Travel

Thursday 20 September 2018

All aboard for Brittany

 

Crique Bot Conan in Fousenant - just one of many small 'criques' which are great for swimming and lounging around on the secluded beach
Crique Bot Conan in Fousenant - just one of many small 'criques' which are great for swimming and lounging around on the secluded beach
The four children up on deck, watching the Irish weather sink into the distance as 'Pont-Aven' moves slowly out of Ringaskiddy
The Pont-Aven
Cormac Bourke

Cormac Bourke

When it comes to holidays, and perhaps even when it comes to life, there is always a last minute drama.

Perhaps it creates the energy you need to propel you off on The Hols.

Or, perhaps, there is always one member of the family who risks being blamed for ruining the holiday before it begins.

And this year, clearly, it was my turn.

It was the afternoon before departure and among my allotted tasks was the simple job of putting the roofbox on the car.

What could possibly go wrong?

It is hard though, I discovered, to put your roofbox on your car when you can't find the key to open it. Was it not on my keyring? Was it not taped to the box last year? I had a memory of weighing up those options and coming to a clear decision. Unfortunately, I had no memory of what that decision was.

When you are travelling by ferry, your options for alternative departures are limited, meaning your neck is really on the line.

In the end, the day was ostensibly saved by a rather chilled out character who might loosely have been described a locksmith and who was even more surprised than I to find the copy of the key he made based on the serial number I supplied actually worked.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the day - and holiday - was saved by my wife who managed to locate said locksmith.

And so off on the road to Cork.

Unexpected as it might have been 24 hours earlier, we found ourselves up on deck as Pont-Aven - Brittany Ferries' flagship - moved slowly out of Ringaskiddy. The roofbox was firmly fixed to the jam-packed car below and I had two keys. The kids were in shorts (three of them at least) and the boat was slowly pushing off. The Hols were under way.

Even with six of us split across two cabins we had ample room. In fairness, things that might seem very boring in another form of accommodation - like a hotel, say - are far more exciting for children on a ferry. You'd like us to make up the spare bed, sir? Certainly, just wait while I pull it down from the ceiling.

Perhaps one day we'll decide flying is an option but with four small children, how else can you start your holiday before you actually leave, bring absolutely everything you need (and all the extra stuff you don't too) and go to sleep and wake up in a whole new country?

For sleeping purposes, the kids were divided. My wife had the youngest three. I got the eldest, the football-mad one. This allowed for bonding around how the values of some football clubs make them far superior to others and great tales of glory days in the 1990s. And there may have been a sneaky pint/orange juice in the bar.

The ferry allows you to start your holiday the way you want. If your children are quite small, they can be entertained with a little TV, perhaps, and a trip to the playroom. If your kids are older, there is scope to go for something to eat and you can relax over a glass of wine.

There are lots of places you can eat, you can do a spot of shopping, you can go the cinema - there's also the possibility of a splash in the pool, depending on the conditions.

You can even bring your four-legged friends who, incidentally, provide excellent entertainment for the children up on deck.

You may, of course, be an emotional wreck from a pre-holiday fright, however, and just be glad to be stretching your legs up on deck with the wind blowing and the frothy waves rushing out behind you, towards the setting sun.

Then, after you wake, you can have a shower and a croissant and head off into the sleepy Sunday morning in Roscoff.

Ah, The Hols.

Fouesnant, located in southern Finistere between Benodet, Beg Meil and Concarneau, was to be our home for just under two weeks, specifically, in fact, the Sunelia L'Atlantique holiday village located in southern Brittany opposite the Glenan islands.

It was exactly what we needed.

We had a three-bedroomed mobile home, with a large kitchen-diner area which even had a TV.

Bring your linen or rent it there. Cook or get takeaway from the poolside snack bar. Stock your fridge from the on-site mini-market (which baked its own bread) or from the variety of nearby supermarkets. Go to the pool. Go to the play centre (this is one of a few few places I have found where a parent can drink a proper coffee and read a book while knowing their children are safe and busy rebounding off a variety of soft bouncy castle type things). Go to the playground, centred on a pirate ship. Go play football on the football pitches. Go play crazy golf. Do whatever you want.

Decompress and gradually forget what day of the week it is.

Let your major concern of the day be remembering what time the mini-market closes for lunch and whether or not you need an extra bottle of the excellent local red.

With a burst of sunny days, perhaps the pool facilities were the highlight - though that may have been because our four are now a bit sturdier and even more self-sufficient.

There were slides big and small and enough in the little kids' pool to keep the twins amused.

In the space of just two weeks, the youngest boy went from demanding a parent stay with him in the water to swimming solo and refusing to come out of the pool. Magic.

And all that is without leaving the confines of the holiday village. Outside, the countryside was stunning, all suitably sylvan, leafy and quaint and right beside the beach.

Those beaches, we were told, were replete with rock pools so we duly purchased four fluorescent kids' fishing nets (the man in the shop was literally rubbing his hands with glee) and went in search of (tiny) sea creatures. Of course the beach we found was a beautiful strand of white sand with not a rock pool in sight. So we made sand castles and fought off some marauding seagulls with the fishing nets.

We enjoyed the adventure of trips to the shops and some day trips - and the glory of maps on apps in the digital world.

The oldest girl invented her own song, clearly indicating concerns being voiced in the front seats.

The lyric - a chant really - was simple and repetitive:

"Turn left? There's no left.

Turn right? There's no right."

Somehow it's not so stressful getting lost when you are on holidays. The others joined in too.

Among our day trips was a visit to the fishing port of Concarneau, with its Tardis-like walled town, the medieval Ville Close, which looks from the outside like it might comprise two or three streets but in fact is a stunning cobble-stoned village all of its own stretching out across an entire long island in Concarneau's harbour and which rises up to a type of mini-amphitheatre (complete with its own knife-throwing juggler/magician - or at least on the day we were there).

There was the obligatory trip to Decathlon - which I am told is not at all like JD Sports, but that is probably the best way I can describe it. As the twins now say: Ooo, la, la.

So after almost two weeks, it was time to come home. The car was even more full than on arrival, and now we had those fishing nets and all that French sportsgear. Thank God for the roofbox, which has since found its rightful place in the shed. But we never did find that key.

*******

It is the week before Christmas and I am driving the car with the four small people in the back. "Dad, do you remember when we went on the fairy boat?," asks the youngest girl in a small voice from the back, the emphasis on fair-ee very clear.

Remember? Always.

TAKE TWO: Top attractions

Oceanopolis, Brest

It was a bit of a drive for us and not inexpensive but worth it for the delight on the kids’ faces at seeing undersea life up close. It is split into separate ‘pavilions’ from tropical to polar. Who doesn’t love penguins?

Carousel Jules Verne

An unusual one, but a classic. Quimper is all cobbled streets and antique shops but there is a little trip back in time in a spin on Carousel Jules Verne in the shadow of the Cathedral of Saint Corentin.

GETTING THERE

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The Pont-Aven
 

The Pont-Aven continues to offer a fast direct crossing from Ireland to France, taking 14 hours and operating to a weekend schedule. The state-of-the-art ship's facilities include pool and bar areas with sea views, two cinemas, shopping malls, luxurious spa treatments and a wide range of restaurants as well as complimentary wi-fi in all public areas of the ship.

The full range of 2018 holidays is now available at brittanyferries.ie/holidays. Bookings can be made either online at brittanyferries.ie or by calling 021 427 7801. Book before February 8 and save 15pc on both accommodation in France and on return sailings. It means you can enjoy a camping holiday in France from as little as €210 per person for seven nights, based on a family of four, subject to availability and terms and conditions.

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