Brittany: Pink granite and frog choruses on a family holiday in France
The holiday gets off to a bad start - my husband and elder son spot orcas from the deck of the Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven and I, below in our cosy cabin, don't see them.
In fact, I only hear about them the next morning as we are docking at Roscoff.
For a few minutes, I feel so cross I want to go home and sulk. The problem is that I live for seeing whales and dolphins, and I never do. Having spotted that Pont-Aven has dedicated whale-watchers on board - guys in proper high-vis vests with binoculars trained on the open sea around them - I knew I needed to stay up on deck until all light had faded from the sky (it was a particularly glorious evening, so that light remained until well after 11pm), and watch with them, but I got distracted by the cuteness and comfort of the cabin, and failed in my vigilance.
And then, much worse, my husband and son were rewarded in theirs…
Well, that took some putting behind me, but by the time we drove a pleasant half-hour or so through the early-morning countryside - "look, it's a fidget spinner", my children shout on seeing the triskelion, the three-branched Celtic symbol of Brittany - to the town of Carantec, and specifically Les Mouettes, I am over it. Almost.
It is a blisteringly hot day - for once in our lives, our holiday has coincided with good weather. This alone would probably be enough, but factor in the remarkably pleasant set-up that is Les Mouettes - in particular our cabin, which is on the edge of the site, close by a small river - and we are quickly edging into a family Top Ten Holidays.
This is the kind of five-star camping village I have been hearing about from friends for years - "You must go, it's amazing for kids" - and now I see exactly why.
The cabin is Tardis-like, meaning very well designed, with clever storage solutions and neat use of space, and a lovely big deck outside from which to breathe in fresh, clean air that smells of sea and grass, and admire the beautifully landscaped grounds, with their neat banks of pale pink and deep red roses.
There is a Jacuzzi in the garden - each of the 'Natura Lodge' cabins has one - which almost sends the kids over the edge with excitement, and that's even before we get to the water park.
Les Mouettes, which has straight-forward camping spots and camper-van berths as well as the cabins, is designed around a central zone with restaurant, pizzeria, cafe and shop and, most importantly, a series of pools, water slides, sprinklers and water features that combine into one glorious aquatic whole.
The children are in purest heaven, swimming, sliding, splashing and whooping while we lie on sun loungers and watch them. Coffee, drinks and snacks are all within easy-reaching distance, and the village has a series of 'Animations' to propose, for kids and adults alike, from water polo and aqua basketball, to mini discos, magic shows and yoga. Les animateurs, as the enthusiastic young people in charge of these exercises in conviviality are called, are uniformly good-natured, and speak English as well as French. They are also very good at leaving you alone if all you want to do is lie and soak up the sun.
There is a five-a-side football pitch that sees a lot of action from my two sons, who thus make a few pals via the international language of "Liverpool suck!", although even they, fanatics as they are, find it hard to tear themselves away from the pools.
That night, we have dinner outside our cabin, surrounded by the most remarkable twilight chorus I've ever heard.
The bass notes come from a zillion frogs that must live in the little stream beside us, with crickets from the fields behind adding their own rhythmic chirruping, birds flitting in and out of trees overhead and tweeting mightily, while ducks from the marshland beyond throw in the odd, deep quack. It's like a Phil Spector wall of sound building up around us, and goes on late into the night, to be replaced after a silent hour or so, by the dawn chorus. And if that sounds like I'm complaining - I'm not. If anything, I'm gloating!
The next day we swap pool for seaside, driving about 20 minutes to Tahiti Beach. This is accessed via a steepish climb down to a series of coves with golden sand, large, shady rocks, and blissfully clear turquoise water. It's not particularly crowded - because, perhaps, of the climb - with no beach cafes or people selling fake Gucci watches. This, in my book, makes it the perfect kind of beach.
Out to sea you can just make out the Chateau du Taureau, rising menacingly up from the water. We are due to visit later in the week, so this is a good way to build up a bit of excitement over it.
Carantec itself is a busy and very pleasant little town that manages to be distinctly a place where people live, rather than a place for tourists to visit.
The local market - every French town has one - sells useful things, like gadgets for chopping vegetables, alongside the flowers and beautiful hand-knitted baby clothes, and is full of real French people doing their real shopping, buying delicious things for lunch and dinner, yes, but also bed sheets and radiator keys.
We buy whole crabs and various types of prawn to stick on the barbecue later, along with a 'Far Breton', a flan-style cake that is a big thing around here.
The local restaurant does a very fine two-course lunch with a tailor-made children's option, and they drink giant 'Diabolo Menthe' the green drink made of mint syrup and lemonade that I remember from my own childhood holidays here.
Around Les Mouettes are a heap of things to do. There is the Ile De Batz, a rich nature reserve reached by boat that has 520 inhabitants and a school along with fine white-sand beaches and rocky coastline, and, thanks to the crazy Brittany tides, which retreat farther then surge in higher at speeds of up to 6km an hour, there is also a variety of ghost-roads, completely covered by water when the tide is in, revealed in all their seaweedy glory when it is out, to explore.
We walk out to the tiny island of Callot, telling the children (boring?) stories of Mont Saint-Michel and the way the tide would rush in, at the pace "of a galloping horse", or so the stories go, to sweep away enemy armies.
Another day we take a drive along the Pink Granite coast, so named for the truly lovely colour of the rocky coastline, as far as the buzzy sailing town of Perros-Guirec, from where we spot the seven islands (Les Sept-Iles). These are uninhabited, although once upon a medieval time, monks did try, a la Skelligs, to live there.
They must have been less hardy than Irish monks, because these days, it's just puffins and gannets, disturbed only by visiting boat trips, but the sight of them from shore is very impressive; a kind of protective ring around the bay.
Morlaix is a town that takes itself very seriously, as befits what was the region's most prosperous trading centre back in the day. The estuary goes right into the town, meaning you can sail on up, mooring your craft and stepping ashore to the heart of it all (although you'll need to wait for the tide to get back out again).
A whopper of a two-storey viaduct, built as a railway bridge in the 1860s, dominates, from the top of which is a wonderful view down over the slate roofs and church steeples, and including the 'maisons a pondalez' (overhanging houses), 16th century buildings with three half-timbered overlapping storeys that have been well preserved and form the heart of the old quarter. Alongside the usual Breton specialities, Morlaix has plenty of very smart restaurants, great art shops, and ice cream that my children declare is "the best" they have had.
Meanwhile, back at Les Mouettes, 'les animateurs' are getting up a game of water basketball and the kids are keen. For me, it's time for a couple of sundowners and the frog chorus. Perfect.
TAKE TWO: Top attractions
Chateau du Taureau
It takes about 40 minutes by boat to reach Rocher du Taureau, named for its bull-like appearance. Here, rising almost vertical from the water is the impressive Chateau du Taureau, first built in 1542 to protect the prosperous town of Morlaix from endless English onslaughts.
In Brittany, the local galettes (a type of crepe) are made with ‘ble noir’ — black flour — which is actually milled buckwheat, itself more akin to the rhubarb family than wheat. The result is a more robust kind of crepe with a delicious nutty flavour that works well with savoury fillings.
Emily and family travelled as guests of Brittany Ferries.
With Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven, she says passengers can enjoy an authentic French on-board experience. Facilities include pool and bar areas, two cinemas, shopping malls, luxurious spa treatments and a wide range of restaurants.
Enjoy a camping holiday in France from as little as €210* per person for seven nights, based on a family of four. The full range of 2018 holidays is now available at brittanyferries.ie/holidays.
Booking can be made online or by calling 021 427 7801.
* Includes 15pc saving on both accommodation in France and on return sailings, if booked before February 6 and based on four people travelling on return sailings from Cork to Roscoff between June 2, 2018 and June 8, 2018 (two nights on board) in a standard car, sharing a four-berth inside cabin with a five-night stay at property reference YYB012 Port de Plaisance, Benodet 5* campsite. Subject to availability.
Sunday Indo Living