A road trip through Brittany proves an excellent family choice for Tim Saunders… France is but a short hop across the channel from the UK making it an ideal destination for a family holiday. There are also plenty of alternative travel options making a greener choice than flying very practical. Our choice was a leisurely Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to the fortress city of Saint Malo: the en-suite cabin for the 12 hour overnight journey is large enough to accommodate 19-month old Harriett’s travel cot. And fortunately, she sleeps well.
We arrive at Saint Malo where its attractive cobbled streets and alleyways are welcoming – Harriett always enjoys leaping up and down any steps she finds. The busy and historic fishing port is on the Emerald Coast with its 1,200km of rugged coastline. Famous for pancakes and galettes (French cakes), St Malo has been wonderfully restored after being almost destroyed during the Blitz.
From here we head to Dol de Bretagne, 40 minutes away, and to Domaine des Ormes, a holiday resort situated in the grounds of a restored chateau. Canvas Holidays has a selection of wooden lodges, mobile homes and tents set in the picturesque tree-lined landscape. We stay in a lodge for the week: on entering there’s an inviting and distinctive smell of pine, and the cosy retreat provides plenty of room for the three of us. Equipped with all the mod-cons including a dishwasher, self-catering is easy. There’s even a complimentary bottle of tasty local Rosé. My pregnant wife Caroline has no need to worry about what she eats either, despite her husband’s poor culinary skills…
Back home we live on a busy main road and so the solitude of Les Ormes, set in such a remote area, is greatly appreciated, we even manage a lie-in! Every morning we head for the heated indoor pool. Harriett has really taken to swimming and she particularly enjoys the wild river and jacuzzis as well as watching her daddy go down the shoots. Each day we visit different places and buy our daily baguettes from a mix of boulangeries and supermarches. It quickly becomes apparent that boulangerie bread is fresher and tastier. We fill it with salad and cheese, eating our lunch on a variety of park benches. The weather is permanently above 25 degrees and there’s bright sunshine. French passers-by smile and wish us bon appetite.
On the first day we visit Dol de Bretagne, which stands on the remains of a cliff and is home to St-Samson Cathedral. On returning to les Ormes we walk around the grounds seeing bats, mice, red squirrels, ducks, Canadian geese and to Harriett’s great pleasure, a family of goats. Making our way back to the lodge, Caroline and I are dragged to the park. The swings, roundabout and train have become a daily necessity for our little rascal.
We have a semi-relaxing stroll through Jardin du Val Cocherel in Dinan as we try and keep Harriett to her routine of having an afternoon doze. But the little wriggler won’t have any of it, insisting on clambering out of her pushchair, strapping her shoes on and toddling. In fact over the course of the holiday our little prodigy insists on staying awake during every day for fear of missing out. France clearly meets with her approval. But the car journey always proves too much; despite her vocal assessment of the Peugeot 208 we’re driving, she falls asleep…
At Dinard we patiently wait for the lifting bridge to drop. This busy fishing port offers another pleasant afternoon filled with a tasty lunch and walking. It’s not long before dreams of sampling the local beer come to me. But will Harriett sit still for long enough? At Combourg, where the romantic novelist Chateaubriand lived in the Chateau de Combourg (and was inspired by the area), our little tinker finally settles down. After our stroll by the tranquil cypress-lined lake we find a café and I indulge. Caroline has a fruit juice. We enjoy it so much that we do the same again the following day in Pontorson, after another walk in another delightful park with an array of well chosen, vibrantly coloured flowers.
Sadly our holiday quickly draws to a close but on our way to Cherbourg we’re sure to stop in Saint-Lo, twinned with Christchurch, Dorset, and home to its own Notre Dame cathedral, which was damaged in the Second World War. We stumble upon Les Jardins Publiques, another beautiful park, a perfect place for lunch. Returning home on the Brittany Ferries three hour fast jet service from Cherbourg to Portsmouth, Harriett waltzes around the boat. She is sure to catch the eye of passengers, who smile at her antics. On deck she watches the swell of the sea. Her first trip abroad is a resounding success and, just like her parents, she is clearly a born traveller. Tim Saunders
Ferry crossings: http://www.brittanyferries.com tel: 0871-5084784.
Six nights in a Canvas Holidays wooden lodge at Domaine des Ormes in Dol de Bretagne cost £800 www.canvasholidays.co.uk tel: 01383-629000