I’ve just returned from a Brittany Ferries holiday just outside St Malo, where we stayed in a very pleasant Apartment overlooking the beach. We had originally planned to stay in Les Sables d’or Les Pins, but due to various factors this had to be changed and so therefore did our crossings. I hadn’t sailed on Bretagne since 2010 and so I thought a crossing during her thirtieth year was a must, but we also wanted to visit the D-Day beaches since we had never done so before. In addition to this, I also wanted to try out a new route, as well as the much talked about ‘Visentini’ vessel, so we elected to return via Le Havre on the Etretat.
Bretagne to St Malo – 14/10/19
We arrived in Portsmouth in plenty of time to see her arrive from the comfortable surroundings of the Still and West. Having made our way along to the port just after 19.00hrs, we waited to board for at least thirty minutes before eventually being called forwards and directed up to deck 5. We soon found our cabin, no. 6502, which was a very clean and well-presented four-berth ‘club’ class complete with TV and Kettle etc. After a brief visit to the perfume boutique, we made our way to the front of the self-service to see if I could remember how to get out on to the bow; fortunately, I could and we found ourselves to be the sole passengers watching our departure from this unique vantage point.
Once we were out in to the Solent, it was time to think about dinner and we had decided to eat in Les Abers if we could. I was also keen to have a drink the Yacht Club bar, since I’d always found it to be closed on previous crossings, so we had a pre-dinner beer there. I liked this area a lot, especially once the Pianist arrived, and thought the ‘Lighthouse’ style lamp behind the bar was a very nice, striking feature. What was less pleasant was the amount of dust and dirt around the brass (?) window frames, but hopefully this is something which can be rectified at her forthcoming refit. Our meal in the restaurant was wonderful, with excellent food and service to match. The sailing was quite busy and there weren’t many empty tables to be seen. We opted for the buffet starters and desserts, and my main course of Halibut with Chorizo was just perfect. Many people sing the praises of this particular restaurant and it’s easy to see why, it has a timeless quality to it and is, I think, slightly more enjoyable than the similar Le Flora on Pont-Aven. We finished off our evening in the Gwenn Ha Du bar where there was still a few people scattered around. Whilst sat with our drinks the young entertainment manager came up to us and asked if we were enjoying our crossing, if we’d enjoyed the food, entertainment etc and where we were going to; presumably he’d been instructed to carry out some market research, in any case we gave him glowing reviews which he seemed more than happy with.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep in what proved to be a remarkably rattle and vibration-free cabin, the familiar music proved a very abrupt awakening. I opened the curtains to see us very slowly approaching St Malo and so, after a quick Coffee, I made my way up to see us gradually edging on to the berth. Shortly afterwards we made our way back down to deck 5 where we waited for around 25 minutes before we were underway and off in to France.
Nine years after my last sailing on Bretagne, it really was great to be back. Overall she looked to be in excellent shape and I was particularly impressed by how well presented our cabin was, especially given some of the negative comments I’ve read over recent months. I’m a big fan of this ship and I really hope she will be around for us all to enjoy for at least a few more years.
Etretat to Portsmouth – 22/10/19
In many ways it would have made more sense for us to have taken an afternoon or overnight sailing from Ouistreham, but since we’d never used Le Havre before or sailed on a Vissentini, we decided to give it a try. Getting to Le Havre was an interesting experience, particularly driving over the Pont de Normandie. It seemed to take a long time to get to the docks but since Le Havre is quite a large city this perhaps isn’t too surprising. We found the Brittany Ferries signs easily enough and were soon checked-in and parked in the boarding lane.
After about 15 minutes of waiting, we were called forward to board. I’d read various reports over the years about the parking arrangements for cars on this type of vessel, so was prepared to have to park on the upper deck near the funnel, however I was struck by just how steep the ramp was – definitely a first gear job. Having parked up we made our way inside via long corridor which led to the reception area on deck 5. We had booked an outside 4-berth cabin for the crossing but it was explained to us at check-in that rather than using our boarding cards, we would need to obtain a code from reception in order to open the door. The cabin itself was very pleasant, clean and spacious, with attractive wooden bunk-beds; it was more than adequate for our needs.
Navigating our way around Etretat was not difficult and did not take long either since all of the passenger facilities are on deck 5, with the cabins on deck 6. We made our way out on the outside deck at the stern on deck 6, past the many ‘pet friendly’ cabins. Whilst it had been largely warm and sunny, a layer of mist had descended around the port which made viewing our surroundings difficult, in particular the adjacent cruise ship AIDAMAR. Despite this, I thought Le Havre looked quite impressive and definitely worthy of further exploration on a future visit.
Etretat left her berth shortly after 17.00hrs and once clear of the breakwaters sounded her fog horn a few times as we headed out in to the Channel. We spent most of the crossing in our cabin, in the bar area or out on deck. The atmosphere on board seemed very quiet and relaxed and we actually found it the perfect way to ‘chill out’ at the end of our holiday. Around 7.00pm we went along to the self-service restaurant to see what was on offer for dinner. I ordered the beef complete peppercorn sauce, chips and vegetables and have to say it was delicious, certainly one of the better meals I’ve enjoyed at sea. The restaurant clearly does not have the ambience or glamour of Les Abers, but it was never intended to; Instead what it did offer was a very good meal, reasonably priced, with pleasant service and comfortable surroundings.
All too soon the Isle of Wight came in to view and it was not long before we were passing the Spinnaker tower and heading towards the berth, adjacent to the Mont St Michel which we had seen in the distance for most of the crossing. Once back at our car, it became clear that we would be required to reverse some distance in order to drive back down the ramp; this was a first for me and this was one of those occasions where a reversing camera is useful. I did wonder why we had not been asked to reverse in to position when boarding, particularly since the deck was less than half full. After a brief delay whilst waiting for Border Force to check our passports, we were away and off in to the night.
In conclusion then, two very pleasant crossings on two very different vessels, but both seemed to suit their individual roles very well. In my opinion, both offer the hospitality which distinguishes Brittany Ferries from the rest, albeit in different ways. Would I sail on Etretat or one of her sisters again? Definitely.