness of this rich past.

There’s a self-guided tour of the Old City. Starting from Place de Chateaubriand, follow the arrows. The list of interesting things to do in Saint-Malo includes:

  • Walk the ancient ramparts that protect the old city
  • Fort National (when low tide), built by Vauban and Garangeau (1689)
  • Petit Bé Fort (when low tide), built also 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

For dinner, we recommend Bouche en Folie (14 rue du Boyer), a charming little restaurant with a pleasant terrace to eat outside. Here, the chef picks the best seasonal produce to prepare a cuisine that is light, fresh, and very tasty.

Day 4 | Cancale – Mont St Michel

Early morning at Le Brand Bé

Day 4 of this Brittany road trip 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) is buried, 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 was however placed on the wall behind the tomb 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.

The place also provides an incredible panorama of Saint-Malo from the beach.

GOOD TO KNOW: You can only visit the Grand Bé a few hours a day when there’s low tide. Roughly, you will have an access window of 3 hours. For this, refer to the low tide time of the day and add 1h30 before and after this reference time. This is your time window to visit the Grand Bé.

Back to St. Malo, take a second coffee (and perhaps a second breakfast) before leaving the city to Cancale.

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 18h centuries arrived at the tables of the King and nobles twice a week by special courier.

Cancale is a small village that can be visited in a couple of hours or so. The houses along the quays were in the past the fishermen’s houses whilst the houses set back in the village were the houses of the shipowners and nobles.

DID YOU KNOW? In Cancale, they harvest 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) yet. Cancale’s specialty is the huître plate / flat oyster (Ostrea Edulis), the only oyster known and eaten until the 19th century. Due to intensive harvesting, today 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 price of the oyster depends on the kind of oyster and its size (from Nº1 to Nº5 /Nº4).

Huitres Plates
Huitres Creuses

Feeling hungry? You can take a quick lunch at one of the restaurants in the port or – for a more relaxing option – go to Crêperie L’Hirondelle (116 rue du Port, Cancale), a cool address for a casual lunch. The owner has won many regional culinary awards and the galette aux sardines is a must!

Afternoon at Mont St. Michel

From Cancale, drive to Mont St. Michel, where you are going to spend the last night of this Brittany road trip. For a unique stay, book one night at Auberge Saint-Pierre, a 14th-century half-timbered house listed historical monument located on Mont St Michel tidal island. Enjoy the charm of this ancient hotel with exposed beams and period furniture in the most magical setting.

Click here to book your stay at Auberge Saint-Pierre, Mont St. Michel

Day 5 | Mont St. Michel (in Normandy)

Day 5 of this Brittany road trip is dedicated to visit Mont St. Michel. Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy is the wonder of the Western World, and one of the most spectacular sites in France.

Explore the medieval abbey, visit the bay with a local guide and taste Mont St. Michel’s special dishes like the omelet by La Mère Poulard or the Lamb (AOP) Prés salés du Mont-Saint-Michel. For the history and what to see and do at Mont St. Michel, head to this post.

This road trip in Brittany ends here, in one of France’s most beautiful sites. If you have 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!

Click here for other Road Trips

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