Tuesday seems like a good day to travel; that and our reservation expires today so we probably need to move onto someplace else. At the end of the day we know we will be in Nantes, but how we get there remains to be determined. While we were in Mont St. Michel we noticed a lot of signs for moulin–mussels. We LOVE mussels and go in search of a place in which we can get some. Quick look at the map, short discussion and we deicide to stop in Dinan.
It was an excellent decision.
For the next three days we basically have white space on the schedule. We have one event planned and that is Lunch with Celine (Au Pair number 6/7) on Wednesday (17 July) in Nantes.1 It feels as if we are Columbus sailing west; heading into what may be the end of the Earth. We have looked in a bunch of guidebooks and travel blogs and the part of France we are heading towards is not on the top 10 places to see. If we head south and hit Bordeaux region, then sure. East of Nantes is the Loire valley and that gets props. But that isn’t where we are going, so this will be a tour of discovery and those are the best!
First we have to get out. We are up relatively early, for us anyway. AJ and I head out to get some exercise while Jan preps the house for our departure. Showers then AJ and I head down to the local bakery for some last minute croissants and we are loaded, in the car and on the road by 0930. We retrace the route to Mont St. Michel from yesterday, passing right by the island as we head to Dinan. Traffic is light, the day is nice and we aren’t in a hurry.
We wind our way through the downtown streets of Dinan until we find a parking lot that has some free space. Up to this point, Dinan is like absolutely every other French town. Old buildings, narrow roads, massive traffic, detours not marked on maps. But. When we get out and begin to walk around, it is apparent that this place has its own personality and it is one of the cutest towns we have been to on this trip.
Why? Good question. Glad you asked.
Three reasons. Ramparts, magic buildings and a river.
First are the ramparts which are huge massive walls built to prevent the invading hordes from breaching the city walls. They surround most of the town, though Dinan has grown past the walls. We walked along the walls and could look up into the old town and look at all the magical buildings and then down into the river valley. I would not recommend taking a car through the gates of the wall (which you can do if you take a wrong turn), but they are an excellent walk.
Second are the magical buildings. Which is the only explanation for how buildings this old can be both in such great shape and so damn cute. Well, magic, and perhaps the fact that Dinan made it through a slew of wars without being touched by bombs. Movies try to capture the feeling of living in the past and this seems to be EXACTLY how it would have felt. The streets are lined building after building that all look like they came from central casting.
The last is the river that flows through the valley below. Dinan is built up on a hillside, not at the river, so that when you walk around the ramparts (or if you are living in your chateau), you have a great view of the valley below.
Bottom line is if you want to see a medieval city, cobblestoned streets, timber lined buildings, come to Dinan.
Fine. The city looks great. But part of the reason we came here was to get some mussels. Moulets. And frites. As we wandered the streets we found (in quick succession) an ice cream shop and a restaurant that serves about 30 different types of mussels. We stopped at the place that served the mussels; unfortunately for AJ, they don’t serve a lot else. We sat outside on the main street, order two different bowls of the moulets plus an omelette and waited in anticipation. Two hot pots were deposited in front of Jan and I (plus fries, don’t forget the fries) and they smelled great. A couple of things.
First, the mussels are smaller than what we are used to in the United States and their taste is different as well. Think butter. Little hunks of butter. Second is that both of our dishes were made well. Mussels weren’t over cooked, and the broth that they were cooked in was excellent. One was smoked salmon and cream the other was basil and onions and both of us were attacking both the mussels and the broth. Third is that I’m never cooking mussels again. I’m embarrassed at my attempt to cook the things and apologize to the mussels I have made in the past.
Jan broached the question of the proper way to eat mussels and we did a quick scan around us to see what someone who wasn’t speaking English was doing. We found a table with two older women one of whom was focused on eating while the other prattled away. In French. Check. They were hunched over their bowls (one each) with a half a mussel shell in one hand. They used that half shell to scrape the mussel meat out and then popped it into their mouth. Every third or fourth mussel they would grab a frite (using the ‘non-shell’ hand) and pop it in their mouth. We grabbed us a half shell and went to work.2
As I reached the bottom of my bowl, I wondered about the appropriate way to finish off the bowl. Did I leave the broth (and the juicy bits) at the bottom of the bowl? Did I use the spoon they provided with the mussels to scoop out the broth and the juicy bits? Or did I raise the bowl to my lips, gulp down the broth/juicy bits and then wear the bowl as a hat as I jumped for joy through the city streets. I went with a combo of the first two options.
Then we spent the next two hours hiking through the city streets and along the rampart walls. AJ scored the ice cream, Jan managed to score some shopping and I dreamed of running through the streets with a stone bowl as a hat. Dinan is my new favorite place.
1Which isn’t (spoiler) pronounced as it looks. I was thinking similar to Nancy. I was pronouncing it with two syllables: Nan-tez. I was really wrong. We were corrected and it sounds like it is a one syllable word close to Nountz. Or maybe Naantz. But the vowel in the middle is more ‘o’ than ‘ah.’ And this language is crazy.
2 And if you are wondering, AJ enjoyed his omelette. But this is really about the mussels.