Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brittany spares us a great weekend– 26-27 March 2011

After years of Brittany Ferries' email deals hitting our inbox, we finally succumbed to a special offer on a return trip Poole to Cherbourg. It is a service that they have revived for the summer and were obviously attempting to drum up some business; and, to that end, it worked as we left London after work on Friday and boarded the Barfleur at 23:15 for the overnight crossing.

We slept reasonably well on the reclining chairs and were ready to roll when we berthed at Cherbourg at 0730. The empty French roads and motorways that are such a contrast to England whisked us quickly to our destination of Dinan in Brittany, which our travel guide assured us was the jewel of the province.

As we were heading for a B&B we had read about, the SatNav fortuitously took us into Dinan via the attractive old port where the town was founded. A narrow cobble steep street up from the “port” on the River Rance to the Chambres d'Hotes Le Logis du Jerzual where we secured our accommodation before setting out to follow a walking trail around the old town at the top of the hill. The settlement moved up from the riverside in the 14th century, to enable better defences to be constructed and which now provide wonderful views as you walk along the town walls.

The area is famous for galettes (buck wheat brown crepes) and crepes and taking advice from the guide book we stopped in at Creperie Ahna to sample their scallop and mushroom galettes washed down with the local cider in a pottery cup. Simply wonderful!

Having finished our tour of the extremely picturesque pedestrianised centre of the old town we made our way back down the hill to the river and set of upstream for Lehon, a short 30 minute stroll away, Before we set out we built up our blood sugar levels with another local treat, a warmed Kaugn Amann au Pomme, an absolute must for anyone not on a diet visiting this area. Lebon has a ruined castle at the top of the hill which affords wonderful vistas over the old town and abbey below.

After returning to Dinan we settled for an early dinner of galettes and flambed crepes before retiring at an extremely unsociable hour. Clearly, we had not slept quite as well as we thought on the trip across. Breakfast on Sunday morning was a real treat with fresh crusty baguettes and warm feather-light croissants.

Suitable fortified we set off to explore the Breton coastline, heading first for Cap Frehel. We had spotted a post-card in Dinan with a picture of Fort La Latte on the peninsular so headed there, only to find that it did not open until 14:00. Not wanting to waste 2 hours sitting in the car-park decided to drive along the coastline and check out Breton fishing villages.

It would probably have been a good idea and a scenic trip if it wasn't for the sea-fog rolling in, so we abandoned that scheme and headed back toward Cherbourg via Dinard – which didn't really impress so we skirted around the back of St Malo and headed for Cancale where after a short stop at the headland we finally found an attractive sea-front and stopped for an afternoon (very expensive) coffee.

We were now 2.5 hours from the ferry at Cherbourg and we had 3 hours before check-in so it was time to head for home, taking the motor-way as we sped past the vista of Mont St Michel in the distance and then taking a slightly different route from our outbound trip which gave us a great view of the cathedral in Coutances lit up in the sunlight.

Fortunately there were no holdups en-route and we were in the ferry queue in good time. This was probably just as well as once we arrived at French customs we sat and waited and waited and waited while car after car went through on the other queue. I have no idea what all the travellers behind us in the queue must have been thinking and finally I got out and asked the officer if there was a problem. “Non, just waiting for a stamp, monsieur” was the reply. We had arrived at a customs post that clearly did not have a stamp with which to stamp our passports; the customs equivalent of a pub with no beer!

Eventually the official stamp arrived from somewhere and we were allowed through. Would it really have “spoiled some vast eternal plan” (as the Fiddler famously asked) if we had been allowed out of France without a stamp?

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