France: Dinan

Day 11  Sunday, October 5, 2014

Relax and Enjoy

Today was our “vacation from vacation” day. We had no big plans and no place we needed to be. We could have decided to sleep late, but if you recall our room is just across a narrow street from the basilica. The bells started ringing at 7:00. That was lovely. At 8:45 they started ringing constantly until 9:00. We were wide awake for breakfast downstairs at 9:00.

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After a delightful breakfast, which included freshly squeezed orange juice, we headed for a walk to see Dinan. This is a medieval walled town that was not damaged in the war. We walked the narrow, winding street that led down to the port on the river. Half-timbered houses line the cobbled streets. Lots of photo opportunities meant getting to stop and rest our knees, as the slope was between 30 and 40 degrees.

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I’m not certain pictures convey how steep the walk to the river and back was. Trust us.

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At the bottom of the hill an open bakery was waiting that served freshly baked kouign-amann (pronouced queen ah mon), which are layers of butter pastry with caramelized sugar.

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Butter, sugar, and flour. And more butter. And more sugar.

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That was fuel for the walk back up the hill. We climbed up to the ramparts to walk along the wall and take in the view of the river Rance and surrounding buildings. Cities fare much better without wars.

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We walked for the top to the bottom and back. Surely we burned off a couple of the calories.

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We thought a visit to the water would be fun, so we headed out to Cap Frehel. This is beautiful countryside with fields of corn, leeks, and cabbage along with apple orchards and some dairy cows. The rocky coastline is dotted with some wide beaches, but where there are no beaches, it’s a steep drop to the water. The view from the cap was dramatic and rather intimidating.

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Vertigo anyone?

For a bit of history that isn’t marked by 1066 or 1944, we hunted down a druid megalith. The 65 huge stones were placed in an organized fashion between 6000 BCE and 2000 BCE, but the meaning of the arrangement was lost on us. There are five east-west rows. We couldn’t read the descriptive markers, but the words in French that we could put together either made the spot a pre-Celtic cemetery, a dance hall, or something in between. It was pretty neat.

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Every stone tells a story.

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Jim found information online that helps translate some of the signage. There is a legend that the fairies who helped carry the stones used to build Mont St. Michel got tired and dropped these stones along the way. Those wacky French!

We took some time this evening to just stroll around Dinan with no particular targets. This is a delightfully petite city. None of the streets follow a straight line, so there are surprises at every turn. We decided to stop at a little restaurant with a sheltered garden eating area. We listened to international music, sipping cider, watching the night fall over the stone buildings with their slate rooftops. This has been yet another wonderful day in France. Yes, talk of the next trip has already begun.

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Cider with its own branded cup

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Good night, Dinan. We think you’re terrific.

France: Cancale and Dinan

Day 10  Saturday, October 4, 2014

Bring on Brittany

It was a tearful farewell to Wilde Kitchen and to Normandy. Sinead said over breakfast that the Bretons are much friendlier than the Normans. We just don’t know how that could be possible. As we drove south along the coast we recounted all of our favorite adventures in Normandy and didn’t even finish before we got to the scenic overlook of Mont St. Michel.

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The Mont in the mist

Mont St. Michel is huge and we got a glimpse of it several times today in the distance. We decided that a glimpse was plenty since we’d heard from several people that a visit isn’t tons of fun. We headed on toward Cancale.

Last winter a very twisty route that started with a link to the finest spice shops in the world led us to making a reservation at Chateau Richeux La Table Le Coquillage http://www.maisons-de-bricourt.com/?page=chateauricheux&souspage=restaurant run by Olivier Roellinger. He is a 3-star Michelin chef who gave up his stars several years ago when his knees were giving him too much trouble. He decided to focus on his love of spices, sustainable farming and fishing, and refurbishing a 1930s mansion that overlooks the Bay of Mont St. Michel. We made the restaurant reservation in January and hoped it would be worth it.

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Can you hear our hearts pounding?

We toured the gardens before going inside and would have been happy if that had been the end of it all. The gardens were a chef’s dream.

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Stonehenge meets herb garden

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Upon entering the mansion we were directed to the outdoor patio area that overlooks the bay. We sat down in a cozy nook on wooden lawn chairs by a little table. Before you can say, “Pinch me. This is amazing!” we were sipping on a guava and champagne drink and a cider drink with homemade ginger syrup and lime. Holy cow were they good. A little amuse bouche arrived consisting of the smoothest, most silky gazpacho in tiny cups, mackerel with Celtic mustard on toothpicks, and a fig-and-something bite on a little spoon. We were off to a great start. They took our orders while we sat outside and overlooked the bay with Mont St. Michel in the distance.

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Seats with a view and a half

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Just a little something to build anticipation

Our table was situated in the center of a huge bay window overlooking the garden and the bay. I guess when you reserve that far ahead you get the best table. Our first courses arrived. Cindy had a bowl of shrimps all sitting upright with their little faces all looking in the same direction. Now we’ve had peel-your-own shrimp many times, but never any that were this delicious. They had a delicate ginger and almost floral herb on them. Whatever it was, it made them each a little gift from the gods.

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Jim had fresh, raw scallops that were thinly sliced with a mustard sauce and roasted beet vinaigrette on them. No problems here yet.

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How pretty is that?

Cindy’s main course was John Dory with a sauce containing fourteen spices, a mango and apple puree, spinach, and squash.

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Amazing!

Jim, who tasted it, declared it was one of the best dishes he had ever eaten ever, ever. Jim’s dish was golden sole with three types of mashed potatoes and candied lemon. Are you salivating yet?

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This wine was Jim’s favorite of the trip.
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So beautiful and so tasty

When those plates were licked, the cheese trolley arrived. They served about ten cheeses—four Norman and six Briton. Each cheese was served with a different accompaniment. The Pont L’Eveque was served with tomato chutney, and the Breque with an apple jelly, etc. As you would expect, we tried them all.

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Some artists work with cheese

After the cheese trolley had moved along, the dessert trolley rolled up. Let me just say that I would want to be the person who pulls up with the all-you-care-to-try dessert trolley. Who wouldn’t greet you with appreciation and adoration? Here goes the list: pistachio cream puffs, pastry with vanilla butter cream, lemon tarts, coffee and pear milkshake, chocolate-covered fig and chocolate cookies, citrus and saffron sorbet, cream puffs with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, and a chocolate and salted caramel tart. There might have been more, but the sugar receptors in our brains short-circuited at this point. Every single item was the best of its type.

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Yes. Yes. Yes.

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We managed to fit back into the car and drove the short way to Cancale to visit the hallowed ground of Roellinger’s spice shop http://www.epices-roellinger.com/. We have no words to describe the smells when one walks in to the shop. The aromas are exotic and heady. They set your brain dancing. We loaded up on some of his treasures and inhaled deeply before stepping back onto the street.

We have now settled into our new home in Dinan (pronounced Dee NON). We are staying at La Maison Pavie  http://www.lamaisonpavie.com/ in the historic center of town next to the Basilica.

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Our Dinan home

Our room is huge and looks out on the square in front of the Basilica on one side and a peaceful garden in the back.

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Church out the front window
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Garden out the back window

We went for a brief walk around the area before a light salad dinner. The “Briton” salad was very similar to the “Normand” salad, but I wouldn’t want to bring that up.

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Briton or Normand? Delish either way.

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The streets of the central area of Dinan are cobbled, as are the sidewalks. One has to pay attention. So far, so good.