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.
An eclectic architectural profusion
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 XVIII of Spain, Poincaré, American multimillionaires and Russian princes all followed over the next 50 years.
Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne and Lawrence of Arabia
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. 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.
A 19th century architectural heritage
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 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.