Sail away from the mayhem: Avoid airports and jump on a ferry to the lesser-known regions of France
- Choose an alternative route to the congested Dover-to-Calais ferry path
- Explore the North Brittany coast with a trip from Plymouth to charming Roscoff
- Condor Ferries sails to the handsome town of Saint-Malo up to four times a week
With horrendous scenes at airports and rolling strikes on railways around the country, this could be the worst summer possible to let the plane or train take the strain for holidays.
So why not pay a ferry to absorb the hassle? Avoid the popular (and congested) Dover-to-Calais route and experience lesser-known sailings that can take you across to France from quieter ports along the south coast.
Here are five of our favourite secret ways to reach France by ferry.
Avoid planes and trains and experience lesser-known sailings that can take you across to France from quieter ports along the south coast
Plymouth to Roscoff
Not only is Roscoff, in France’s north-west, the perfect gateway to exploring the North Brittany coastline, but the town is a charmer that you’ll never mistake for grimy Calais.
The port buildings and 17th-century townhouses are lined with plants, and a stroll through the Georges Delaselle gardens should quell any dizziness after a rough crossing.
Charming Roscoff (pictured), in France’s north-west, is the perfect gateway to exploring the North Brittany coastline
Roscoff is also home to the pink onion (there’s a festival dedicated to it), while the restaurant at Le Brittany hotel (hotel-brittany.com) serves fish galore with a strong Breton touch; don’t miss its veal chop sauteed with candied shallots and shellfish.
Where to stay: Doubles at the Grand Hotel des Bains (a 40-minute drive from Roscoff ferry terminal) cost from £156 B&B (grand-hotel-des-bains.com).
Getting there: Brittany Ferries (brittany-ferries.co.uk) sails from Plymouth to Roscoff up to twice a day with a journey time of five hours and 30 minutes. Return fares for two adults with one car from £258.
Newhaven to Dieppe
DFDS Ferries sails from Newhaven to Dieppe, pictured above, up to three times a day
Dieppe may be unfashionable to many Francophiles but literary intelligentsia once gathered in front of the town’s chalk cliffs and harbour. This is where Oscar Wilde is said to have written The Ballad Of Reading Gaol while Renoir, Monet and Whistler all stayed here.
Head to the Cafe des Tribunaux on Place du Puits Sale to soak up some of the boho atmosphere, before visiting the Church of Saint-Jacques.
Explore the history of the area at the Estran Cite de la Mer (estrancitedelamer.fr) while checking sea levels; Dieppe’s beach may look a pebble-only affair but a bijou strip of sand emerges at low tide.
Where to stay: Doubles at Hotel Windsor (hotelwindsor.fr) cost from £94 B&B.
Getting there: DFDS Ferries (dfds.com) sails from Newhaven to Dieppe up to three times a day with a sailing time of four hours. Return fares for two adults with one car from £102.50.
Poole to Cherbourg
It takes just four hours and 30 minutes to sail from Poole to Cherbourg with Brittany Ferries
Stock up on crepes at Cherbourg’s Place de Gaulle market (stock photo)
Everyone knows the Titanic left Southampton, but not many are aware the vessel also stopped in Cherbourg, north-west France, before its fatal journey to the U.S. The tale of this port town’s part in the ultimate disaster story is explained at the Cite de la Mer museum (citedelamer.com).
If your sea legs aren’t too wobbly from the ferry then climb to the summit of the 19th-century Fort du Roule where there’s a reward of views of the naval arsenal and marina, as well as a museum of the Liberation (cherbourg.fr).
Wind down with a trip to the Place de Gaulle market (open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) where you can stock up on cheeses, crepes and uncommonly delicious apples.
Where to stay: Doubles at The Landemer (a 15-minute drive from the centre of Cherbourg) from £160 B&B (en.le-landemer.com).
Getting there: Brittany Ferries sails from Poole to Cherbourg up to three times a day with a sailing time of four hours and 30 minutes. Return fares for two adults with one car cost from £178.
Portsmouth to Caen
On a visit to Caen, make sure to visit the impressive 11th-century Chateau de Caen (pictured), which houses artwork by Delacroix and Tintoretto
William the Conqueror’s Abbaye-aux-Hommes (meaning ‘Men’s Abbey’) scoops most of the headlines in this Normandy town, but the 11th-century Chateau de Caen — home to the Musee des Beaux-Arts (mba.caen.fr), featuring works by Delacroix and Tintoretto — is equally impressive.
You’ll barely notice how badly damaged Caen was in the Battle of Normandy, but the Memorial de Caen (memorial-caen.fr) gives a definitive account of the war, complete with a replica Hawker Typhoon bomber plane and footage of the Nuremberg Trials.
Where to stay: Doubles at Le Clos Saint-Martin cost from £136 B&B (clossaintmartin.com).
Getting there: Brittany Ferries (brittany-ferries.co.uk) sails from Portsmouth to Caen up to three times a day with a journey time of five hours and 45 minutes. Return fares for two adults with one car cost from £238.
Poole to Saint-Malo
Condor Ferries sails from Poole to the handsome walled town of Saint-Malo (pictured) up to four times a week
The ‘corsairs’ of Saint-Malo may have been known for their piracy, but on home turf they built country estates, known as malouinieres, outside this handsome, walled town, many of which can be visited in the summer.
Look carefully and you can see the resemblance to an upturned ship’s keel in the look of the Malouiniere de la Ville Bague (la-ville-bague.com). From here, take a coastal drive to the village of Cancale (it’s 30 minutes by car) where you can eat some of the finest oysters in France.
Sit on the sea wall and devour them by the dozen — they cost scarcely a pound each.
Where to stay: Doubles at the Elizabeth Hotel (saintmalo-hotel-elizabeth.com) from £84 B&B.
Getting there: Condor Ferries (condorferries.co.uk) sails from Poole to Saint-Malo up to four times a week. It takes six hours and 20 minutes. Return fares for two adults with one car from £320.
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