Thursday 20 September 2018

Brittany: An active family holiday packed with sun, surf and salted caramel sauce...

Adrenaline junkies can go off-grid on a wild family holiday in southern Brittany, says Fiona Ness 

Brittany - famed for soft white sands and surf
Brittany - famed for soft white sands and surf
Eurocamps site in Baden
Brittany Ferries

Fiona Ness

Do you know how to confront a gaggle of angry French geese?

I do. Stride confidently towards them while flapping your arms vigorously at your side - honking noises optional. You'll quickly turn lakeside villains into scatterbrained puddleducks running helter skelter for cover. 

Although perhaps not the most obvious of holidaymaking skills, geese-flummoxing was one of many talents I perfected on a family camping trip to La Mané Guernehué in southern Brittany. I also mastered high wires, horse riding, surfing, oyster shucking, chastising children (in French), and barbecuing those curious French sausages, but no matter.

My most enduring memory is la oie.

Set high on a hill in the French town of Baden, Mané Guernehué is laid out in ever decreasing circles of mobile homes, which reach up to an impressive aqua park and restaurant complex at the pinnacle. Here too are a well-maintained bouncy castle barn, children's playground and boules pitches. On the sloping arret of the hill is a small pet farm with a crazy golf course on one side and a high-ropes course on the other, all leading down to an angling lake bordering a wood.

On one side of the lake is a field where the horses from the camp's riding school are let out to pasture in the evenings, and it became our lazy holiday habit to take an after-dinner ramble to feed the animals with contraband apples. Any further along the lake, however, and we'd be chased back by the geese...

Eurocamps site in Baden
Eurocamps site in Baden

After a few unsuccessful excursions into enemy territory, we met a fellow camper who transformed our holiday with his farmyard nous. Emboldened, we set out to conquer the looped walk once and for all.

The children were also now free to collect the breakfast pain au chocolat from the camp shop, no longer terrified of the consequences if they met the geese on morning patrol. For the best baguette money can buy, however, it's worth the 700m drive into the Boulangerie Patisserie in Baden for its double and triple baguettes and delicate French fancies.

Baguettes aside, we were not in France for the food. We were here for the jam-packed physical activities that would carry our adrenaline-junkie kids from dawn until dusk, then kept them snoring for 10 hours straight while we sat out under the stars. Our Avant mobile home, the newest in the range, came complete with dishwasher, leaving us nothing to do in the evenings but sip biodynamique wine as we planned the next day's excursions.

Every day, come sun, wind or drizzle, we would spend a few hours riding the flumes on the indoor and outdoor pools, and more time on the bouncy castles, trampolines and climbing frame. We interspersed days of campsite activities such as pony trekking, the high-wire courses and ziplining or the buzzing Eurocamp kids club with forays into the countryside for cultural or frivilous pursuits.

The sprawling 13th century castle of the Dukes of Brittany, Doman de Suscinio (suscinio@saur.fr) is nearby and is a marvellous feat of restoration, having been left to ruin after the French Revolution. Beyond the battlements are marshland walks and an ornate, 300m2 tiled floor of the ducal chapel.

The walled city of Vannes is 20 minutes away and a good rainy-day activity. Go for cobbled streets, gaols, gates and its impressive cathedral. There are high-quality tourist shops, delectable chocolate cafés and a July jazz festival (festivaljazzenville.fr). The sea fortress of Concarneau is another worthwhile daytrip.

Brittany Ferries
Brittany Ferries

It helped that we had experienced some of the region before, so knew that in nearby Carnac, Parc de Loisirs (parc-attraction-loisirs.fr) - a sprawling, lo-fi adventure fun park - and Forêt Adrénaline (foretadrenaline.com) - an eco-friendly high-wire centre where an intricate web of traverses is colour coded for appropriate age groups - would be sure-fire hits with our children.

We knew too of the fabulous waves and sheltered coves on the Quiberon Peninsula, where, after a 25-minute drive you can while away a day jumping waves and making sandcastles on the beach. This finger of land which juts out into the Atlantic is famed for its soft white sands and surf; however, with only one road leading both on and off the peninsula, time it wrong and you'll be caught in a conga line of cars snaking towards the blue green waters of the gulf, with children becoming increasingly irritable in the back seat. (Tip: go early and leave early, and avoid the weekends or the area's name, the Côte Sauvage, takes on a whole other meaning).

Stopping for dinner at Au Rigad'eau (Route de Penmern, 56870 Baden) soothes the savage beasts. It is Pirates of the Carribean meets Jamie Oliver, with wild, wacky, wonderful pizzas topped with local French delicacies (they do Margherita too). All served up in a junkyard setting.

You can't visit Baden without taking to the water in some way or another. The gulf in which it sits harbours over 40 islands, and a multitude of ferry companies offer trips of varying lengths and prices to experience these jewels of the sea.

We opted for the short ferry hop from Port-Blanc Baden to Ile aux Moines, a cross shaped island laced with lanes for walkers, cyclists and mopeds. The ferry travels every 20 minutes - which is handy because we missed quite a few while trying to find a car parking space in the port. On our visit the island's main beach was full of daytrippers, so we followed the trail to the megolithic standing stones instead - promising ice cream before our return to the mainland. Because even the best French holidays are made better by a leisurely pierside coupe de glace.

Fiona Ness travelled to Brittany courtesy of Brittany Ferries.

What to pack

Children's short wetsuits (shorties) from Dunnes. The outside pools may be heated but this is Brittany after all. Prepare to wear away the bottom of them zipping down the flumes.

Buy: Salted butter caramel sauce, toffees, lollies...

Get there

How: Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven sails from Cork to Roscoff. See brittanyferries.ie or 021-4277801. It’s the fastest and most modern passenger ship on the route, and offers discounts for holidays booked before February 6.

How much? Sailings from €132pp return, based on four sharing a cabin.

Where to stay

Seven nights in a 3-bed, 2-bath Espace mobile with decking at Mane Guernehue campsite in Baden, Brittany costs from €648 in June; from €1,026 in July and €1,599 in August (eurocamp.ie; 021-4252300).

Booking staff and on-site Eurocamp couriers will take care of everything!

Read more:

Basking in Brittany: Taking the ferry for the most nostalgic of holidays

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