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Dinan or St Malo?

Am throwing caution to the wind and have begun planning a notional trip to France in Oct/Nov 2021. Whether my good judgement and common sense are going out the window as well remains to be seen ... ie am not booking anything that can't be cancelled without penalty.
Am tentatively planning 3 or 4 nights in the vicinity of Dinan or St Malo - intending to use one as a base for exploring the coast of Brittany and Mont St Michel before heading on to Bayeux for a week to explore the D-Day sites. We'll have just come from 5-7 days in the Loire Valley.
Question is: which would be the better choice as a strategic location for a few days? After a cursory look I'm leaning towards Dinan - looks like a charming little place for evening strolls once the day's touring is done but am open to other suggestions at this point.
We generally favor self-catering accommodations but for short stays such as this one we're open to hotels or B&B's if anyone has a favorite to recommend. Tx.

Posted by
27447 posts

The other places you want to see will be a factor in terms of practicality. At the time of my summer 2017 trip, St.-Malo was more touristy, so much so that it bugged me. On the other hand, I think others have found more actual sights to see in St-Malo, and walking a wall is always fun. I have no idea what parking/driving conditions are like in either place. Other towns in that area I enjoyed include Dinard (across the river from St-Malo), Rennes (larger), Vitre and Fougeres.

I assume you'll have a car and that you have an intense interest in the Normandy invasion. Otherwise, I'd suggest that you redistribute your time a bit; a week seems a rather lengthy stay in Bayeux.

In case it's of interest: There's a relatively new museum in Falaise (south of Caen) that focuses on the war's impact on civilians. It includes a lot of coverage of the Resistance. The museum is very modern and English-accessible. Falaise itself looked as if it had been totally obliterated during the war and rebuilt in modern style. I didn't go looking for sites related to the Falaise Pocket, but there may be something there.

Posted by
6113 posts

Dinan is a larger place than I would usually stay in, but either that or the interesting historical port of St Malo, the charming seaside resort of Dinard or the pretty inland small town of Dol-de-Bretagne would all be good bases to explore the area. I was there in early June, so off season and it wasn’t too busy.

(I found MSM to be the low point of a 6 week trip to France - I stayed in Pontorson which was ok but not the prettiest place in the area.)

Posted by
8242 posts

We spent 4 nights in an apartment near the beach side wall in St. Malo a few years ago in May. It was off season and while the wonderful small restaurants were open, there were not huge crowds. Snapshots here:
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2020/11/24/all-the-light-we-can-see-st-malo/
We were using public transport only and I took the bus to Dinan for an afternoon and we walked to St-Servan. St. Malo right on the sea, with the amazing shifts in tides and the ability to walk out to the offshore islands at low tide was amazing. I would definitely choose it. The dining is also excellent; do your homework on that and reserve ahead as these tiny independent restaurants fill up even off season and the touristy restaurants on the landside wall are fairly mediocre.

We did a last day side trip and night at Carnac to see the neolithic sites there -- also an amazing day. There are snapshots of that on the same photo journal site as the link above. This is a beautiful part of the world. I found Dinan less interesting than St. Malo but you are going to be fine either way.

Posted by
3342 posts

I just posted a comment on the "Small Expectations - Big Surprises" topic about a fascinating WW2 site near Saint-Malo. We stayed in Saint-Malo after a trip that included Reims (Surrender Museum), Bastogne, and Bayeux. In September 2019, S-M didn't feel all that touristy, and we enjoyed walking around the immediate area so much that we never made it to Dinan.

Walking along the ramparts at high tide was a chance to witness nature at its visceral best.

If you're considering Saint-Malo, read "All The Light We Cannot See" - not mandatory!

Posted by
14288 posts

I thought watching the tide change at Saint-Malo was fascinating. Really, to see the 3 small islets surrounded by water and then being able to walk out to them at low tide was amazing. As others mentioned, the wall walk was excellent. The good thing about staying in Saint-Malo is you will have time to work around the tides to see the 3 islets.

I've only spent a couple of hours in Dinan and it was during some kind of school holiday in May and was over-run with highschoolers, lol.

I was on a Road Scholar tour and stayed in Hotel Oceania Saint-Malo. It was very nice, had a lovely breakfast but the best part was the location. Although it was just outside the city wall it was beachfront with a great view of the water from the breakfast room. It's not normally what I would choose but I would go back there for the location.

Since it sounds like you've got a WWII interest, there is a Memorial 39/45 that's an old bunker just outside the city wall. I did not have enough time to get to it so no personal experience.

https://www.saint-malo-tourisme.co.uk/explore/local-history/culture-and-heritage/museums/memorial-39-45-1567584

Posted by
8242 posts

The tide and how they manage it is a sight to behold. We walked to Sainte-Servan at low tide and it was cool to see the way they have the boats resting on outriggers and keel at low tide:
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/saint-servan-and-the-search-for-the-elusive-tour-solidor/
There is a power station at the mouth of the Rance that harnasses the power of these enormous tides. I have never been anywhere where the tidal range is so great. And of course it is fun to walk out to the islands off St. Malo when the tide is low and for summer swimming there is an enormous swimming pool structure on the beach to capture the water at high tide so people have plenty of room to swim and dive at low tide.

Posted by
14288 posts

"there is an enormous swimming pool structure on the beach to capture the water at high tide so people have plenty of room to swim and dive at low tide'

And it is SO bizarre at high tide to see the diving board sticking up out of the water with no clue that there is a swimming pool underneath!

Posted by
391 posts

We stayed in a hotel Dinan and used it as a base. If I was doing it again or repeat in the future, I'd choose Dinan again. Parking is plentiful on lots adjoining the town. To me St Malo was a nice place to visit for a few hours, but I wouldn't want to use it as a base during busier times of the year (Oct/Nov might be ok). In Dinan we were able to go out and come back during the day, parking might be harder to come by if you are staying in St Malo. Dinan gets very quiet at nite (we were there in Sept) as the day-trippers leave but there were enough restaurants to have a variety to choose from.

Posted by
735 posts

St Malo! When i can travel that is all we have on our list, go to St Malo. It a perfect weekend get away from Guernsey, a beautiful town, great beaches and sea swimming, walking, buses are easy and the crepes and cider are delicious. Nothing wrong with Dinan but really love St Malo

Posted by
427 posts

I'd recommend Dinard, across the Rance estruary from St. Malo. I liked visiting St. Malo, but it felt a little like Disneyland, parking well outside the reconstructed historical core (as most do since closer lots often are full) and taking the little shuttle bus to the area within the ramparts. Also, traffic in St. Malo can be a real headache, as can the numerous tourists, though that should be less of a problem for you in November.

You travel between Dinard and St. Malo by driving across a dam that contains one of the world's largest tidal power generation facilities (Usine marémotrice de la Rance), which takes advantage of the remarkable tidal amplitude experienced in the area (ranging from a mean of 8 meters to a maximum in the area of almost 14 meters). .

Dinan is fine for a visit, but a bit far from most touristic things other than the medieval part of Dinan itself.

Jennifer above mentioned Pontorson near Mt. St. Michel. If you would be interested, there's a comparatively little-visited American WWII cemetery about 10 km east-southeast of Pontorson near the little town of Saint James. It's called the Brittany American Cemetery although it's located about 1 km on the Normandy side of the Brittany/Normandy border. We stayed in the area a few months ago and it was gratifying to see a few dozen French visitors on a blustery, chilly, and wet day paying their respects for the sacrifices of three-quarters of a century ago.

(Mnemonic device if you have trouble remembering which is Dinard and which is Dinan: Di nard is to the nord of Dinan)

Posted by
2906 posts

Thanks everyone, I appreciate all of the input. You've given me a lot to consider ... or reconsider as the case may be. I'll be taking another look at St Malo and Dinard based on your suggestions.
I especially value the input regarding off-the-beaten-path excursions to some of the less visited sites in the area. One of our reasons for spending a full week in Normandy is to be able meander around the countryside and explore exactly those sorts of places, so if you have any more recommendations along those lines I'd love to hear about them.
Thanks again.

Posted by
391 posts

One of our reasons for spending a full week in Normandy is to be able meander around the countryside and explore exactly those sorts of places, so if you have any more recommendations along those lines I'd love to hear about them.

You need to get the Michelin Green Guide. It covers just about every town in the area and also has some suggested tour routes.

Posted by
1172 posts

One of our reasons for spending a full week in Normandy is to be able
meander around the countryside and explore exactly those sorts of
places, so if you have any more recommendations along those lines I'd
love to hear about them.

Well I'll second the recommendation for the Saint James American Cemetery. It is almost as large as the American Normandy Cemetery, and has much fewer visitors. While on the subject of cemeteries, there are many cemeteries in Normandy other than the American one, including several British ones near Bayeux. My favorites are the Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers (very small and tranquil), and the Pierrepont German military cemetery in Orlandes (not to be confused with the German Cemetery in La Cambre, which most people visit). The latter has around twice the buried dead as the two American cemeteries, and is very peaceful. I visit the Normandy area every year or two for over a week (this year being the exception), and there is always a lot to see. Other things include the many small Calvados distilleries, smaller towns, and lots of off-the-beaten-path WWII battle sights that most tourists overlook. My next trip I hope to see more sights around Cherbourg, which is conspicuously absent from most tour guides.

Posted by
2906 posts

Bill G and PharmerPhil: thanks for the tips. Much appreciated.

Posted by
14288 posts

Although it is not completely off the tourist radar, I thought Pegasus bridge was amazing. I do recommend you watch old film The Longest Day before you travel. It gives you some sense of how unmaneuverable the gliders were that landed there at Pegasus Bridge, then when you visit the sight you will marvel at how close they came to the bridge (there are concrete posts marking the landing points). Amazing. Then walk across the bridge and have a beer or coffee at Cafe Gondree which has signs saying it was the first cafe and family to be liberated on DDay. I was there in 2017 was told that "Madame",the daughter who was 5 at the time of the liberation, was behind the counter.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9_Gondr%C3%A9e

I liked the small old fashioned museum at Arromanches regarding the Mulberry Harbor then also thought walking around the German gun batteries at Longue-sur-Mer just south of there was interesting as well.

Posted by
2906 posts

Thanks Pam - I appreciate all of the great suggestions.

Posted by
12193 posts

When I went on a loop that included both I started one day in Beyeux, drove to MSM for the day. Stayed in Cancale (where I could watch the tide). The next day day I visited St. Malo in the morning then went on to Dinan as a base for other sights in the area. I would have liked to hike out to the islets at low tide but I only walked the wall, waded in the sea and walked the smallish beach, then had lunch before moving on. I also missed the museum in St. Malo.

Inside the wall itself seems very tourist oriented. The center is hotels, restaurants and gift shops. Dinan seemed a little more like a place people actually live. An old center, a newer port area and a street market day. They've had a fire in the old center since I was in Dinan. I'm not sure if any of the old buildings were lost?