Just how popular is France?
France is the country most visited by tourists in the World, but how do you get there? Ferries, Low-Cost flights, the Channel Tunnel or swimming – what”s the best way to get from the UK to Brittany and the Pays de la Loire in France?
For years the only real option for British holidaymakers and property owners when travelling to Brittany was to take a cross-channel ferry. Since the advent of the Channel Tunnel and the various low-cost budget airlines, the choice has expanded somewhat. This has had its advantages and disadvantages, providing more choice overall, but isolated issues such as poor old P&O having to give up the Western Channel routes (Portsmouth to Cherbourg and Le Havre) a few years ago because it became unprofitable.
What is the best way to get to Brittany?
Broadly, this depends on the following factors :
How long your stay in Brittany will be for
If your trip is a very short one, then a flight or one of the short ferry crossings may be best. For longer trips, perhaps annual holidays, you could choose to break up your journey by staying overnight – either before you take the ferry in the UK or at the ferry port once you arrive in France.
Will you need a car whilst in France?
Brittany is a great place for touring around. Hiring a car from the airport is quite an expensive option at the moment, and so if you need a car in France then the best option may be to take it on the ferry with you. Having your own car adds to the convenience whilst in France too – you are familiar with your own car, and you will be able to bring back shopping too (an option that might not be available to you without a car).
Where you live in the UK
Unless your Breton destination is very close to a french ferry port, if you live more than a couple of hours away from your nearest cross-channel ferry port in the UK you will either need to consider flying, or taking overnight accommodation at the ferry port, or taking a longer overnight ferry crossing with a cabin. It is a very tough proposition to drive more than 3 hours to your ferry port in the UK, then take a cross-channel ferry, then be faced with a drive to your destination in France – especially if you have young children or pets in the car.
When you intend to travel
Low-cost flights to Brittany generally operate in mid- and high-season only – that means between April and September. So if you intend travelling to Brittany during the Winter months you may need to take the ferry instead. This can be an attractive option, as prices are lower and ferries are generally much quieter at this time of year. Rough weather in the Channel can cause delays, but our experience is that this is rare and ferries these days are much more comfortable during such crossings than they were perhaps 20 years ago.
How many are in your party
The price you pay for a cross-channel ferry trip is generally cheaper per person than it is for low-cost flights as the number of people in your party increases. Airlines will, reasonably, charge you per person, whereas if you are taking your car with you on the ferry you will generally be charged a fixed price for the car and 5 passengers. Also, the challenges of getting your family and their luggage from the UK to France may be greater if you fly than if you could just throw everything into your car and drive directly to your holiday destination in Brittany.
Ferries to Brittany
The Western Channel ferry ports of Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth and even Weymouth are probably the most appropriate for those travelling to Brittany. Leaving the UK from other channel ports such as Dover, whilst perhaps more convenient for your UK departure point, will leave you with a long drive to your Brittany holiday destination and with the potential for costly road tolls (many autoroutes in France carry toll charges) and overnight accommodation in France. Portsmouth has the largest choice of sailings to Brittany (and also to Caen and Cherbourg, which are in Normandy but which are included here because of their proximity to Brittany).
Short Ferry Crossings
Brittany ferries operate short cross-channel ferry trips to Cherbourg from Poole and Portsmouth. conventional ferries take between 4 and 5 hours, but a fast ferry / catamarran service operates outside of the low season which cuts the journey time down to just over 2 hours.
Longer Ferry Crossings (Cross-Channel Cruises!)
Brittany ferries operate up to 2 sailings a day from Plymouth to Roscoff (6 hours) between March and October. If you are travelling from the West Country and want to arrive in a beautiful rural part of North-West Brittany, then this is a great crossing.
Another West Country option is to use Condor ferries, who operate between Weymouth and St Malo and also between Poole and St Malo. These crossings are long, but they do deliver you to the fascinating and lovely port of St Malo, which is probably the most convenient arrival port in France for the majority of travellers to Brittany. Part of the long journey time is often taken up by the ferries stopping to pick up or drop off at one of the Channel Islands.
Brittany Ferries operate good conventional ferry services from Portsmouth to both Cherbourg (about 4 and a half hours) and Caen (6 hours) as well as fast craft sailings to both of these locations which reduce the journey times to around 3 hours to Cherbourg and 3 and a half hours to Caen.
There is also a really nice, though lengthy crossing operated by Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St Malo. This is a good one to do overnight as the ferry leaves at around 8:30 in the evening and arrives in St Malo at around 8am the following morning – plenty of time to dine on board and get a good nights sleep before arriving in France.
Flights to Brittany
The following airports are in Brittany, or are close enough to Brittany to make travelling there worthwhile, and are served by airlines flying from the UK:
Dinard is near St Malo, and is within a 2-3 hour drive of any location in Brittany. Ryanair operate flights from both East Midlands and Stanstead to Dinard.
In the extreme North-East of the country, Brest is within a 3 hour drive of pretty much any location in Brittany and significantly closer if your stay is in Finistere. Ryanair fly from Luton and Dublin to Brest. Flybe operate flights to Brest from Southampton, Manchester and Birmingham.
Rennes is the capital of Brittany and within easy reach of all areas of the region. The airport is small, but is served well by Flybe with flights from Edinburgh, Birmingham, Exeter and Southampton.
Nantes is not strictly in Brittany, but in Pays de la Loire. It is close enough to Brittany and has excellent road connections to make it a viable route for travelling. Ryanair operate flights from both East Midlands and Leeds / Bradford to Nantes.
Is the Channel Tunnel an option?
Taking your car through the channel tunnel is an option for those wanting to travel to Brittany, but make sure that you do not underestimate the length of the journey once you are in France.For example, it will take at least 4 hours to travel from Calais to even the most easterly locations in Brittany. If you are travelling to the Atlantic Coast this could easily increase to 6 hours. There are tolls to consider too, which will push up your travel costs. On the plus side, if you don”t like flying or sea travel or if you live in the extreme South-East of England, this could be a viable alternative.
I hope this has been useful. Please make any comments or recommendations below, and let us know if we have got anything wrong. How do you travel between UK and Brittany in France, and what do you think are the best places to visit in Brittany and Pays de la Loire?