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  1. 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.
  2. Bretagne has been a familiar sight in Portsmouth for over 25 years, and this weekend she is celebrating her 30th birthday. She was the first fully commissioned cruise-ship for Brittany Ferries and a great achievement for a company that was relatively new. Since being launched from the Chantiers de L’Atlantique in St Nazaire, she has become a moving tribute to the hard work and determination of the Breton farming cooperative that started the company, bearing the same name as the region in which the company began and their headquarters still remain. Bretagne is one-of-a-kind, thanks to the work of a Scotsman named Alexander Goudie. Described as a floating art gallery, three hundred original pieces of art are displayed on-board in honour of Brittany. Ceramics, drawings and paintings were all passionately designed around a region he adored. Regular travellers on the Bretagne are well-versed on how to make the most of the crossing, beginning with a drink in the piano bar, followed by a meal in Les Abers restaurant, lovingly described as the place to eat on the English Channel. Happy and full, passengers retire to a comfortable cabin for a good night’s sleep ready for their arrival in St Malo. So, please join us to raise a glass to Bretagne, for she is a jolly good ferry which nobody can deny!
  3. The Val de Loire joined the Brittany Ferries fleet in June 1993 as the companies flagship, sailing between Plymouth, Santander, Roscoff and Cork. Her operations remained largely unchanged until the arrival of the Pont-Aven in March 2004 which saw her transferred to Portsmouth where she operated daily sailings to St Malo and Cherbourg. It was announced on the 25th November 2005 that Brittany Ferries had sold the Val de Loire to North Sea operator DFDS Seaways for operation between Newcastle and Amsterdam, where she will be renamed 'King of Scandinavia'. After almost 13 years sterling service the Val de Loire left the Brittany Ferries family in 2006. In this special feature we take a look back at her career as we celebrate '13 years of the Val de Loire'. Introduction The Val de Loire was built as the Nils Holgersson in 1987 for TT-Line as hull number 1059. She was built at the Schichau Seebeckswerft AG, Bremerhaven Shipyard, Tyskland, at the time being one of the largest ferries in the world, along with her sister ship, the Peter Pan (now sailing as the Fjord Norway). She entered service on 26th June 1987 between Trelleborg - Travemünde. In 1992 she was chartered to Rederi Ab, Gotland and later sold to SweFerry Ab, Trellborg. Following the her sale to Brittany Ferries and completion of service for TT-Line she was renamed Val de Loire on the 14th January 1993 and set sail for the Ankommer INMA Shipyard, Italy where she underwent a complete refurbishment and re-build. As well as being a sister to the Fjord Norway the Val de Loire also has 3 near sister ships. TT Line leased the plans of these two vessels to Olau Line who themselves built two sister ships of only slightly differing specification. These ships were the Olau Britannica and the Olau Hollandica. Following the demise of Olau in 1994 P&O Ferries chartered these two ships and renamed them Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre respectively. They operated between Portsmouth and Le Havre until the route was closed in September 2005. Additionally, Stena Line built a smaller version - the Konginin Beatrix, at the Van der Giessen shipyard in Holland. Battle of the Bay Following Brittany Ferries introduction of their new flagship, the Bretagne, on their Spanish and Irish routes, passenger traffic increased significantly. This new cruise ferry, the first to be constructed for both Brittany Ferries and the English Channel, had captured much interest from the public and media alike with her now trend setting luxury interior and amenities. The success the company was experiencing on the route did not go un noticed with its rivals. P&O Portsmouth had long been rumoured to be investigating the possibility of operating their own route to the Iberian Peninsular, but the lack of suitable tonnage was hindering their progress. P&O had previously operated a route to Northern Spain but it was closed in 1981, it wasn't until Brittany Ferries started their own service, the first to offer just one night at sea, was a UK-Spain passenger service found to be a success. In April 1992 P&O Portsmouth announced that it had secured the long term charter of Viking Line's Olympia from Irish Continental Group (Irish Ferries), who had purchased her outright. The new ship was to operate a twice weekly service between Portsmouth and Bilbao and be renamed Pride of Bilbao. This was to go head to head with Brittany's established Santander service, despite the longer sailing time of 36 hours compared to their own 24. Brittany Ferries looked to Germany's TT-Line which was looking to redeploy its own fleet more into the freight sector. In May 1992 it was announced that they had purchased the Nils Holgersson for $60 million for the Santander service. The new ship was to undergo a major £40million rebuild and refurbishment programme in Italy before emerging in June 1993 as the Val de Loire. The Italian Job The most noticeable change, apart from her new paint scheme, was the addition of a new bow and forward section. This addition made the ship look more pleasing to the eye, and also permitted the installation of an observation lounge and forward balcony on decks 7 and 8. This work did, however, result in a decrease in the ships sea keeping capabilities, making her 'ride' the waves more than before, despite a redesigned bow configuration. Commodore Class cabins were added on deck 10 ( a first for the company), and the majority of the aft passenger spaces on decks 7-9 were all completely transformed and given the full Brittany Ferries treatment. All of the public spaced were transformed, most notably on decks 9 and 7, and on deck 1 the leisure centre was refurbished and two cinemas installed. As well as Commodore Cabins the Val de Loire brought a number of other 'firsts' to the company. An alternative restaurant, le Café du Port on deck 8 was a French bistro restaurant which produced some of the finest meals on the channel. An observation lounge was located at the forward end of deck 8 allowing panoramic views across the bow as well as providing navigational instrumentation and charts for passengers to view. A Commodore Class lounge was also created on deck 9 within the exclusive Commodore Class section of the ship. A swimming pool, sauna and gym were available for use on deck 1 and a tourist office was located on deck 9 beside two conference rooms. A hair & beauty salon was also provided, although this was removed in 2004 once she left the Spanish route. These facilities set the Val de Loire apart from both her own fleet mates but also that of her competitors. The 'theme' used throughout the vessel was that of 'Maritime Tradition'. Numerous detailed models of various ocean going liners were positioned throughout the vessel's interior, along with items including sextants, search lights, compasses and telescopes. The ships restaurant 'le temps de vivre' was decorated with watercolours of the Loire Valley creating a calming atmosphere, whilst the 'Cafe du Port' and the salon du the (le Grand Large) were lined with fishing imagery from Roscoff including some unique stained glass murals. Commodore cabins were named after different wines within the Loire Valley, complete with a complimentary bottle of the name sake's cabin inside for Spanish sailings. Brittany Ferries Flagship Once work had been completed in Italy she set sail for Santander where she carried out berthing trials before heading to Roscoff. A number of press events were also held prior to her entry into service, during heavy weather conditions ion the Bay of Biscay. The Val de Loire arrived in Plymouth for the first time on 4th June 1993, and began operations to Santander on 9th June 1993, following her first passenger sailing from Roscoff-Plymouth the previous weekend. Upon her arrival the Bretagne was transferred to to Portsmouth - St.Malo route. The operations of the Val de Loire remained similar since her arrival. She continued to operate between Plymouth, Santander, Roscoff & Cork, and between Portsmouth & Caen during the winter months until March 2004. She also spent periods sailings between Portsmouth and St.Malo (with a weekend sailing to Plymouth and Roscoff) before permanently moving to the route, having been displaced by the Pont-Aven in Plymouth. During the 2004 season she operated alongside the Bretagne alternating between Portsmouth, St Malo and Cherbourg services until operating solo to St Malo in 2005. The Val de Loire has also undertaken a number of popular Christmas and New Year cruises to Santander and Rouen. Service Review It has been pretty much smooth sailing for the Val over the years, but as with all ships, she has had her moments. Her appearance has remained largely unaltered, apart from the addition of a fast rescue boat on the starboard side in 2001, and the re-colouring of the company colours from orange to red in the late nineties. The Val had the tightest turnarounds of all the ferries operating on the channel, in peak season never stopping for more than two and a half hours. Her 2 crews, under Captain Barbancon and Captain Saludo, work on a week on, week off rotation pattern, most having been onboard since the very beginning in 1993. During the winter of 1998 the Val de Loire, whilst vacating the berth in Plymouth to allow the Quiberon in during severe gales, was blown off course whilst reversing off the berth and landed against the outer pier at Millbay docks. This caused structural damage above the waterline and following a preliminary inspection at the DML naval dockyard (having sailed up the River Tamar) she sailed, with temporary repairs, for Brest where she was fully repaired. She had no passengers or cars onboard during this incident, and remained out of service for just over a week. The Val de Loire became a TV star when Channel 5 filmed 'Ferry Tales' (a 'fly on the wall' series) onboard. An episode followed the Val de Loire on one of her winter sailings to Santander covering the exploits of some of her more 'interesting' passengers, offering an insight into the behind the scenes operations of a cruise ferry. In September 2000 the Val de Loire suffered severe problems with one of her propeller shafts overheating. When the problem was initially identified it was hoped that it could be repaired on site but it was soon realised that it was more serious than first thought, and as a result a sailing between Cork and Roscoff took some 30hrs and she was forced to sail to Brest for repairs that took over two weeks, having originally been estimated at only one weeks work at most. During this time the fleet undertook the largest shake up for over a decade. The Barfleur was initially transferred to cover for the Val de Loire at Roscoff but when her return was delayed the Bretagne came back to Plymouth. The Duc de Normandie covered for the Bretagne at St Malo and the Barfleur covered the Caen route in place of the Duc de Normandie. Services from Poole were suspended until her the Val de Loire returned. The Val de Loire made worldwide headlines on the 19th June 2001 when Spanish police uncovered a plot by the terror organization ETA to explode a bomb onboard in Santander in an attempt to sink her at the berth following evacuation of the passengers. Thankfully the suspects were arrested, and the Val de Loire sailed safely on. Security has been raised dramatically however both in Santander and Bilbao in light of the plot. In 2000 Geolink chose the Val de Loire as the first passenger ship to be fitted with a wireless mobile GSM network. No matter where you were, you can use your mobile phone onboard just as you would if you were on land. There is no longer any escape from a phone, something some consider to be a little excessive when on a 'holiday ferry' but never the less great modern feature in today's technological age. Such was the sucess of the trials this feature has now become common on most cruise ships and ferries. During 2003, her final year on the Santander service, the Val de Loire continued to hit the headlines, for different reasons. On the 8th May a young woman from Plymouth jumped overboard in the Bay of Biscay prompting a large search of the area, sadly proving unsuccessful. On the 17th September a 24 year old Vietnamese man jumped from the ship as it was arriving into Plymouth. He was recovered in minutes by a MOD launch, and following criminal damage and assault charges was retuned on the following ferry to Spain, along with several other men. During the summer of 2003 the Val undertook trials of a new radio link enabling the crew to access Brittany Ferries' reservation system whilst at sea. Upon the arrival of the Pont-Aven in March 2004 the Val de Loire bid farewell to Plymouth, following her final sailing to Santander on 21st March, transferring to her new Portsmouth base. Here she was to spend the year operating in tandem with the Bretagne on an enhanced St Malo service as well as on Brittany Ferries new Portsmouth to Cherbourg route which was opened in direct competition with that of P&O Ferries long established operation. Carryings on the new route were low, and combined with a lack of advertising and a regular sailing schedule the route looked set to close until it was announced that P&O Ferries were to axe their own route at the end of the year. During 2005 the Val de Loire operated alone to St Malo route, with occasional visits to Plymouth during the winter months. During her last few months of service the Val sailed initially between Portsmouth & Cherbourg, before switching to the Caen route to cover for refits. Her final sailing for the company was on the 20th February 2006 between Portsmouth & Cherbourg at 0745. Hall of Fame After almost 13 years service the Val de Loire left the Brittany Ferries fleet, joining the likes of the Amorique, Quiberon and Bretagne, as vessels to have sailed on the flagship Spanish services. The Val de Loire became the first super-ferry/cruise ferry to leave the fleet. She is also one of the companies most travelled ships, having operated on all but the Poole - Cherbourg route at some point during her career. The Val will be replaced on the St Malo route by the Bretagne which will be making a comeback to the route, which in turn is to be replaced by the chartered Pont L'Abbe which was later purchased outright by Brittany Ferries. This vessel was formerly the Duke of Scandinavia and is the vessel the Val de Loire replaced on the North Sea. The Future The Val de Loire is fondly missed, having become a favourite amongst Brittany Ferries passengers as well as a familiar and welcome sight at the ports she operated to over the years. She has given her owners sterling service over the past 13 years, and has generated much growth and income. Her new life as the King of Scandinavia wont see her go too far from home, and we wish her well with her new owners, DFDS Seaways. Merci Val de Loire, au revoir et bon voyage!
  4. A large scale maritime rescue exercise will be held off St Malo on Monday (26/03/18), it will simulate the evacuation of the Brittany Ferries Cruise Ferry 'Pont-Aven'. https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/bretagne/saint-malo-exercice-sauvetage-mer-grande-ampleur-lundi-1445031.html
  5. Few pics of the Duchess Anne arriving in Cork from St Malo in Summer 1994
  6. The Ferry Man

    Dawn over Pont-Aven

    Dawn breaks over the Pont-Aven berthed in St Malo
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