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Visiting France with Brittany Ferries

Last year we travelled to Spain with Brittany Ferries and you may recall it was a rather eventful experience to say the least! This time we were looking to a somewhat more leisurely build-up to our crossing to France. Travelling out of Plymouth, we broke our journey up with a very relaxing stay at Whatley Manor in Malmesbury, which was very enjoyable. We opted for the Plymouth-Roscoff crossing for two reasons. Firstly, we prefer to do more of the driving in the UK, and a little less in France, where the roads are more familiar to us, and we feel better equipped should we break down or have a problem of some kind – all the more so when we are towing a boat trailer as was the case again on this trip (where our sons were competing in a sailing event). Secondly, we like overnight crossings. There’s something special and exciting about travelling by ferry as a family – the excitement of boarding the ferry itself, settling down in your cabin, and then waking up at your destination the next morning, breaking up the next morning’s onward journey with a stop for pain au chocolat at a French café (surprisingly, we found very little open for the first hour of our journey in France, and couldn’t help but think that this was something of a missed opportunity for some local with sufficient entrepreneurial spirit to take advantage of a ferry-load of passengers each morning!). We were heading for Carnac which only takes about 2.5 hours from Roscoff so is very accessible, although we probably took more like 3-4 hours because we had a stop along the way and there was a detour due to some roadworks. Our outbound crossing was an overnight one on the Pont-Aven ferry and we were able to watch the sun set over Plymouth as we set sail. We have been on the Pont-Aven many times, and it is the boat we documented last time around, and – because it was late and we just needed to find our cabin and get a good night’s sleep, I didn’t take many photographs. It is, though, a superbly-equipped ferry, capable of carrying 2,400 passengers and 650 cars, complete with its own swimming pool (which I assume was closed given the time of this particular crossing), a choice of restaurants, cinema, shop and even a spa treatment room. It is Brittany Ferries’ flagship ferry – and with good reason. You can also learn more about the Pont-Aven ferry by watching the following video:
YouTube video
The photos you see from here onwards are in fact from Armorique, the boat we returned to Plymouth on with a daytime crossing, which was specifically designed and built with the Roscoff-Plymouth route in mind. There’s a choice of 247 cabins – all of which are en suite and air-conditioned – plus a number of reserved lounge seats spread out through the ship. There are also a number of cabins adapted for disabled passengers. If you wander about on the deck outside, you’ll find a couple of display boards that are well worth reading, and give you an insight into the vessel that you might not be aware of. In addition to the ferry’s top class facilities which I’ll run through shortly, Armorique is also a research vessel. Towed from the ship – at a depth of around 7 metres – is a Continuous Plankton Recorder, a scientific instrument that collects plankton from our oceans. By analysing plankton, scientists can get an insight into ocean acidification which is a consequence of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with global warming. Armorique can carry as many as 470 cars (and 1,500 passengers)… and they certainly pack them in, so much so that some cars end up on a higher deck facing the opposite direction to the way they’d boarded. It is quite an art seeing how they manage to get everyone on board. Oh, and don’t worry if you’re one of the last to board – it can sometimes mean you’re one of the first to get off. It’s really just a bit of a lottery, and if I had a choice I’d sooner be one of the last to board and first to get off at the other end, that’s for sure. Since it was a daytime crossing for a return, a cabin was not essential for us but nevertheless it is handy to have a fixed base – somewhere you can leave a couple of bags if you wish, a place where you can freshen up a little with a shower and somewhere we could have a lie down and get a little rest, knowing that we’d be driving quite late at night later on. We had a four-berth outside cabin with a TV, coffee making and en suite facilities. The beds are very easy to put up and down, depending on your preferred configuration. On board Armorique you’ll find plenty of facilities to keep you occupied during your crossing. As well as cinemas, games rooms and shops, you’ll find a self-service restaurant, situated towards the front of the ship on deck 7. Cooked options included spinach and ricotta cannelloni, poached hake with yuzu lemon butter sauce and beef bourguignon. On the deck below, there’s also a café and bar where you can order slice of pizza, so no shortage of options, but not the fine dining facility that you’ll find on Pont-Aven so, if that’s important to you, you’ll want to check which vessel you’re on when you book. The on-board shop also offers a selection of gifts and souvenirs, plus a range of spirits, wine, tobacco, perfumes and more. For more of an insight into Armorique, please see the following video:
YouTube video
As for our trip being an uneventful one this time around, that ended up being not entirely true. On the penultimate day of our stay, our younger son slipped and hurt his ankle, resulting in a trip to A&E that put our ability to speak to French to the ultimate test! Following an X-ray and consultation, we were informed that they didn’t think it was broken but that it wasn’t so easy to tell with young children and that we should get it checked back home once the swelling had gone down. It was then a case of catching the pharmacy before it closed for some pain relief and a pair of crutches – the prescription we were given said the crutches were for hire but, on enquiring how much they were to purchase, it was a no-brainer at a little over 20 euros – otherwise we’d have been returning them the next day and then travelling home without any means of him being easily able to get about. Even getting from our car to our cabin was a struggle with the crutches but thankfully Brittany Ferries were able to come to our aid and loan us a wheelchair in exchange for my driving license (a sensible way of ensuring that the wheelchair was returned!).   I have to say this was extremely helpful since he was still in a lot of pain from the incident and unable to weight bear at all. Thankfully also there are lifts to allow you to easily get from one deck to another. Hopefully next time we travel with Brittany Ferries, it’ll be third time lucky and our build-up to each journey will be incident-free! Disclosure: Our trip was sponsored by Brittany Ferries and Brittany Tourism.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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  1. I remember your incident from last year – that sounded a bit of a nightmare but at least you still made the ferry in time! Pleased to see your travels almost went without a hitch this time around – what a shame for that to have happened on the last day of your trip, but at least you could return home for medical attention. I hope it’s all healed OK now and I look forward to reading about what you did when you were in France… I guess more posts are coming?

  2. Thanks, Colin! Yes, he is fine now, thank you. It was a bit sore for a week or two but seemingly no lasting damage, thank goodness!!! And yes, we do have more posts on the way – one about where we stayed for most of our time in Carnac, and at least three other posts to follow that… watch this space! :)

  3. That’s really interesting about the plankton analysis. Good to know that Brittany Ferries are giving a little back in that way, and what a great way to combine a commercial service with some marine biology at the same time.

  4. I love traveling by boat so a ferry trip to start a holiday is always fun – as long as the weather isn’t too bad. I’ve not traveled Plymouth-Roscoff (we go Calais route a lot) but it looks like a good landing location to start off a journey. It would open up some new areas for us to explore. Hope your sons ankle has healed!

  5. Hi Peter – the weather for our crossing was fine both ways thankfully. Living on the western side of the country (I’m in the north-west), I tend to favour going from Plymouth or Portsmouth as it saves us having to negotiate the M25… it’s an attractive option if you’re on that side of the country, I think, and you get to have a proper ‘break’ from driving with a longer crossing. And, thank you, he seems to have completely recovered! :)

  6. There’s something really lovely about travelling by ferry – so much more relaxing than air travel. You can stretch your legs, and pass the time in a leisurely way, with much more space at your disposal than you’d ever have on an aircraft (even in business class!). I agree about overnight ferries also – it feels such a productive use of time when you wake up at your destination.

  7. I go to Carnac most years and find it really relaxing. In the last year, there seemed to be far fewer Brits about (and far fewer on the roads generally around Brittany). In many ways that’s a good thing, but I did wonder why so fewer British seemed to be in that region of France.

  8. We’ve done 3 overnight ferry journeys and numerous day journeys with P&O and always feel it’s an integral part of the holiday. I totally agree with Paul, we live on the western side of the country and find the M25 and travelling to Dover is just unpleasant, whereas access to both Portsmouth and Plymouth is easy; but oh so much easier when you are in France. Excellent roads, much less traffic with numerous stopping places. Having spent 3 months touring in France this summer with our caravan, and towing over 2000 miles, and loving every minute of it, we can’t wait for summer 2018.

  9. Glad to hear you enjoyed your time in France. We know of people living not all that far from us who attended the sailing event that we went to but opted to do Dover-Calais in preference. When you factor in the additional miles, time in the car, fuel consumption, hotel stay, etc. it just doesn’t make sense to me. Give me an overnight ferry crossing, the welcome break from driving and a more leisurely start the next morning any day of the week! :-)

  10. I’ve been on Pont-Aven (we loved it!) but not the Armorique. Does that also have a swimming pool and cinema?

  11. I did the Dover-Calais crossing a while ago, but Plymouth-Roscoff sounds like a great option too. Pont-Aven and Armorique both look like such beautiful ferries. My family would love them. Pity about your son’s injury though. I guess these things happen with kids.

    1. Thank you, Sara… I think one of the benefits with a longer crossing is that you truly get to relax for a while – whether it be having a meal, going to the cinema, playing cards, going shopping, visiting the bar, sleeping or, in the case of the Pont-Aven when the pool is open, even going for a swim. With a short crossing like Dover-Calais, you don’t really get chance to do all of that.

      As for my son, he’s much better, thank you – no lasting damage thankfully! :-)

  12. I remember getting the ferry to France on school trips but I really don’t remember them looking this fancy (it was a long time ago). I tend to be in a rush these days and choose to fly but this is a fabulous idea when I have some more time on my hands!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Vanessa. Depending on where you’re going from in the UK and where you’re going to in France (or Spain for that matter), the ferry can definitely be a more attractive option. A few other benefits to consider over flying are 1) no baggage restrictions (well, as much as your car can carry) which can be handy on the return journey if you’re partial to a bottle of two of wine, 2) no waiting around in airports and at baggage carousels, 3) you have your car in the country you travel to, and 4) a lot more leg room! I’m sure there are many other benefits but those are a few that spring to mind initially.

  13. That was an eventful trip – for all the wrong reasons! Glad your boy had no lasting damage. I’m taking the Dover Calais ferry soon which’ll be my first ferry trip in years although we won’t be needing a cabin. Looking forward to exploring a bit of northern France.

  14. I absolutely love taking the ferry to france! Everytime I have gone on the ferry, however, it’s been by coach. I love that you went on an overnight crossing and went to sleep, I’m like a child when it comes to travelling so I can never sleep on ferry’s or planes. This one sounds particularly fantastic, I don’t think I’ve stayed in a cabin before – by the look of them, I could stay in there for at least a couple days aha!

    1. Yes, the cabins are very comfortable really and make good use of the available space. The beds are easy to put up and out of the way if you just want to sit down and relax, and I’ve never had any trouble sleeping on them (but then I’m usually fairly tired from the drive!).

  15. Really informative article :) I took this ferry once, but that is years and years ago. I hope your son is okay, though!?

  16. Ohh, I love Brittany! I’ve been on a road trip in Northern France 3 years ago and I really loved it – I honestly thought though that it would have been warmer haha. I am so sorry that you had this incident – always super frightening and inconvenient when you go and have to see a doctor in a foreign country. I hope everything is well now and you were still able to enjoy the rest of your vacation! At least it was towards the end it would have been a bigger bummer if it happened right on the first day!

    1. Thank you, Kate. We enjoyed pretty good weather whilst we were there but have been before and you are right… it can be very ‘hit and miss’ when it comes to the weather. To be fair, it’s not wildly different from the weather you might expect in Devon or Cornwall – which I suppose isn’t so surprising given its proximity.

      And yes, we are grateful it didn’t happen at the beginning of our stay. We were in France primarily so that our sons could compete in a World Championship sailing event so he would have been unable to take part if it had happened at the start. One boy did get a deep cut in his foot right at the start, either on some broken glass or an oyster shell, we’re not sure, and he was sadly unable to compete all week, so we should think ourselves lucky in that regard!

  17. Oh no, you didn’t quite get the totally uneventful trip you hoped for! I’ve never taken an overnight ferry to France but can see exactly why you choose it. Comfortable, reliable crossing and service and when you arrive in France you’re refreshed and ready to go!

  18. The Brittany ferries looked to be reliable cruise and o must say a luxurious one too. Never knew From UK, you can travel to France by ferries.

    1. Yes, most definitely Saakshi, and there many crossings per day for some routes. In fact, the Dover Strait is the world’s busiest shipping lane. Not only ferries, of course, but as many as 500-600 ships a day pass through the narrow strait between the UK and France.

  19. I travelled on Pont Aven at start of July from Cork to Roscoff. It is an excellent ship. Stayed in Carnac too as it happens, at La Grand Metairie. Found the whole area very quiet compared to previous visits over many years. I think the high season has possibly got shorter, doesn’t start to mid July and ends mid August now.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, David. Good to hear you enjoyed your crossing. We stayed at La Grand Metairie when I was a little boy! :-) I thought Brittany as a whole was much quieter than previous visits despite us being there in high season, and with far fewer British tourist (not that that’s a bad thing!).

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