Stylist’s Tom Gormer is seduced by the chic resort town of Dinard in Brittany, and its hip new boutique hotel, Castelbrac
You know those idle dreams you have about a Plan B career, running an Instagram-hip florist or a supercool doughnut shop? Well, what do those dreams look like a few years on, when you’ve sold your floristry or doughnut empire to the highest bidder? If you’re anything like me, you think about cashing in that bumper cheque, moving somewhere idyllic and writing that novel. Somewhere quiet, culturally distinct and full of charm, yet not too far from the UK, so you can nip back and forth? Stop looking, because I have found the place. Google ‘Dinard’ now. Bookmark it. And thank me later.
The popular French resort of Dinard is like walking into an 8pm Sunday night ITV drama. Think The Darling Buds Of May meets The Durrells. Or, if your tastes lean towards the highbrow, like stepping into one of the oils that Picasso painted here in the Twenties; all cliff-hugging mansions, striped beach huts, golden sands and people living the good life.
In the late 19th century, British and American aristocrats made Dinard fashionable as a summer resort, building elegant villas on the clifftops and sipping cocktails at the hotels on the promenade during the belle époque. Dubbed the ‘Cannes of the north’, Dinard has continued to attract a genteel crowd to the north coast of Brittany: Winston Churchill holidayed nearby on the Rance river, Alfred Hitchcock and Oscar Wilde both visited, Lawrence of Arabia lived here as a young boy, and Joan Collins is still a regular visitor.
Today it’s primarily popular with wealthy Parisians, although a younger, hipper crowd is also in evidence, with couples consisting of thick-rimmed spectacle-sporting men and their effortlessly APC-clad wives, both wearing matching Stan Smiths. They come in winter for coastal walks, and in summer for the vast strips of golden sans, to gaze at the glamourous crumbling villas of the past and wander poky galleries and boutiques. At any time of the year, it's impossibly quaint and pretty, and acutely Instagrammable; Dinard has never needed a filter.
Now Dinard finally has a hotel that caters beautifully to this new breed of visitor, without alienating the likes of Joan Collins (perish the thought). Housed in one of the very first belle époque villas built on these shores, Castelbrac was originally the holiday retreat of an aristocratic British family, the Fabers, but more recently it’s been off-limits to the public as a marine research base. Now, it’s a 25-room hotel that blends the best of old and new, retaining the art deco details, but infusing the higgledypiggledy structure (its long-time nickname of ‘Castelbrac’ references its resemblance to a Scottish castle, and ‘bric-a-brac’) with a clean, contemporary aesthetic and an aqua-inspired palette of sand, ivory and deep blues.
I am normally one of those people who thinks, ‘Why pay £200 for a hotel room when all you do is sleep in it?’ But I’m converted by Castelbrac: all the rooms overlook the water, some with private terraces where you can breakfast – or write that first chapter. Decor is refined but relaxed, with a smart edit of decorative flourishes – chic floral wallpaper, antique gilded mirrors – adding glamour to the otherwise contemporary rooms.
Downstairs at Le Pourquoi Pas, the hotel’s restaurant, chef Julien Hennote’s menus rotate daily around the finest organic and seasonal produce. One evening I dine on langoustines and John Dory with rhubarb cannelloni, the next day I lunch on fish and chips. All the locally sourced seafood is preceded with utterly addictive seaweed-stuffed bread rolls, and followed by an array of petit fours, perched prettily on a flat pebble.
Truly, you could view Castelbrac as a destination hotel and barely budge; there’s a thermal spa with innovative tea-based treatments (très popular in Paris), a divine stone lap pool, and the Aquarium Bar, with its porthole windows and retro love-seats. But the 17th century walled city of Saint-Malo is ridiculously close and warrants a visit. I walk the mile-long outer edge of the city walls (la citadelle), taking in the sea views. Within the rampart is a maze of cobbled streets lined with crêperies. Traditional Breton crêpes – known as galettes – are made with buckwheat flour and it isn’t unusual to have a three-course galette meal. What a place! I work off my triple-galette repast by wandering over to the pretty historic port. This is how all seaside holidays should be.
And Castelbrac itself has a secret weapon for luring you off your terrace: Le Fou de Bassan, a 12-metre hand-built vintage motorboat, perfect for excursions to the nearby Channel Islands. The captain, Nicolas, takes us out for our final afternoon, dropping anchor when we please to swim in the sea or explore tiny islands. On one of the islands, we feast on a picnic prepared by the chef; it couldn’t get more Famous Five. But every time I feel like I’ve travelled back in time, Castelbrac reminds me that the 21st century has its own advantages, too. That evening, we’re whisked to the airport in the hotel’s gleaming Tesla. And I can’t help wondering what Picasso would make of that.
Good morning Brittany
Wake up in style in this charming corner of northwest France, where 2,800km of coastline mean you’re never far from the beach
Le Lodge Kerisper
A breezy, friendly family-run boutique hotel in La Trinité-sur-Mer in southern Brittany, Le Lodge Kerisper is perfectly located for water-skiing and sailing in the Gulf of Morbihan, and exploring the cobbled streets of this historic town. Decor in this shingle-roofed stone and wood cabin is beachy shabby-chic, while crisp white linens keep things on the stylish end of the spectrum.
Doubles from £85 per night, mrandmrssmith.com
La Petite Ville Mallet
On the edge of Saint-Malo, this dinky B&B feels thoroughly bucolic, with pet sheep and goats efficiently mowing the lawn, and a lush orchard. The interiors are Breton country house elegance at its best, with antique furniture, Persian rugs and well-chosen artwork. It’s the perfect base for circling the ramparts of the attractive walled port, recently rediscovered by chic Parisians.
Doubles from £79 per night, sawdays.co.uk
Villa Tri Men
A luxurious four-star villa hotel perched at the edge of the beach above the port of Sainte-Marine, a picturesque village less than a two-minute ferry ride across the Étel estuary from the upscale resort of Bénodet. Featuring 19 modern rooms and a seafood restaurant, the Villa Tri Men is beautifully peaceful, yet perfectly positioned for Brittany’s beaches, buzzy restaurants and chic boutiques.
Doubles from £75 per night, trimen.fr