Taking the Ferry

3 November 2022

Taking the Ferry

Holidays in France

By Robert Kilconner

Large open top touring cars, hotel to hotel across Europe, first class meal after first class meal, it was the Brideshead way of taking a holiday. Standards have slipped since then or more accurately holidaymakers have slipped down a class or two, but driving across Europe is still as good a way of taking a relaxing break as any. Or at least it was until Covid, when closed borders and the risk of infection kept many people at home.

“Would you like to try fighting off a deadly virus in a Turkish hospital when you don’t know the language? No? Well you would do better to take your holiday in Stoke-on-Trent.” So ran the voice of sanity and it is a voice which we got all too used to listening to.      

Going back to the continent is like emerging from hibernation. It is just as attractive as it always was but you cannot help feeling some trepidation as you take to the road. Perhaps you should start a little gently, a trip through the tunnel, a quick circuit of watering holes and then scuttle back through before the French petrol shortages catch up with you. A thousand miles or so in all. That will take you well into France without burning too much fuel.

Wrong think, mes braves, wrong think. If you drove only one way through France you could get right down to the Pyrenees. That is how we saw it anyway and why the first night of our holiday was spent on the ferry from Plymouth to Santander. And a very good ferry it was. A comfortable cabin on a well-appointed boat, 24-hours of holiday at a cost not much above that of a good hotel room. And then the slow and languorous process through France and Spain in a series of stops. We like to stop for about three nights each time. The first day is spent exploring the town or countryside and the second enjoying the restaurants and monuments found on the first. Readers will differ as to their preferences but perhaps it is worth mentioning that the road up the west coast of France can take you along the banks of the Gironde, through classic claret country, and, should you choose the left bank, another short ferry trip across the estuary as a boating bonus.

It is of course impossible to holiday in France without visiting the Loire but for those who know their Renaissance châteaux to the last salamander it can be done with a twist. Try Nantes downstream of Chinon for example. As you approach it through its suburbs you will wonder how you made such a terrible mistake but once you get to the centre, and for goodness sake don’t stay anywhere else, you will find a large pedestrianised town of very considerable charm. Good shopping, too, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

And then of course the final drift up to Normandy and the filling of the car (or so much of it as is not already occupied by bottles of Bordeaux) with cheeses, cider and those wonderful jars containing a precooked canard or boeuf just waiting to be unveiled on an Islington table.

As you drive back into the Chunnel full of the new things you have seen and the distance you have travelled, you reflect to yourself that you wouldn’t have nearly as much if you had driven both ways and thank the gods of travel who gave you the good sense to take the boat.

tile photo:  Michael Martinelli on Unsplash
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