Camping in Brittany: ‘The kids want to go back and so do I’
A stylish village setting where the morning rush is for a fresh baguette not a sun lounger
Fun for all the family at La Lagon water park at Les Mouettes campsite in Brittany
A day trip to Île de Batz is a worthwhile excursion
The children were trudging behind us in 30 degree heat through the narrow picturesque streets of Roscoff, as Eric, our French guide, was pointing out the curious-looking gargoyles, canons and nautical symbols carved into the 16th century Notre Dame de Croaz Batz church in the centre of the town.
“Can we go back to the campsite now,” pleaded one of the children as Eric was telling us how the church was financed by ship owners and merchants with profit from trade.
I would have loved to have spent the day exploring Roscoff, the port town in the north west of Brittany, pootling around very quaint-looking shops in 15th and 16th century buildings and checking out the macarons and pastries at Maison Georges Larnicol – but the kids had other plans.
Therein lies the dilemma many parents face when they go on a holiday to a family resort. How you persuade children to go sightseeing when there is a lazy river complete with lagoon pools and waterslides waiting for them a 20-minute drive away?
We stayed for five nights at Les Mouettes campsite in Carantec, a five-star Yelloh resort overlooking the bay of Morlaix. This was not like any campsite I’ve ever been to before. I’ve heard people enthuse about French campsites being “second to none” and the “best in the world” and thought it was an exaggeration, but the facilities were very impressive.
The children spent a large part of their time in the enormous outdoor pool or aquatic park called La Lagon, which has three waterslides, a lazy river shaded by palm trees, a leisure pool for swimming and water sports and a paddling pool. It is really well set up, with terraces all around it where you can sit and read a book and keep an eye on the kids from a comfortable distance. There is also a large indoor pool which has whirlpool baths and an aqua-gym for adults.
We didn’t have time to try out all the activities at Les Mouettes, which include basketball, soccer, crazy golf, cycling, tennis and table tennis. My children didn’t make it to the kids club, but the playground was a favourite meet-up spot in the evenings with their new Irish, Dutch and English playmates.
Somehow, despite all the children running around and all the activities going on, there was a lovely chilled village atmosphere at Les Mouettes . I didn’t see anyone rushing to put towels on pool loungers at 8am; most people seemed more concerned about getting to the shop early to buy a fresh baguette.
While there are areas to pitch tents, caravans and campervans, most of the accommodation is made up of chalets, which are dotted in clusters around a parkland called Canopia.
The chalet we stayed in was clean, well-equipped, with two bedrooms, a lounge cum kitchen area, a verandah with a barbecue, and a little patch of garden area to the front. The chalets come in different shapes and sizes, and you pay more for an unrestricted sea view and extra bells and whistles – some of the luxury ones come with hot tubs and roof terraces as well as balconies.
Ours was a four-star 30sq m two-bedroom Vanille chalet in the quartier de Caraïbes and while it came with a sea view, the view was in the distance over the rooftop of another chalet.
The quartier de Caraïbes was located fairly close to the central hub, which had a restaurant, shop, bars and an outdoor entertainment area. The restaurant, called P’tit resto de Soizic, was excellent and reasonably priced, and there was a very good pizza take-away.
The curious thing in a country that is a major wine producer was that the restaurant and bars onsite only served three different types of red and white wine, and none of it was very nice.
The resort very strongly supports local business and the kids became fans of Breizh Cola, the only cola served on the site, and the shop was always stocked with Breton butter biscuits and shortbread, local whiskey, wine and sweets.
The weather was mixed, as you can expect in Brittany. It was late August and on the day we visited Roscoff, it reached a sweltering 30 degrees, which Eric told us was very unusual. Top temperatures are usually in the early to mid-20s.
I didn’t get to see a lot of Carantec, except on market day, when I dragged the kids there for a look around. During the French school summer holiday, a free bus service operates around Carantec and there’s a bus stop outside Les Mouettes. While the campsite has direct access to a beach, the lovely Plage du Kelenn is 1.5km from the campsite. There’s a coastal walk that stretches all the way around Brittany and the section near Carantec is supposed to be well worth taking.
The town is crammed with creperies and restaurants, including the Michelin star restaurant Patrick Jeffroy. The boulangerie Patrick et Françoise Demais on Place de la Libération had queues out the door when we passed by.
One of the many highlights of the trip was the day I managed to get the children to go on a short ferry trip from Roscoff over to Île de Batz (pronounced Ba), an island where visitors can’t bring cars and only a few locals have motorised vehicles, mainly farmers with tractors and a few crazy scooter drivers.
We hired bikes to get around, as most people do, and took some of the cycling trails that criss-cross the island and bring you past its beaches. The harbour area has lovely old stone buildings and several (not cheap) cafes and restaurants and an ice-cream and crepe parlour.
It was an idyllic day of exploring. We didn’t get as far as the botanical garden, the Jardin Exotique Georges-Delaselle, in the south east of the island, which has 2,000 species of plants from every continent and boasts a collection of palm trees – all of which flourish due to the island’s position in the Gulf Stream. Alongside it, there is a water sports centre, Rêves de Mer.
We travelled to France from Ringaskiddy to Roscoff on the Brittany Ferries boat Pont-Aven. We stayed in nearby Carrigaline the night before the sailing to break the journey and caught the ferry the next day at 4pm.
The queuing to get on the ferry was the worst part of the journey, but once on board there is plenty to do. There are several restaurants, the à la carte Flora Restaurant and self-service restaurants, La Belle Angèle and Le Café du Festival. There are also cinemas, shops, free wifi, shows for young children, as well as late night entertainment – on this night we travelled it was a “magician” who had appeared on Britain’s Got Talent.
It was a rough crossing, but we went prepared with travel bands, which seemed to work.
We arrived at Roscoff very early the next morning and people were bleary-eyed, looking for the exits, and trying to find their cars. My advice is to get your bearings before you dock as it can be disorienting.
The good thing for anyone who doesn’t relish driving on the “other” side of the road, is that Carantec is only 20 minutes from Roscoff, and while there are roundabouts to negotiate, there are no motorways.
The crossing on the way back was completely different. The sea was calm, the children were playing with three siblings from Athlone they had met in Les Mouettes, the entertainment was half decent and the timing of the crossing was better in that we arrived back in Cork at around 9am, so had a proper night’s sleep.
When I asked the kids what they liked most about the holiday, they all said, “Everything”. They want to go back and so do I – that has to be the measure of a successful holiday.
See yellohvillage.co.uk; jardin-georgesdelaselle.com; brittanyferries.ie
You can avail of a 15 per cent discount on Brittany Ferries if you book before February 28th. The price for four passengers in a standard car in a four-berth cabin each way ex-Cork on Saturday, June 10th, plus five nights in a two bedroom chalet at Les Mouettes is €919. On Saturday, August 19th, this would rise to €1,640.