The French have been building strong, beautiful, impressive buildings for more than a thousand years, as have all European people. They discovered how to build gothic cathedrals that continue to amaze us. For centuries they have preserved those buildings and their history. I am always astonished when I find a town center filled with houses built 400 or 500 years ago. The old oak beams may sag, but they don’t give way. People continue to live in these ancient buildings and to locate their small businesses in them. Town fathers and mothers pass laws to protect their heritage and children grow up understanding the importance of their country’s history.
Today I found such a town: Dinan, France. There are blocks of medieval half-timbered buildings (the French word for those houses is “columbage”). And around them, looking practically modern by comparison, is a town of stone buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Dinan is a Rick Steves favorite which is how I discovered it. It’s located 20 or 25 miles from St. Malo, inland and on a river. It’s a busy, active city. There are many appealing small shops and restaurants with a cosmopolitan flair (I had Indian food for lunch). The medieval town is inside intact town walls and covers a large area. As we all know, pictures are better than words, so here are some images I collected while wandering around Dinan earlier today.
The sky was pretty gray this morning when I was taking pictures in Dinan but the sun came out around 4:00 so I went to St. Malo’s old town, hoping for sunset pictures from the top of the wall that surrounds the town. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in just as I did and it was clear there’d be no sunset tonight.
Several of you have written to me about the book All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which I read in January and recommend. Although I’ve been there it was only in reading that book that I learned that St. Malo was almost completely destroyed by American bombs in the effort to drive the Germans out of town following the Normandy invasion. The city inside the walls that we see today was rebuilt after World War 2. The walls that surround the city are wide and run along the shoreline, holding back the English Channel and providing a fine walk with a view over the city. Here are a couple of photos I took a few years ago.