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The Discrete Elegance of Dinard

The Discrete Elegance of Dinard

Éric Boucher - 2009-10-16

Biarritz, la Baule, le Touquet, Royan... All these seaside resorts evolved in the second half of the 19th century. Yet Dinard, along with Deauville (but less obtrusive), has undoubtedly been the best in preserving its charm. An achievement accomplished by listing over 400 Villas and buildings - a living example of over 150 years of holiday resort chic.

Dinard is something of a Biarritz of the Armor coast, a sort of Breton Deauville. Its origins go back to Napoleon III with the construction of l'Hôtel de Dinard, now the Grand Hôtel.
Afterwards came the opening of the first bathing establishment on the Plage l'Écluse and (as gambling was just as important as sea-bathing for the opulent bourgeoisie of the Second Empire) a casino.
Then the first villas were built as permanent residences for a few English families seduced by the site's beauty. However the real coming of age for the resort began after the Franco-Prussian (1870) war.
The most elegant residences date back to the last two decades of that century.
 
However one would be hard pushed to describe this eclectic architectural profusion, even if on the whole it is certainly not lacking in style. Sitting above the cliffs and moulded admirably into the landscape, it feels as if someone has transplanted some imposing houses from the Parisian suburbs, of the sort you find in Celle-Saint-Cloud or Vésinet.
Architecturally there is a frenzy of crenelations, turrets, stuccos, half-timbering, stained glass, bow windows and verandas. These multiple combinations create variations from Italian villas and Yorkshire cottages to Louis XIII style pavilions.
With all this kitsch décor Proust described it as "A luxury of cheapness", whilst the aristocratic and financial elite, princes of the Republic and princes of mixed blood all flocked there during the summer months: Gambetta, the Duke d'Audiffret-Pasquier, the Count of Paris, the Rothschilds, Mac-Mahon, Alfonso XVIIIof Spain, Poincaré, American multimillionaires and Russian princes all followed over the next 50 years.
 
Edward VII who was more inured to the French can-cans of 'Gay Paris' rather than nautical pursuits, nevertheless had several stays in Dinard, as the Prince of Wales in 1898 and as King of England in 1903. Legend has it that the German Emperor William II paid an incognito visit in 1899.
Winston Churchill, a young and barely recognisable figure of the man to be, paced up and down its shores rethinking the world. He frequented the seaside town at the beginning of the century and returned in the 1920s, when visiting his villa at Port Breton.
 
This depiction would be incomplete without a reminder of the artists and intellectuals, such as Ernest Renan, Oscar Wilde and Isadora Duncan, who, in Dinard, found a source of respite or inspiration.
As a young girl Agatha Christie swam her first strokes there. In the 1870's the Saint-Énogat area was a meeting place for the Parnassian poets. On returning from a sea trip Debussy composed 'La Mer' on  the organ of Saint-Énogat's church. Jules Verne was another regular visitor to the côte d'Émeraude, often staying in his Le Grondin villa, between Dinard and Saint-Lunaire.
 
But without doubt Dinard left its deepest mark in the mind of Lawrence of Arabia. He lived there with his parents and brothers from 1891 to 1894.
He attended a French school and returned on three occasions between 1906 and 1908. This was the time of Lawrence's education during his twenties. He  would certainly have dreamt of distant horizons whilst gazing at the ramparts of the privateer town of Saint-Malo, on the other side of the River Rance's estuary.
Lawrence then returned once again to Dinard to complement his studies of English fortified castles with that of French fortresses of the crusades period. It was a study that later led him to the Orient in the tracks of the crusaders. 
 
Dinard's heyday came to a close in the inter-war period, particularly with the departure of the English and American communities as a result of the 1929 crash.
So what remains today? It would be vain to imagine a return to the splendours of its yesteryear but Dinard has managed to adapt to modernity without selling its soul to the proponents of mass tourism. It is the first seaside resort in France to have saved its late 19th century architectural heritage by listing over 400 villas and buildings.
The result is an outmoded charm, a kind of luxurious discretion that goes down well with Elle Decoration and Vogue readers. The resort is favoured by the inhabitants of upmarket areas such as Versailles, as a place for relaxation or family vacations. In this respect the ex French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin could spend his 2006 holidays here and lay down his bathing towel on the Plage l'Écluse "in complete simplicity".
 
The largest villas have admittedly been carved up into apartments, yet they are nonetheless left vacant for 10 months every year, just as they were in the good old days.
You can imagine them full of old golf clubs and tennis rackets, shrimping nets, binoculars, naval officer's chests and boat models. Here and there you can find old editions of Henri de Monfreid and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.  The old morning coats and boater hats have been replaced by Ralph Lauren and Lacoste polo shirts, Saint-James pullovers and Aigle Wellington boots (essential for fishing at low tide) and on the beach the teenage girls have the sweet look of Rohmer's* heroines.
Blue and white stripes are everywhere: horizontal ones on the swimming costumes and parasols and vertical ones on bathing cabins and deckchairs. Dinard is a resort that never tires of self parody. 
* The Summer Tale (Le Conte d'Été), by Eric Rohmer (1996), playful teenage games, was filmed in Dinard.
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
Office de Tourisme
2 bd Féart 35800 Dinard.
Telephone:+33 (0)2 99 46 94 12
Fax: +33 (0)2 99 88 21 07
Internet site: www.ville-dinard.fr
 
Walks
We recommend three routes which take you past the prettiest villas, alongside the granite cliffs and include some beautiful views across the sea.
La pointe de la Malouine walk 
Clair-de-Lune walk 
La pointe du Moulinet walk 
For other walks and rambles visit www.ot-dinard.com
 
Bathing
Dinard has 3 large, beautiful beaches of which l’Écluse is the most central, best known and most frequented; Le Prieuré, facing Saint-Malo; whilst Saint-Énogat, our favourite, is situated below some beautiful villas with a magnificent view over the reefs and isles.
If the water is too cold for you (quite understandable!), try the superb swimming pool above Plage l’Écluse. Its 1970's building has not aged well but it has an Olympic sized pool with heated sea water and there is a great sea view.

Biarritz, la Baule, le Touquet, Royan... All these seaside resorts evolved in the second half of the 19th century. Yet Dinard, along with Deauville (but less obtrusive), has undoubtedly been the best in preserving its charm. An achievement accomplished by listing over 400 Villas and buildings - a living example of over 150 years of holiday resort chic.

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