A Weekend Bicycling Adventure, Rennes to Dinan and St. Malo, Part II

By Maggie LaCoste

Dinan is the perfect medieval town, and La Maison Pavie was the perfect place to recooperate from the day’s biking adventures.  From the moment we arrived at this 15th century gem, we knew that all of the day’s efforts to make it to Dinan were worth it.  In a town of charming small gites and bed and breakfasts, La Maison Paviestands out as one of the best.  In a town that is oozing with history, a stay at La Maison Pavie makes you feel as if you are part of history.  The 15th century building is named after French explorer Auguste Pavie, who was born in this house and grew up in Dinan.  Pavie was an early adventurer to Siam and Indochina, and went on the become France’s first ambassador to Laos.  Pavie’s travels to these areas served as the inspiration for the renovation of the building in 2010 by Jerome and Camille Bidaut.

Street view of La Maison Pavie with original exterior

Jerome is the consummate host, handsome, charming and welcoming to the guests who are lucky enough to reserve one of five guest rooms at the B and B. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Simon Baker, the star of the American hit show The Mentalist, so I suspect he gets many comments about that.  After our exceptionally long day of bicycling, I did think it was funny that our room was located on the very top floor, up three flights of progressively steeper stairs. The last set of stairs was so steep that you could only walk down them one step at a time!  But when you got to the top of the stairs, it was like you were transported to another time. On the one side of the room was an incredible view of the cathedral and quiet square, on the other side was a view of the garden and the rooftops of Dinan.  A giant canopy bed and an oversized bathtub were all we needed to see to know that we would have no problem soaking away our aches from the day, and have a great night’s sleep!

Luang Prabang room at La Maison Pavie

I  poured a glass of wine and enjoyed the view of the square, and reflected back on the day’s events. Traveling by bike is always an adventure, and it’s the adventure that provides experiences you would never have as a regular tourist.  The adventure makes your hotel of choice and dinner even more rewarding at the end of the day.  La Maison Pavie was the perfect indulgence for the day my husband and I set our all time distance record, 87 km.  Actually I think we bested our previous record by almost 20 km!  We went to dinner that night, maps in hand, looking forward to planning the next day, what we thought would be an easy day from Dinan to St. Malo.  Once again, little did we know!

We planned to take the voie verte north about 30 km to the seaside town of Dinard, and then take the ferry from Dinard to St. Malo.  With such an easy ride, we decided to spend the morning sightseeing in Dinan, walking the ramparts and going to the market before our leisurely ride to Dinard.  After a great night’s sleep and breakfast, we had a perfect morning sightseeing in Dinan, but a morning there is just not nearly enough.

The streets of old Dinan

We bought some snacks at the market, and started making our way to the Dinan Office of Tourism to pick up some brochures and double check the ferry schedules.  The Dinan Office of Tourism is a great stop for information on the entire Brittany region.  We picked up some brochures of particular attractions we were interested in, and then inquired about the ferry schedule from Dinard to St. Malo.  I suspected a problem when the staff person helping us looked at the schedule and then quickly went to her supervisor for help.  It seems that for some reason I still don’t understand, there was no ferry that day.  No one in the tourism office really understood why there was no ferry either, but they confidently assured us that there was none, and that we would need to make other plans to get across the bay from Dinard to St. Malo.  So much for our quiet and easy day of biking.

We consulted our maps.  Bicycle routes always seem to look so easy on maps.  I had a feeling that this would probably not be the case though.  We had made plans to meet John and Veronica in St. Malo at 3:30 to return the bikes, but had planned on a leisurely ride across the bay by boat, not by bicycle. We had no idea what the condition of the bridge was:  was there a bike path, was it safe, was it going to be crazy busy like the Loire bridge at St. Nazaire?  So we did what we always do when presented with a challenge by bike, we just started pedaling.  We left town via the port, and sadly looked at our last views of beautiful Dinan. Before we knew it, we were back on the peaceful voie verte with lots of morning boat traffic on the river.

Boat traffic along the canal in Dinan

About a half hour after leaving Dinan, near the town of  Taden, the voie verte deviates from the river, heading north towards Dinard.  This was a bit concerning as we were also heading a bit west, knowing that we would need to ultimately head back east to cross the bridge.  But it was a beautiful day, and we were at least headed in the right direction, and we were on a safe and car-free voie verte.  The bike paths were packed dirt, so we were able to make pretty good time.  The closer we got to Dinard, the busier the traffic and more construction there was on cross roads from the bike path.  We knew that we needed to watch for a road to start heading east after the town of Le Bourgneuf, but before we knew it, we were in the suburbs of Dinard.  When we saw the sign for the port of Dinard, we knew we had missed our turn, and now had to double back about 12 km to connect with the bridge.  The problem was, the back tracking was a steady grade up hill for about 10 km!

We did get a beautiful view of the seaside town of Dinard at low tide, but it was hot, we were hungry and we only had a liter of water left, so biking up hills was not a good thing.  At least we had the beautiful sight of Dinard to look at.

Bicycling by Dinard at low tide

I thought it funny that one of my last online French lessons had “barrage” as a vocabulary word, otherwise we may never have found the bridge to cross the Rance!  When we saw the sign for Barrage de la Rance, I knew that we were getting so close to St. Malo, but close on a bike is always a relative term.  The great news was that there was a pedestrian walk way over the bridge.  The bad news was that the pathway ended at the end of the bridge.  The great news was that you could see and almost reach out and touch St. Malo at the end of the bridge.  The bad news was that you couldn’t get there without going up a road with way too many SSS curves.

With no shade, little water and the early afternoon sun beating down on us, we started walking up the hill from the bridge. Looking for something positive about the situation, I commented that we were safe, and didn’t need to fear for our lives crossing the bridge, which we both agreed was a big comfort.  We told funny stories up the hill that day, and it did help make the time go by.  After seemingly forever, we made it to the crest of the hill, and then had at least a one mile ride downhill into the town of St. Malo, with at least 20 minutes to spare before meeting John and Veronica.

We arrived at the train station hot, dirty from the dirt pathways, thirsty and very hungry. I drank 2 bottles of water and an Orangina in less than 5 minutes, then ate a bag of very salty potato chips!  We bought a bottle of wine to drink on the train back to Rennes, along with the cheese and pate we never had time to eat for lunch.  We reflected back on the 48 hours that we spent in Brittany and agreed that despite the challenges, we loved every minute of it. The next time, we will just make sure that the ferry between St. Malo and Dinard is running every day!

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5 Responses to A Weekend Bicycling Adventure, Rennes to Dinan and St. Malo, Part II

  1. Ian April 26, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Excellent blog and most useful in planning our trip to this area in Brittany this Summer. If we decided to take our own bikes, do you think the routes you followed would take ordinary road tyres or would we need the nobbly mountain bike type tyres? Thanks

    • Experience France by Bike April 26, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Hi Ian!

      So happy to hear that you have found some useful information on Brittany! By next year this time, I will have several Brittany e-guides, so hopefully that will help also. Regarding your question on bike tires, there are various opinions on this. I will tell you that if you are planning on biking along any of the canals, you will find that the surfaces vary from new pavement to old pavement to gravel to packed dirt and everything in between. Obviously the more rough the road, the more potential for tire issues. Traveling along canals and towpaths is definitely different than riding along local highways–it is slower traveling, especially if you have panniers,it is harder on your tires and you have a greater chance of skidding out on dirt, gravel with narrow tires. With that said, we see people riding along the canals on road bikes, all terrain bikes and mountain bikes. I don’t think that mountain bikes are necessary, but I personally would not feel comfortable riding long distance along a canal route, towpath or ocean route with sand on a road bike. If you have a normal hybrid-type bike, you should be totally fine. If in doubt about the suitability of your bikes, look at some of the Brittany bike rental companies, like Brittany Borders and compare your tires to their rentals. If they are comparable, you should be fine.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions!

      Maggie LaCoste

  2. Nigel September 23, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Hi,
    There is a cheap & frequent ferry from Dinard to StMalo, which means you can miss out the Barrage if you wish.
    N

    • Experience France by Bike September 23, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Greeting Nigel!

      Yes, you are right, there is a ferry from Dinard to Saint Malo, But it does not operate year-round. We arrived in Dinard the first day in the fall that the ferry was not operating! A small detail that we failed to anticipate. Thanks for reading Experience France by Bike!

      Maggie Lacoste

    • Experience France by Bike September 23, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      Greeting Nigel!

      Yes, you are right, there is a ferry from Dinard to Saint Malo, But it does not operate year-round. We arrived in Dinard the first day in the fall that the ferry was not operating! A small detail that we failed to anticipate. Thanks for reading Experience France by Bike!

      Maggie Lacoste

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