During the frequent wars that devastated other cities in the Middle Ages, the merchants who ruled Dinan got rich selling stuff to whichever camp had the upper hand, well aware that loyalty to any side—be it the French, the English, or the Breton—would eventually lead to the destruction of their homes. The strategy worked: today Dinan is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Brittany. Although there's no escaping the crowds here in summer, in the off-season or early morning Dinan feels like a time-warped medieval playground.

Along Place des Merciers, Rue de l'Apport, and Rue de la Poissonnerie, take note of the splendid gabled wooden houses. Rue du Jerzual, which leads to Dinan's harbor, is divided halfway down by the town walls and the massive Porte du Jerzual gateway; it’s lined with 15th- and 16th-century warehouses that have been converted into restaurants, boutiques, and crafts shops. In summer, you can take a boat trip down the Rance River to St-Malo (€32.80 round-trip 08–25–13–81–00), or head upstream to the medieval abbey of St-Magloire, and learn how Napoléon canalized the Rance to enable French boats to cut across to the Atlantic, thereby avoiding English warships in the Channel (€13.50 round-trip www.vedettejamaniv.com). Above the harbor, near Porte St-Malo, is the leafy Promenade des Grands Fossés, the best-preserved section of the town walls, which leads to the castle.

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