Dinon

The little walled Breton town of Dinon is, in my view, one of the most wonderful places in France .

Looking down on Dinon's ancient river port
Looking down on Dinon’s ancient river port

In the place where I come from ancient monuments were marked out in the landscape – in terraced hillsides, in lines of trees, in clearings in the bush, in midden pits and formations of rock. Homes and villages were not built to last. So to me the ancient towns of France are always a source of wonder.

Most of the town is perched on a hilltop overlooking the River Ronce far below, where boats lie at anchor in the beautiful Port of Dinon.

A street in Dinon
A street in Dinon

The town’s narrow streets and squares are lined with timbered houses, some dating back to the 13th century. Stars among Dinon’s architectural marvels are the Jacobin’s Theatre which was built in 1224, the flamboyant Gothic St Malo’s Church and Le Château de Dinon with its fortified walls and walkways.

Like all French towns, Dinon is more than the sum of its bricks and mortar. Its long history includes great events and great people. Numbered among its great people is one of the most famous sons of France.

Born in Dinon in 1320, Bertrand de Guesclin, the Eagle of Brittany, distinguished himself as a French Military Commander during the Hundred Years’ War. He was appointed Constable (or chief military leader) of France in 1370 and served in the post until his death. De Guesclin’s body is buried at Saint-Denis in the tomb of the Kings of France but his heart remains at the Basilica of Saint-Sauveur at Dinon.

 

St Malo

Positioned right on the edge of Brittany in the west of France, with views out over the English Channel and surrounded by thick stone ramparts, is Saint Malo, home of adventurers,  sea-farers and a fiercely independent breed of  people.

The beach at Saint Malo
The beach at Saint Malo

Jacques Cartier was born in Saint Malo in 1491. He had already completed many expeditions when, in 1535, he sailed up the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec and laid the foundations for the French settlement in Canada.

It was in Saint Malo that the notorious Corsairs made their home.  The Corsairs were to all intents and purposes pirates. However, their targets were ships belonging to countries at war with France and their piracy was authorised by the French King. The plundered ships were sold at auction and a portion of the proceeds went to the Corsair Captain. As they acted on behalf of the King, the Corsairs were exempt from the penalty for piracy which was death by hanging.

Saint Malo has a long tradition of autonomy. From 1490 to 1493, it declared itself an independent republic, taking the motto, “not French, not Breton but Malouin”.

The pride in belonging to Saint Malo and being part of its continuing traditions and connection to the sea persists even today. There are always watchers on the ramparts, people on the sands, boats bobbing in the bays and ships setting sail towards the horizon.