ALICE & DALE'S HOLIDAY TO BRITTANY, FRANCE
Who: Alice and Dale.
Where: Brittany and Normandy including Domaine de Ker Ys, Domaine des Ormes, La Vallee, and Cote de Nacre.
When: 2nd-7th May 2017.
Travelling: I flew from Manchester to Nantes direct with Flybe arriving 11:15 on Tuesday lunch time to meet Dale and chose an overnight ferry from Caen to Portsmouth with Brittany Ferries with a two berth cabin. I departed at 23:00 on Saturday, arrived 06:45 on Sunday morning with a four-hour drive back to Manchester.
Quimper, the capital of Finistere, is a mixture of old and new, with charming cobbled streets lined with French country architecture; each building individual in design, colour, and shape. For a small Bretagne town, Quimper has a cosmopolitan feel, with squares and narrow streets filled boutiques and cafes and eateries around every corner; there really is something for everyone. With weekly markets, a spectacular cathedral and fresh world food cooked right in front of your eyes in the indoor food hall, the town is a must-see.
As the capital of the department, Quimper claims to be the heart of Brittany, hosting traditional Breton festivals each week in July and a Breton Museum open all year round. Quimper town centre comes to life at lunch time when the local schools and businesses break and the locals fill the cafes and bars to enjoy conversation, quality cuisine and the obligatory glass of wine. This is French culture at its finest.
Domaine de Ker Ys is a short scenic drive from Quimper, with quiet roads through fields of green and yellow. You know you are drawing closer to the campsite as the view of the sea creeps in through the distance. Once you have spotted the sea, you know you are almost at the campsite when reaching the top of the winding road with the beach at the end.
The campsite is located on the vast stretch of St-Nic beach. Our mobile was a short walk from the main facilities, with the pool and play park located at the main entrance and the gym at the end of our avenue. Fresh bread and pastries can be ordered daily from the main campsite reception which is a stones-throw from the beach.
Domaine de Ker Ys is the smallest of the campsites visited on our road trip and the one that brought the most nostalgic childhood memories of camping holidays filled with bike rides through fields and sleepy villages, the entire family attempting to fly kites of the wide stretch of beach and day trips to local towns to source local produce for our evening meal. For me, this is what camping is all about.
We continued the road trip up north across the Pont Terenez bridge, a modern piece of architecture hiding between the tree-lined roads, connecting the Crozon peninsular with Brittany. The curved bridge really did take us by the surprise, so much so that we couldn’t resist jumping out the car and taking a closer look at the enormous structure which Dale now claims as one of the best bridges in Brittany!
Dinan is a medieval town with an impressive and prestine library, castle and half-timber framed buildings that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the tales of Oliver Twist. Only a small handful of the 13th century traditional houses remain but those that do are quite spectacular. Traditional Breton souvenirs and local arts and crafts can be found in the centre of Dinan, bordered by high street shops, restaurants and bars. Dinan’s cathedral is one not to be missed, boasting with some of the most colourful and story-telling stain-glass windows. Within the castle, on the outskirts of the town you will find the museum where on a clear day you can see the iconic Mont St Michel.
From Dinan, we took the short drive to the fortress of Saint Malo for our first up-close experience of the emerald coast so far in the trip. Saint Malo is known for its coastal walks and fresh seafood of oysters and mussels. The fortress located next to the port of Saint Malo is Impressive and inviting with its spectacular views, a perfect pit-stop to get a taste of the local history and cuisine. Although it was windy the afternoon we visited, the sun was shining so we enjoyed an ice cream each whilst sat on the green at the top of the fortress whilst a group of locals played the traditional game of pétanque.
Before heading to our next campsite we visited the coastal roads at Pointe de Grouin just past the fishing village of Cancale to enjoy the views of the aqua-blue sea. This area is popular for coastal walks towards Baie de St Michel with breath-taking views and beaches. If you enjoy seafood then there’s no better place in the area than Cancale, famous for fresh oysters. Fresh seafood can be selected and cooked in-front of your eyes or for the more adventurous food-lovers lessons can be booked with Michelin-star chefs who have taken retirement in the area.
Camping Domaine des Ormes is situated in Dol, a medieval town with an unfinished cathedral and popular bars and restaurants close to Cancale. Those of you who know the area will know you’re close the campsite when you see Mont Dol, the rock formation that makes that spot that legend holds Saint Michel fought off Satan. Walks, organised tours and climbing trips can be booked to learn more about Mont Dol and the legend that exists.
Domaine des Ormes is a magnificent campsite. As you drive up the long driveway, the first thing you will notice if the beautiful Chateau where the proud owners live. Continuing further along the driveway you will pass the stables and the hotel of Domaine des Ormes. As soon as you check-in, you are in the central hub of the campsite where you quickly realise the masses of fun there is to be had, from waterslides to water-skiing, zip-lining to the petting farm and that’s before you’ve even made it your mobile home!
The campsite is large and so are the pitches with enough space for children play even with the car parked outside the mobile. As we arrived late it was lovely to be greeted by three families of holidaymakers who were out preparing a barbecue. As there was only two of us we opted for the Lounge terrace for added privacy to enjoy our evening meal out on the terrace. From our mobiles you can enjoy a scenic walk around the grounds of the campsite, including the 18 hole golf course.
Domaine des Ormes was our final stay in Brittany as we ventured further north to Normandy. Our first stop was to visit one of the most famous landmarks in France, Mont St Michel. Mont St Michel is an island home to one of Europe’s major historical pilgrimages to the medieval monastery which is now open to the public. As you approach Mont St Michel you get the feeling that you are entering a magical place filled with history and charm, your imagination runs wild as you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Unsurprising Mont St Michel is a melting pot for tourists who flock from around the world to view the monastery and its spectacular surrounds which are well worth a visit. You will also find a museum, restaurants and souvenir shops on your way up to the Abbey.
From leaving Mont St Michel we visited Deauville, the world famous millionaire’s playground of the Normandy coast. With grand hotels, large casinos and high-end fashion boutiques it’s the perfect place for exploring how the other-half live.
Deauville hosts a number of international events such as the annual American Film Festival (where Dale once saw Morgan Freeman), world-class golf tournaments and horse racing. Aside from the famous events, restaurants and shops, Deauville is one of the best places in Normandy to enjoy the beautiful beaches that have drawn the Parisians out of the city and to the coast for hundreds of years.
Our new campsite for 2017, La Vallee, is a quick car ride from Deauville. La Vallee is situated in the coastal town of Houlgate. The seafront and main high street is approximately 20 minutes’ walk from the entrance of the campsite. The campsite itself is situated on a hill with views overlooking the town and sea. Our mobile was situated at the bottom of the campsite and with no through-road only families staying on our row pass our mobile home. Again, the pitches are large and our terrace had a canopy which this time came in useful for a different reason - to protect us from the rain in the morning.
There’s plenty to keep you occupied on the campsite (even when it does rain). With an indoor play area with table tennis, a play park, indoor and outdoor pools with slides, tennis and basketball courts, football pitches and a few donkeys to pet. We visited too early in the year to join in the organised activities on park (including life-size inflatable foosball), but the tents were all set up in preparation for May half term. The bar on park has the best views over the campsite and the perfect spot to watch the sunset and at night they have live music and other entertainment. Don’t forget (like we did) to order your fresh bread and pastries from the shop when you arrive!
La Vallee is a great place to stay in order to visit World War II memorials, landing beaches and museums. The first stop for us from the campsite was Pegasus Memorial Museum and the café that was liberated on D-Day in 1944. At only 7.50 euros per head the museum was worth the visit with videos, artefacts and stories from war veterans, not to mention Pegasus Bridge and part of an original glider from the war.
From there we continued our trip to visit landing beaches and war cemeteries before reaching Arromanches. Arromanches is a coastal tourist town which was home to the artificial port, Mulberry Harbour, linked to the liberation of Western Europe after D-Day. We were too late to visit but would like to go back to the D-Day Museum and Arromanches 360. All-in-all, though, this was a super trip and Brittany remains one of the best regions of France to visit, not least thanks to the holiday parks on offer.