I’d been yearning to do another ferry trip for a while and since my last trip with Brittany Ferries had been in 2014, I thought it was time I addressed this by finally trying out the Plymouth-Roscoff route. This had been an ambition for some time; over the years I had managed to sail on all of the company’s routes from the UK but for some reason not this one, which was after all the original route of the company.
We therefore took advantage of the ‘long weekend in France’ special offer and made our way down to Plymouth last Thursday 30th March for the 20.45hrs sailing of the Pont-Aven. We arrived in plenty of time and were able to have a brief walk around the sea front area from where we were able to get a good look at our ship. We also enjoyed a drink in the lovely Waterfront pub, which I was very interested to read had nearly been destroyed by a storm as recently as 2014. From there we made our way to check-in just after 7.00pm and had to wait for around half an hour whilst some large coach parties as well as a big group of motorcycles were dealt with. Having checked in, we were soon over the stern ramp and en route to our cabin.
For this overnight crossing (Pont-Aven’s first to Roscoff of 2017, I think?) we had opted for a four berth ‘Club’ cabin which was on deck five. I’ve had these a few times over the years when sailing to Spain and they are essentially a standard cabin, with added TV and tea/coffee facilities but very comfortable nonetheless. This particular cabin seemed notably clean and fresh, with the twinkling lights around the large porthole window making a particularly welcoming first impression. Having deposited our overnight bags, we went off to explore with just over an hour to go until departure. We wanted to eat in the Le Flora Restaurant and I had assumed that we’d need to book, so went there first, only to be told that it wasn’t necessary and that we could turn up any time until it closed at 21.30. Afterwards we made our way to the adjacent Fastnet bar where I was pleased to note the welcome return of draught Kronenbourg, as well as Heineken, replacing the previous Stella and Becks; I regard this is a significant improvement 😉
As departure time drew near, I walked the short distance outside to the stern area on deck seven, overlooked by the restaurant. I actually managed to miss the stern ramp being raised, due to being somewhat in awe of the new funnel; this was the first time that I had seen this in the ‘flesh’ and I have to say that, despite my reservations, I honestly didn’t think it looked too bad or out of place. I suspect most passengers wouldn’t even realise that it was modified in any sense (or perhaps even notice it at all) and dare I say, in its own way it does look rather impressive. As we eased away from the berth and out in to the night, I returned to our cabin to change for dinner. I had the TV in our cabin on the channel showing the ship’s course, and it was clear that we would be ‘hugging’ the Cornish coast for much of the night.
Our meal in Le Flora was probably the best I’ve had in this particular restaurant. We both opted for the buffet menus and I enjoyed some delicious couscous with Langoustines to start, followed by an excellent main course of Duck with Shallots. After we had made full use of the dessert buffet, we took what was left of our wine along to ‘le Grand Pavois’. There we found the bar to be around half full and we arrived just in time to see a very good duo perform such classics as ‘Black Velvet’. Once we’d finished our wine, it was off to bed, at around midnight.
I slept so well that I unfortunately missed the Breton folk music which was, I’m told, piped in to our cabin to wake us in plenty of time. I did however hear the 07.15 announcement that breakfast was being served, and this was my cue to get up, shower and attempt to make myself ready for the day. I could see on our TV that we were already approaching the berth in Roscoff, so I made my way outside for a few minutes to have a look around before we were eventually called down to the car deck.
We enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing two days in Roscoff, staying at the Hotel aux Tamaris. Most of our time was spent enjoying the beaches, the Ile de Batz and of course the local restaurants. Before we made our way back to the port for the return crossing with Armorique, we drove the short distance out of town to the excellent Wine and Beer supermarket; I don’t plan on buying any more wine or beer for some time 😉
Arriving for check-in we could see that the Gendarmerie were inspecting the passports and in some cases the contents of each vehicle in front of us, with some being subject to more thorough inspection than others. Once our turn arrived we had to get out of the car whilst our Passports were checked, but were then soon on our way. Driving aboard the Armorique we were instructed over the stern ramp, along almost the full length of the vessel, and then back towards the stern; I could not work out whether we would be docking stern or bow-first in Plymouth at this point. We had booked an inside two-berth cabin for this afternoon sailing and after a very helpful crew member had pointed to our nearest door, we made our way up to deck 8 to drop of belongings. It was a beautifully sunny and quite warm afternoon and so we were straight outside in order to watch our departure.
I was looking forward to sampling the Armorique, partly because she was the only BF passenger ship I had yet to sail on board, and also partly because of all the (not all of them positive) comments I’d read about her since her introduction in 2009. I must say that overall, we both found her to be a very pleasant ship for this crossing. We very much enjoyed the open deck spaces, especially the large expanse between the funnel and bridge and the areas astern on decks seven and eight, where we enjoyed our drinks in the sunshine. Whilst the weather certainly helped us to view the ship in a positive light, we also found her interior to be bright, roomy and welcoming. There was a decent compliment of passengers on board, including at least two large school parties, but despite this none of the public areas felt at all crowded. We had a leisurely browse around the well-presented shops and spent a good part of the afternoon playing Scrabble in the bar. I noticed that a number of other passengers were enjoying the football being shown on the numerous TV screens towards the end of the bar. Others were also making good use of the very comfortable-looking ‘reading lounge’. Personally, I found the bright, vibrant colours and use of nautical murals very appealing, but did wonder just how well these would stand the test of time.
As the Cornish coast began to appear on the horizon, we decided it was time to investigate dinner in the forward-facing self-service restaurant, before the school children beat us to it. I chose a rare Entrecote for my main course, which was cooked to order in front of me, accompanied by a peppercorn sauce, chips and vegetables. For dessert, I picked up a (very rich) chocolate mousse. We found a table quite near to the forward windows and enjoyed a very relaxed meal. The quality of my steak was excellent and I would certainly order it again. It was also good value too, with both meals and drinks being less than half what we had paid in the a la carter restaurant.
After a brief post-dinner rest in our cabin, it was time to pack up our few belongings and move outside, where we were able to witness a beautiful sunset as we arrived in Plymouth. It soon became clear that we would in fact be berthing bow-first and so I was not surprised on returning to our car when we were directed the full length of the vessel for a second time. I had expected at least some delay when negotiating customs, so was very pleasantly surprised not only to find the queue to be very brief but also the border force representative to be easily the friendliest I’ve ever come across anywhere; ‘welcome home’ were his first words to us and he seemed to mean them too 😉 We didn’t not have far to travel, since our final night would be at the beautiful Duke of Cornwall hotel, literally just up the road from the ferry terminal. This allowed us to have a very enjoyable stroll along the waterfront in order to watch the Armorique depart again later on with her 22.00hrs sailing to Roscoff.
This had been another thoroughly enjoyable and very relaxing trip, and for me a welcome return to Brittany Ferries after a short absence. Both vessels appeared to be impeccably well maintained, with very helpful and welcoming crews and excellent standards of onboard service. If this experience is anything to go by, then I would say that Brittany Ferries are most certainly on top of their game at present. Finally, this trip gave me a renewed appreciation for Plymouth; I thought that the waterfront area looked fantastic and really enjoyed strolling around this historic part of the city and visiting the lovely Waterfront pub, as well as the very impressive Duke of Cornwall hotel.