Road Tripping continued…
Wednesday-Friday, June 4-7, 2019
Instead of a making a day trip we decided to spend the night in a quintessential medieval village: Dinan (formerly called Saint-Sauveru). [In the map below Lézardrieux is in the upper left where you see one of the rivers, and Dinan is far to the right at the end of the river next to St. Malo.]
Within an hour or so driving we reached this medieval jewel.
Founded in the 1st century on the banks of the Rance river, Dinan would grow into a commercial hub. Exporting food crops, and later hemp, cloth merchants became prosperous during the 12th and 14th centuries. A healthy middle class emerged and became more powerful thanks to the support of Jean the 3rd who granted the town special privileges to curry the bourgeoisie’ favor.
The town also attracted the reigning dukes: In the late 1300s Duke John IV built the Château de Dinan (unfortunately closed for renovations); and, in the late 1400s Duke Francoise II approved the building of a town hall and a municipal tower. In 1500 Duchess Anne gave them a bell, converting it to a belfry, one you can climb, which Max did (I went only part way up not wanting to be on the open-air balcony at the tippy top).
Of course, if there’s a decent-size town, there’s a good-size religious building. Dinan’s is a lovely one named St. Saviour’s Church.
A Crusader, the knight Rivallon le Roux, a member of the Lords of Dinan family, made a promise to himself to build a church if he returned from the Crusades. He did return, remembered his pledge, and called the church Saint-Sauveur.
Behind it an English garden flows to the town wall, built in the late 1700s,
where peering from one of the towers
you see the old town spread out below you.
Our first taste of Brittany’s famous crepes occurred here (Max eyeing our targeted lunch spot…)
and we quickly became hooked as we had crepes for both lunch and dinner. I really don’t know how these French folk stay so slim. If they’re not eating crepes or croissants, they’re eating a baguette the size of a bat. And, let’s not forget the cheese AND the wine. It’s tough trying not to follow in their footsteps.
We loved the medieval-ness of the town but a 21st century event really made our stay magical. Our hotel happened to be adjacent to the Jacobin Theater, During a quick scouting of the area Max noticed a dance performance being staged the one night we were in town. Figuring dance would allay any issues of not speaking French, we bought two tickets.
If you EVER get the oppportunity to see “Du Désir D’Horizons” (Desire for Horizons) by Salia Sanou, GO. Being modern dance the first minute or so when a lead performer just pretty much moved one finger or a toe I thought, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be a long evening…’. Twenty seconds later I sat in awe and for the next 60 minutes watched chaos made beautiful by eight dancers whose limbs darted, crashed, and swayed across the stage. Minamalistic music added to the raw power on stage punctuated every now and then with some speech. http://www.saliasanou.net/new/du-desir-dhorizons-2
I’ll remember Dinan for its ancientl setting, but more so from the magnificent performace we were fortunate to see.
The next morning we left for St. Malo on the eastern edge of the Côtes d’Armor. This city is a favorite for sailors, as well as tourists.
We parked in the underground garage next to the old city and stopped to take note of an interesting sailboat moored along the town quay. Conversing with one of the crew aboard we discovered it was used for research, spending three months to three years at sea depending on the project. They were prepping the boat for their next excursion: studying microplastics, beginning in the Thames. Another reminder of the harm we’re doing to our world.
With that sobering thought we journeyed back in time to the 12th century when the fortifcation of this Ducal town began with construction of impressive walls.
In the late 14th century a castle, Château de Saint Malo, was added and it’s here we visited the city’s History Museum. Since most of it was in French and the displays seemed a bit dusty, we were in and out within the hour. Yet, we did grasp an understanding of the importance of cod fishing for the area. The ships would leave St. Malo for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Each ship carried 20 dories, each manned by a crew of two who would catch the cod and then return to the mothership to offload. Not a job I’d want.
Back outside we explored a bit more, first stopping in for a coffee at a restaurant made famous for its highly unusual decor.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw one item hanging in the window:
Ellen, Liza and Tracy, do you remember your Patty Playpal :) ?
Fortified, we joined the busloads of tourists checking out shops and eateries along cobblestone streets. Then we escaped the masses by climbing the steps to the lovely promenade on the impressive town walls wreathing the old city.
During our wandering Max eyes lit upon a fruit we’d been searching for: pomegranites!
Thanks to our friends Sue and Carol W. we’ve been making two delicious quinoa meals, one requiring the bulbous seeds of those lovely pink globes.
Yet, after Max started picking several out of the crate, the proprieter came running towards us stating they weren’t for sale. And, it’s then we looked at the storefront and discovered it’s a cafe selling smoothies (with a sign stating ‘please don’t touch the fruit’). In other words, they, too, were using them as a key ingredient…
This town definitely deserved more than the cursory few hours we allotted, but having seen Dinan and anxious to continue our explorations elsewhere, we returned to our car and headed for less Disneyesque views.
Our final stop of the day involved the amazing display of this coast’s tidal waters. Several cruisers have recommended the port of Paimpol as a unique opportunity to experience the complete draining of a harbor. However, we subsequently heard stories that made us rethink heading there with our deep-draft boat. Basically, there is no margin of error if you miss the high water mark to enter the port. To paraphrase British sailor Mike’s experience, whom we met in Guernsey, and who misread the tide tables and had to beat a hasty retreat to deep water: “when you can see the eyes of the crabs under your keel you realize it’s not a good time to be there.”
Which is why we opted for the safe ‘cruise’ on land where happy boats float on one side of the lock…
while the other side is not so likely to float one’s boat.
And, after witnessing the incoming sailboats endeavoring to dock alongside or in berths, I am so willing to wait for the perfect tide + current combo, or as perfect as we can get them.
It’s no wonder this area breeds excellent sailors. Like we did in the Channel Islands, we have to plan our exits and entrances to coincide with the tide and current.
If we ever think of going against the current at its peak all we have to do is remember watching a sailboat trying to dock recently. First it appeared as if they’d be coming alongside with no problem only to see them moving horizontally as all on aboard quickly assess how to get the boat pointing back towards the dock. Once they manage that, it’s a fight to land without the bow hitting the pontoon first. When they’ve finally reached the dock and someone is able to jump off (or toss their lines to a person on the dock) and wrestle to slowly inch the boat closer to finally allow all to breathe a sigh of relief and the captain cut the engine.
I know it sounds crazy but we’ve both been helped (thankfully) and have helped boats to dock. At times a boat feels like a bucking stallion. And, god help you if you mess up tieing the lines!
Thursday was our last day with the car. Heading back towards Lézardrieux we stopped at the enchanting Fôret de Paimpont. The forest is known for its ties to the Legend of King Arthur and Camelot and his sidekick Merlin (and Max).
Supposedly he found Excalibur here. Although, I think it more likely he located some good cider and an abbey.
The Paimpont Abbey sits next to a lovely lake and dominates the small village. Like most of these religious structures it began as a much smaller version in the 7th century when missionaries seemed to flood the area. The Normans knocked it down, resulting in a rebuild during the 9th century. Four hundred years later, the abbey acquired its Gothic style with add-ons and renovations occurring during subsequent centuries.
Similar to other churches we’ve seen in Brittany, the roof resembles an upside-down ship’s hull. And, it’s made of wood versus stone, which is unusual.
While in Paimpont we met a charming Irish cyclist who uses the summers to recoup from a hectic winter of musical work including teaching and touring with musicals. Ger (short for Gerald) had two weeks to explore this area and was making the most of it without brutalizing himself. We wish he had more time or was closer in his circuit to JUANONA for he would have been great to have aboard for a night of conversation.
We then headed almost due west to Jossselin and its Château. In the 11th century a viscount built a fortified town here in the Oust Valley; but, it didn’t last too, too long because the English King Henry II (same guy who built the Dover Castle and took Eleanor de Acquitaine as his 2nd wife) destroyed most of the château in 1168 when the feudal Bretons opposed him.
Two hundred years later the rebirth of what was left of the building began after a swap between the Count of Alençon and the High Constable of France. The latter, Olivier Clisson, proceeded to strengthen the defense by adding three towers along the riverside
and one more as a stand-along (which looks like a perfect Rampuzel residence if you note the little red door).
What amazed me, though, is that the current owners are related to that original Clisson. Can you imagine someone doing their geneology being able to trace it back to this house?! When Olivier died in 1407 the renovations continued via his grandson, Alain IX de Rohan, and great-grandson, Jean II.
However, once again, revenge caused massive damage to the place in 1629. This time that marvelous spiritual guidance, i.e., religion, was the culprit when Cardinal de Richelieu didn’t take too kindly to rebellious Calvinist Henri de Rohan. Rumor has it the Cardinal snidely quipped to Henri, “Sir, I have just scattered your skittles.” And, he most obviously wasn’t talking about the candy.
Daily tours were available, and we joined the group after the guide provided a quick background. ‘After’ because it was all in French.
With no photography allowed inside we contented ourselves with exterior shots
and referencing an English brochure.
In the write-up we learned…
The ‘Battle of the Thirty’ in 1351 occurred close to Josselin during the ‘Deux Jeannes’ war (Brittany’s Civil War). The fame derives from being seen as the most chivalrous battle in history (Encyclopedia Britannica.com). It began when the governor of Brittany (supporting the French House of Blois) challenged the Captain of Ploëmel (supporting House of Montfort) to a fight composed of 30 soldiers per side. The governor eventually won with both sides suffering heavy casualties while ensuring the prisoners of the losing faction were treated well and released (The House of Montfort eventually won the overall war.)
A more recent tidbit appeared in the form of a contemporary portrait of Duke Alain de Rohan, father of the current owner. I hadn’t heard of him but some of you may have: his friend, the American artist Trafford Klots (1913-76), painted it in 1966. Just one more reminder of the longevity of Olivier’s DNA…
I convinced Max to purchase the joint ticket so we could visit The Musée de Poupées, a collection of puppets and dolls by Herminie de Rohan during the 19th century with more recent donations reflecting current times.
Having read in THE LONELY PLANET guidebook it was, and I quote: “more interesting that it sounds!” I thought it could be fascinating.
Hah! Fascinating if you, too, collect dolls. However, it provided some light-hearted (and extremely fast) viewing resulting in naming some of them myself, such as…
The guilty one…
Bad Hair Day Lady
Temper Tantrum Tess
Juvenile on my part, I know. Okay, EXTREMELY childish.
CHÂTEAU DE LA ROCHE-JAGU
Our last stop made us wish it could have been a longer one. On the outskirts of Ploëzal Château de la Roche-Jagu sits above the Trieux River, only a couple miles up from where we’re docked in Lézardrieux. Built as part of a ten-fortress defense in the 15th century, it’s the only one still standing.
And, it’s stunning with its stoic facade juxtaposed against lovely gardens.
Renovated by the Côtes de l’Armor county council, the château and grounds host exhibitions and performances. Our late arrival precluded anything but a brief visit, but we met a teacher who takes his young students here annually. He kindly walked with us to the magnificent viewing platform and explained this location was strategically important for hampering any Viking raids coming up river. Standing where we were it was easy to understand how.
After he left we strolled through some gardens. In one we spotted an Insect Hotel.
A bit bizarre, but, then, we’d seen one earlier in the day just outside of the Château de Josselin.
Hey, if I were a bug I’d be booking in at one of these hotels that sit within buzzing range of a château.
Our time in Lézardrieux was coming to a close with a forecast of a good combo of wind and tide. However, our next port isn’t too far from here. And, we’re looking forward to more adventures in Brittany!
Next, more medieval-ness and an amazing sailing race…