FRANCE: Family holiday to Brittany



By Tim Saunders

France is only a few hours from the UK and therefore it makes an ideal destination for a family holiday.

Rather than fly, our choice is a more leisurely Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo. The en-suite cabin for the 12-hour overnight journey is large enough to accommodate 19-month old Harriett’s travel cot. She sleeps well.

We arrive at St Malo where its cobbled streets and alleyways are welcoming. Harriett enjoys leaping up and down any steps she finds. The busy and historic fishing port is on the Emerald Coast with its 1,200km of coastline. Famous for pancakes and galettes (French cakes), St Malo has been restored after nearly being destroyed in the Blitz.

From there we head to Dol de Bretagne, 40 minutes away, and to Domaine des Ormes, a holiday resort in the grounds of a restored chateau. Canvas Holidays has a selection of wooden lodges, mobile homes and tents set in the picturesque tree-lined landscape. We stay in a lodge for the week. On entering there’s an inviting and distinctive smell of pine. The cosy retreat provides plenty of room and Harriett sleeps comfortably in the loft room. Equipped with all the mod-cons including a dishwasher, self-catering is easy. There’s even a complimentary bottle of tasty local Rosé. Pregnant wife Caroline has no need to worry about what she eats either, despite her husband’s poor culinary skills… 

Back home we live on a busy main road and so the solitude of les Ormes, set in such a remote area, is greatly appreciated, resulting in us frequently awaking after 9am. The joy of holidays.

Every morning we head for the heated indoor pool. Harriett has really taken to swimming and she particularly enjoys the wild river and Jacuzzis as well as watching daddy go down the shoots. 

Each day we visit different places and buy our daily baguette from a mix of boulangeries and supermarches. It quickly becomes apparent that boulangerie bread is fresher and tastier. We fill it with salad and cheese, eating our lunch on a variety of park benches. And why not? The weather is permanently above 25 degrees and there’s bright sunshine. French passers-by smile and wish us bon appetite.

On the first day we visit Dol de Bretagne, which stands on the remains of a cliff and is home to St-Samson cathedral. The Intermarche is deadly quiet.

On returning to les Ormes we walk around the grounds seeing bats, mice, red squirrels, ducks, Canadian geese and to Harriett’s great pleasure, a family of goats. Making our way back to the lodge, Caroline and I are dragged to the park. The swings, roundabout and train are a daily necessity for our little rascal.

We have a semi-relaxing stroll through Jardin du Val Cocherel in Dinan as we try and keep Harriett to her routine of having an afternoon doze. But the little wriggler won’t have any of it, insisting on clambering out of her pushchair, strapping her shoes and reins on and toddling. In fact over the course of the holiday our little prodigy insists on staying awake during every day for fear of missing out. But the car journey always proves too much, despite her vocal assessment of the Peugeot 208 we’re driving, she falls asleep… 

At Dinard we patiently wait for the lifting bridge to drop. This busy fishing port offers another pleasant afternoon of lunch and walking.

It’s not long before dreams of sampling local beer come to me. But will Harriett sit still for long enough? At Combourg, where the romantic novelist Chateaubriand lived in the Chateau de Combourg (and was inspired by the area), our little tinker finally settles down. After our stroll by the tranquil cypress-lined lake and some curious looks in estate agents’ windows – at land for 35,000 euros and properties from 20 or 30 thousand more – we find a café and I indulge. Caroline has a fruit juice. We enjoy it so much that we do the same again the following day in Pontorson, after another walk in another delightful park with an array of well-chosen, vibrant coloured flowers. In fact, there we have a conversation with an old local who complains about the smell of the place. During our chat he moans about recession and adds that the locals marched down Rue de Liberation at the end of the Second World War. 

Sadly our holiday quickly draws to a close but on our way to Cherbourg we’re sure to stop in Saint-Lo, twinned with Christchurch, Dorset, home to its own Notre Dame cathedral, which was damaged in WW2. We stumble upon Les Jardins Publiques, another beautiful park, for lunch. 

Returning home on the Brittany Ferries three-hour fast jet service from Cherbourg to Portsmouth, Harriett waltzes around the boat. She is sure to catch the eye of passengers, who smile at her antics. On deck she watches the swell of the sea.

Harriett’s first trip abroad is a resounding success and, just like her parents, she is clearly a born traveller.


Ferry crossing: Outbound: Brittany Ferries overnight crossing in an en-suite cabin from Portsmouth to St Malo. Inbound: Brittany Ferries fast jet service from Cherbourg to Portsmouth - £453 Telephone: 0871-5084784.
Six nights in a Canvas Holidays wooden lodge at Domaine des Ormes in Dol de Bretagne - £800 Telephone: 01383-629000
Travel insurance – Staysure, seven days family cover - £26 Telephone: 0844-6928444.
Rough Guide to Brittany £14.99 
Depart Portsmouth
Explore St Malo
Arrive at Domaine des Ormes
Dol de Bretagne – Promenade Jules Revert
Dinan – medieval town and port. Picturesque park with deer, peacocks and rabbits. Val de Cocherel
Dinard. Opposite St Malo. 
Dol de Bretagne park. Combourg – tabac, beer.
Mont St Michel 
Saint-Lo and Notre Dame cathedral
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