All aboard for a cruise to France

Still thinking about where to go this summer? We’ve got you covered - head to the high seas and beautiful France.

Just one of the great advantages about 'cruising' to France for a spring or summer break: packing is almost too easy. And then you have your own car with you too so no fretting about sandy toes or ice-lolly spills like you might in a rental. And of course, you're able to head off sight-seeing or shopping without trying to decipher local bus timetables.  

In fact, you can be left with only one problem, a really nice one - re-packing the car when you've stocked up on wine for the year ahead as well as sports gear and a few treasures from the markets.

A typical to-do list before you head off on the ferry for a holiday might look like this:

  • Boogie boards - check;
  • Bikes & helmets - check
  • Lego - check
  • Stack of thrillers to catch up on - check
  • A dozen t-shirts each so I don't have to even think about laundry.

You might guess we're not too worried about weight restrictions. When you take the ferry on holidays you can just pack and pack.

Point your nose towards the sunny southeast and you'll feel that ripple of holiday excitement before you even hit Rosslare.

Kids in particular go with the attitude that the holiday starts the moment they see Irish Ferries' Oscar Wilde. Of course, with on-board treasure hunts, kiddie discos, play area and cinema, it's easy to get excited. 

What to do? Loads!

Food always features prominently on holidays so let's start as we mean to go on with a trip to one of the on-board restaurants.  Choose between the Oscar Wilde's stylish Left Bank Brasserie, or the tex-mex Steakhouse. Treat yourself in the Berneval waiter-service restaurant or keep things easy-going with some rolls and light refreshments in Cafe Lafayette.

There's free wifi on board which is handy while you're making up your mind whether to head to the piano bar or the Merrion Lounge. Children will make a beeline for The Happy Prince play area. And you'll see plenty of people opting for the beauty salon to get that haircut or nail polish they just didn't have time for before they headed off.

Kids just won't want to go to bed - until you remind them that it's in a cabin on a ship. Then they'll be thrilled to explore the bunks and ensuite.  Cabins are compact but are just what you need - a comfy, spotless bedroom so you can stretch out and arrive relaxed.

Fabulous France!

Driving in France isn't too tricky - once you mentally readjust to driving on the opposite side to here. Routes are very clearly marked and roads are generally in top-notch condition.  The French do love their roundabouts so you'll get used to signs for up-coming 'rond points'.

While you're free to head as far as you like - and I do know people who motor all the way to Spain - a fair few Irish families make Normandy, Brittany or Vendée their base for the hols.

A good morning's drive, followed by a picnic lunch or some crepes, and a bit more motoring and you'll be at your campsite or hotel in time for a quick dip and a look around.

Campsites typically cater for people who want to live in a chalet-style mobile home with barbeque, decking and sun loungers but lots also have pitches for camper vans and bungalow-sized tents.

Just decide early what's important to you - easy beach access? woodland walks? cycling or hiking trails? watersports? evening entertainment? - and book the right site.

St Jean de Monts in Vendée (the region south of Brittany) is extremely popular with holidaymakers. And for good reason. Most campsites are next to or within a short walk of a beach. A good few Irish people with kids opt for Le Clarys Plage. Beaches are a good mix of long sandy strands and little rocky bays which are excellent for exploring and fishing in.

Be realistic: This is the Atlantic ocean, so those wetsuits you packed in the roof-box will be handy if the kids are endlessly in and out of the water.  The summer weather here is like the best Irish summer.  Campsites with pools and waterslides are hugely popular - check them out online and decide which one suits your waterbabies. Waterslides which end in a run-out chute are just perfect for mums and dads who don't want to stand in a plunge pool for hours each day. 

Our gang could easily spend several hours in the partially-covered pool before lunch - heading for the slides or bobbing around on inflatable toys when aqua-aerobic classes kick-off.

Sites usually have at least one shop, restaurant and bar so keeping your ice-cream levels topped up shouldn't be any hassle.  And if pizza, fresh fish and chips or mussels are your thing then you'll be well catered for. Your campsite will have info on where the local markets are on each day so be sure to check them out - they'll have everything from towels to clothes and jewellery as well as fresh fish, fruit and veg, and of course baguettes.

Local towns will have handy supermarkets, touristy shops and cafes.  Even if you're in top health, be sure to pop into one of the local pharmacies: I've picked up some delicious moisturisers and lotions which aren't easily available in Ireland.

You'll be glad you brought the car too if there's a spatter of rain - or even if you just need to get out of the sun. A shower one morning last summer saw us loaded up and on the move before the kids had even had second breakfast.  We spent a great few hours in a fab aquarium in Vendée which has everything from seahorses to giant crabs and even an alligator which was rescued from Parisian sewers!  The sun was shining again by the time we emerged. 

There are plenty of well-maintained zoos in France as well. Zoo de Pont-Scorff in Brittany is one such worthwhile day trip.

Smaller children might prefer the fun of a farm/petting zoo visit. La Ferme des Pommettes isn't too far from St Jean de Monts. Visiting kids were thrilled to be allowed take their choice of pony for a walk around the farm. They made friends with all the farm animals, enjoyed a tractor ride and some games before everyone was offered a snack too - believe me that a glass of juice and a hunk of baguette never tasted so good. And all for admission fees of less than €5 each as well.

The Quiberon peninsula in south Brittany is a great spot for campsites and watersports. Our gang loved Le Conguel campsite which is right next to a great zipwire and high ropes challenge activity in the woods. The famous standing stones of Carnac are a short drive from these too if you're looking for a hike - and there are some handy nearby campsites here too - such as La Grande Métairie. And there's a great 15km cycle trail known as the Boucle de Quiberon if you want to work up an appetite. There are a good few bike rental shops in the area too if you are regretting not bringing your bike on the ferry.

A few lazy days around the campsite are also a real treat - well, you've gotta work your way through that bundle of books you brought! Most sites have free wifi and entertainment in the bar or playgrounds.  A basic two-bedroom mobile home will have a double bed and two or even three bunks as well as a microwave, fridge and stove.  Have lunch on the decking so you don't even have to worry about tidying up. Campsites usually have a laundry room available too so bring a washing powder tablet or two just in case you want to throw a bundle of t-shirts in the wash.

Leave time before your homeward ferry trip to stop off at a wine outlet - you can sample a lot of the wines on offer and get some great discounts. Very handy if you have a celebration coming up - or just for a regular weekend treat.  And while we're on the shopping spree subject, be sure to check out sports goods stores. You'll see a lot of Irish-reg cars outside outlets such as Decathlon and I've been delighted to get bargains on everything from wellies to camping gear, tracksuits and winter jackets.

It's fantastic to see everyone looking tanned and relaxed on the ferry on the way home - the kids treat the Oscar Wilde like an old friend and love showing that they know where everything is. Then, it's just a drive home where you can amaze yourself with how much gear and shopping you managed to pack into your car or camper van.

Bon Voyage.

 

Even if you're only a recent convert to travelling by ferry, it's definitely not too late to make it your summer 2017 option. Pop a €100 deposit on the trip now, and you have a bit of time to research your travels before you head off.

Sail with Irish Ferries on Oscar Wilde from Rosslare to either Roscoff or Cherbourg. Or if you are not looking for the family entertainment program onboard, you also have the choice of sailing direct from Dublin to Cherbourg on Epilson

You can book an onboard family meal in advance and even take a virtual tour of the ship - check out the Irish Ferries website - and happy sailing. 



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