exploring the brittany coast
brit without the brits
If you've just a few days to get away from it all, then the French coast of Brittany beckons. Jonathan Crouch and family enjoy its deserted charms.
You don't expect somewhere so close to feel so far away, yet Brittany does. It remains a region of Northern France relatively undiscovered by the English. You, your car and a short break can put that right.
I was tempted by the thought of doing that yet, like most people, my free time is scarce. Hence my interest in Brittany Ferries 'Gourmet Brittany' package, which claims to immerse you in the culture of this historic region in about the same time as it would take to merely travel to and from a more exotic destination.
It's one of 13 car and motorcycle tour packages offered by the company starting from £214pp and the concept is pretty straight forward. You give Brittany Ferries three to five days and, the case of the 'Gournet Brittany' package, just under £400 a person. They do the rest, organising a driving tour that takes in the sights, the culture and the cuisine. In our case, that meant the gastronomy of Brittany's unique Northern coastline. You cruise across the Channel on the company's Portsmouth - St Malo route and once you arrive in France, there's a real opportunity to relax, with all the preparation work having been done as part of the 'Gourmet Brittany' package.
With this, a route is pre-prepared taking in hotels that are part of the 'Tables et Saveurs de Bretagne' label, the Brittany equivalent of a Michelin star, the cost for which is included within the programme. In driving terms, the round trip is less than 240 miles and you can be back in the UK less than four days after you left it. For my wife and I, it sounded a perfect way to get two of our daughters away from their iPads and screens for the last few days of the Easter holidays.
'An experience so close - yet so far away in its unspoiled uniqueness'
I must admit to having my reservations about the night on board the ferry that starts the programme off but the Channel was calm, the cabin comfortable and the included restaurant meal delicious. Next morning on arrival in St Malo, we couldn't resist an initial deviation to Mont-Saint-Michel, a famous medieval abbey and town built on top of a granite island located on the regional border between Brittany and Normandy. The earliest parts of the structure date back to the year 708 and it's now rightfully listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO. Part-religious monument, part-ancient village, part-Disney castle. It's quite a sight.
Too soon though, it was time to move on and get with a 'Gourmet Brittany' programme that required us to point our new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer just about as far as it's possible to go Westwards in France. Our destination was the little country village of Ploudier, which lies about half an hour's drive from the harbour town of Brest, the biggest population centre in Brittany's Westernmost reaches. Our base for the night, the Hotel La Butte, is renowned in the area for its cuisine - and its beautiful North coast views. Neither disappointed.
For day two, we began working back Eastwards, taking in deserted sandy beaches and rocky outcrops that ought to have been full of tourists but instead seemed to have been left for our unique enjoyment. We marvelled at the cleanliness of the water, the unspoilt landscape and the lack of commerciality. Then let the kids splash around in the shallows and hunt for sparkling shells before pointing the Astra towards Treguier, the destination for our second overnight stop. This picturesque small town sits on a hillside above a wide river estuary used by yachts and large ships and we found our second residence, the Hotel Aigue Marine, situated right by the water.
From Treguier, all kinds of destinations beckon. Perhaps a boat out to the Ile-de-Brehat? Or, as we did, you might want to explore the rocky bays just north of the village of Ploughrescant. Before heading a few miles south for a little shopping and a cafe au lait in the pretty village of Pontrieux. Of course, with teenage daughters, a little shopping is never enough, so in heading further Eastwards, we took in the larger town of Saint-Brieuc with its department stores and fashionable boutiques.
By now, the time was ticking by for reaching our third and last destination, the Hotel Tirel Guertin in St Meloir des Ondes, there to open up for us the delights of the St Malo area. And there are plenty. When we return for example, we plan to kayak out to the island of Ile Cezembre in St Malo bay where lunch is served to the accompaniment of a breathtaking view. The gastronomy will have to be good though, to shade the menu served up at the Hotel Tirel Guerin's 'La Gouesniere' restaurant, where we dined on foie grass, locally caught scallops and quail stuffed with pistachio and kumquat.
The next day, we would have liked to linger around St Malo's picturesque walled old town. We could have pointed the Astra across the magnificent Barrage de la Rance dam or explored the medieval village of Dinan. But all that will need another visit for our trip was ended and our Brittany Ferries ship, the Bretagne, awaited us in the harbour for the cruise back to Portsmouth.
Behind us lay an experience so close to our homeland. Yet so far from it in its unspoiled uniqueness. Long may it remain that way.
THE FACTS - BRITTANY FERRIES 'GOURMET BRITTANY' MOTORING TOUR
What you get - Return car or motorcycle ferry crossing plus three nights half board in France
The cost - from £398 per person including ferry crossing with car, restaurant meals on board ship, accommodation, breakfast and evening meals
Our car - Vauxhall's new Astra Sports Tourer - from £16,580
To find out more - on Brittany Ferries car and motorcycle tours visit www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/holidays/car-motorcycle-tours/france
Or call: 0330 159 4500 quoting LOGGOU