Over the past few years, my vision of an ideal holiday has radically changed. Instead of spending days tanning in the sun and nights revelling in bars, I’ve begun to dream of something very different.
The lure of the sun and sea has given way to wondering what it would be like to wake up in a totally rural backwater, hearing only the sound of birds and the odd tractor.
Instead of spending evenings in “happy hour” bars to be followed by dinners in busy restaurants and crazy nights dancing until dawn, my dream has been of peace and quiet, far from the madding crowd.
And I found my dream this summer in, of all places, humble little Brittany – just a few hours away by ferry from Ireland.
What’s more, there are no airports, no long queues, minimal security checks and, therefore, none of the head-spinning stress that usually accompanies travelling abroad.
Our trip on the “Pont Aven” (named after a town in northern Brittany) began, continued and ended a total pleasure.
Our cabin was small but perfectly clean and comfortable with a good shower and porthole through which we marvelled at the beauty of Cobh and Cork harbour.
Prices in the restaurants and bars were no rip-off (rack of lamb and trimmings for u6 and bottle of drinkable wine for u6.50) and the ambience and cuisine distinctly French. There was loads of room, of course, to stretch the legs (no deep vein thrombosis here!).
We were delighted with our century-old gite in the sleepy village of Quemperven, deep in the countryside, with its huge fireplace, secluded garden, comfortable armchairs and plenty of outdoor furniture.
My daily “routine” would start with a gentle mile-or-so walk through green lanes to the local “boulangerie” for a crusty French baguette, followed by breakfast al fresco and some reading, or touring, before a light lunch. Afternoons were either on the beach or in a deck chair with a good book, with possibly a bit of shopping in the local market, to be followed by a few pre-prandials and a long, unhurried dinner.
Our “local” bar restaurant was “Le Kemperven” where hosts Cathy and Jacky Lucas were a revelation. Cathy is a fantastic cook – witness the scores who flock to her “workmen’s lunches” which, at u10 for five courses (including as much wine and local cider as you can drink), are impossible to beat.
The village is known for two things. One is the grave of a miraculous local cleric in the churchyard opposite “Le Kemperven” and the stone crucifixes on its cross-roads.
We also liked the locally-brewed mead (see the “Red Dragon” road signs from the village centre), the masses of wild flowers in the hedges and the blissful absence of traffic. In short, as near to heaven as possible.
Brittany is easy to find your way around and the coastline is peppered with old-style seaside resorts like Perros Guirec or Ploumanac’h. Whoever said the French were unfriendly had obviously never visited the town of La Roche Derrien where no fewer than seven people, including its mayor, quickly turned out to help us find our way.
And for a really unusual visit, how about the museum dedicated to “Les Vases de Nuit” at the Chateau Quintin (yes, a museum of 630 different kinds of chamber-pot).
If you have a brood of children, going on holiday is an expensive business. The more children you have, the more expensive it gets as most tour operators charge full whack for kids over the age of about 12 – and prices are highest when the schools are out.
But this is one kind of holiday where the larger the number of children, the lower the price per person. If that sounds impossible, consider this – if you travel by Brittany Ferries to France or Spain, you pay for your car and two occupants. That’s it.
The first two children accompanying you go free and, even if you’ve more than two offspring, and have to pay for an extra cabin, it’s not prohibitively expensive and many gites, mobile homes and apartments are large enough for a family of six.
Then there are the other benefits of taking a holiday in France or Spain by ferry.
Firstly you have the unique experience of actually travelling it gives your children, through their own country and then across borders and through large ports by sea – not through anonymous airport terminals.
There is nothing that expands a child’s mind – and no gift you can give him or her – better than the slice of practical geography they get from standing on a boat and watching Ireland disappear over the horizon one evening. Then seeing a new country emerging miraculously out of the sea the following morning …
Travelling to France, for example, involves leaving Ringaskiddy and getting the most wonderful view from the sea of Cobh’s colourful terraced homes, and the White Star Line’s terminal on the quayside, as you slide gracefully out of Ireland.
If you want your children to have the experience of sleeping under canvass, and most kids find the idea of that quite exciting, you could stay in a great site near Pont L’Abbe, southern Brittany.
Twelve nights chalet or camping here for a family of six (four children and two adults) in early September would cost u1,613 – that includes your ferry crossing, your car, cabin both ways and accommodation.
If you would prefer to stay in a “gite” (French for “cottage”), for example, at Sizun, southern Brittany for 12 nights for u2,761, again based on a family of two adults and four children with car, plus cabin accommodation.
There’s a gite at Santec – near the port of Roscoff where this summer you could have spent 12 nights in August/September for u3,000 (based on family of 2 adults and 4 children, car, plus cabin accommodation on board).
- Being able to pile your clothes into the car without weighing your suitcase
- No hassle with security at the ferry-port
- The sense of adventure you get from travelling at sea
- Loading the car with wine on the way home
- Being able to buy knick-knacks in local shops, like china bowls and strange-sounding cheeses and jams
- Arriving in France in the early morning after a few too many glasses of Sancerre and struggling with a bad map (buy a Michelin one for u4 on board, it’s worth it)
- If you like a little “life”, find a village that’s not quite as quiet as Quemperven where the local bar closes at 7 pm
- The road from Cork from Dublin where petrol stations are as rare as hen’s teeth
Anne Cadwallader travelled with Brittany Ferries from Ringaskiddy to the port of Roscoff and onwards to the “Ker Groas” self-catering gite at Quemperven (price depending on season, from u715 to u1000 per week, including ferry crossing).
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