You can save a lot of money on wine in France, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, so treat yourself to some luxury on the ferry and enjoy a well-earned break
With the kids firmly ensconced at their school desks, this is the time when dedicated booze cruisers set sail for la belle France to stock up the cellars for autumn. There is no doubt that you save an awful lot of money on wine in France, and the money saved gives you a bit of fun as well, by way of the short break.
The two French ports serviced from Ireland are Roscoff and Cherbourg. Brittany Ferries sail to Roscoff from Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, on Saturdays, returning the following Friday night, which gives you five nights and six long days on shore. This service runs until the end of October. Irish Ferries also sail to Roscoff until September 23 and to Cherbourg all year round, two or three times a week, with the Oscar Wilde.
On our most recent trip, we travelled with Brittany Ferries on the superb Pont-Aven, which is a bit like a floating hotel, with three dining options, three bars, a swimming pool, cinema, and a large shop. It seemed as if all of Co Cork were on board but we were happy, too, to see quite a few French people on both legs of the journey.
We had a De Luxe cabin on the way out, and a top-of-the-range Commodore Class Suite with its own balcony on the way back -- it was very spacious, with a divider between the main bedroom area and the lounge area, where there are also two sofa beds. These suites are all on Deck 8, close to the perfume shop, so they are very handy for nipping back and forth with the goodies you have bought, but they get booked up quickly.
They have a wine shop on board with a very helpful sommelier, good prices, and wine and whisky tastings. The food is very good, both in the casual self-service restaurant, La Belle Angele, and in their main restaurant, Le Flora. You need to book your table for Le Flora as soon as you get on board -- I always see people being turned away.
Le Flora has a regular table d'hote menu with full waiter service at €35, but the real attraction is their great buffet option at €28, which allows you to help yourself very liberally, and you are then served your main course at the table. The buffet had two long islands laden with delicious langoustines, king prawns, shrimps, terrines and pates, smoked, fresh and gravadlax salmon, asparagus, Parma ham, stuffed eggs, ham, cornichons, and various mixed-vegetable salads.
For mains, I had a nice, light bouillabaisse, while Brendan had sirloin steak with pepper sauce, vine tomatoes and dauphinoise potatoes. We then helped ourselves to a buffet of luscious desserts and cheeses, and with a bottle of Lalande de Pomerol 2007 Clos de l'Eglise (€22.90), our bill for an excellent, reasonable dinner was €78.90.
Driving in France is easy, and the roads are long and straight. However, French drivers do nip along at a fair old pace, and there is inevitably some pesky little jalopy or ubiquitous white van on your tail nudging you on, so keep to the inside lane until you get confident!
Disembarking at Roscoff is particularly easy, as you are straight out on the edge of the enchanting small town and off down through the artichoke fields. Morlaix, just 18 miles from Roscoff, is excellent for shopping. A splendid town hall and a vast viaduct, which the Germans unsuccessfully tried to bomb during the Second World War, dominate it. The half-timbered houses and cobbled streets encompass nice little artisan shops. You can visit the house of Anne, Duchess of Brittany, who married three kings.
There are two excellent supermarkets in Morlaix -- Geant, which is conveniently situated at St Martin des Champs near a roundabout on the way to Roscoff, and E Leclerc hypermarket, beside McDonald's on the other side of the town, which has a helpful, enthusiastic wine manager. There is also now a big E Leclerc at St Pol de Leon, right beside Roscoff.
Bonne chance, et bon appetit!