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5 Ferry Port Towns In France Perfect For Short Breaks From UK
Slowly but surely, more travelers than ever before are beginning to explore ‘alternative’ French town and cities, outside the usual tourist staples. France is an incredibly large, diverse and rewarding country for visitors, though as is often the case, some of the biggest delights of all take a little more tracking down than others.
For UK residents, traveling to France’s northern coast has never been easier or more affordable. Regular ferry crossings to France have opened up the true heart of Northern France like never before, along with a string of captivating port towns crying out to be explored. Brittany Ferries run regular ferry crossings to France from Portsmouth, Plymouth or Poole to Cherbourg, St Malo, Caen, Le Havre or Roscoff.
So for anyone considering a trip to Northern France over the coming months, here’s a brief introduction to five ferry port towns that make the perfect base for a short break:
The ideal base to explore the highlights of Normandy, Cherbourg is a port town with a rich and captivating maritime history. Along with being one of the few places visited by the Titanic on its ill-fated journey, Cherbourg is home to the world’s largest submarine open to visitors and lies right on the doorstep of where the Normandy Landings took place during the Second World War. For anyone with an interest in history, Cherbourg is no less than a treasure chest of inspiring, often haunting discovery.
The Cotentin Peninsula is home to some of the most spectacular coastline the region has to offer – the rugged cliffs of the Cap de la Hague in particular making for some unforgettable vistas. Of course, in this part of France, you’re never far from wonderful beaches for fun-packed days in the sun, while the wild and untamed countryside of the nearby Saire Valley is also a sight to behold.
Unsurprisingly, Cherbourg has a well-deserved reputation for serving up some of the most incredible Normandy cuisine, with local highlights including mussels, an endless array of superb cheeses and of course, plenty of cider to wash it all down! The Old Town of Cherbourg makes for the perfect place to lose yourself for a few hours with no map and no destination, while the impressive markets of Place de Gaulle are perfect for picking up local produce and keepsakes to take home.
Situated right at the heart of the Emerald Coast, the beaches of St Malo in Brittany are no less than the envy of France as a whole. The town itself has a history dating back many centuries, which in the medieval streets of the town center appears as fresh and vibrant today as it ever was. St Malo is a town steeped in legend and folklore, having dealt with the legacy of the dastardly pirates of the 19th century and the horrors of the Second World War.
These days, St Malo is one of the most charming, relaxing and captivating port towns you will ever come across, bursting at the seams with romantic restaurants, quaint cafes and traditional markets selling local crafts and produce. When it comes to dining, crêpes and oysters are the most important local delicacies and are served up in more classic and creative ways than you could possibly imagine.
St Malo’s longest beach, the Grand Plage, represents an idyllic spot for days on the sands and sunset strolls, working up an appetite for those sublime savory pancakes stuffed with everything from sausage to scallops!
As one of the oldest and most important university towns in France, Caen has a vibrant, youthful and energetic atmosphere about the place both night and day. There is a considerably more cosmopolitan and fashionable air about Caen, perched majestically on the banks of the River Orne and another outstanding base from which to explore Normandy as a whole.
High-end art and fashion represent the staples lining the boutiques of Caen, which contrast interestingly with the traditional markets selling everything from fine wine to the most decadent fresh produce. Whatever your tastes, a shopping experience in Caen can best be described as extremely indulgent. Unsurprisingly, this also carries over to the local cuisine and dining culture of Caen, which is equally upmarket. Local dishes not to leave without trying include the unique pre-salé lamb, which comes from sheep reared on salt marshes around Mont St Michel. Seafood is also no less than a religion in this part of Northern France.
The resilience of Le Havre is nothing short of remarkable, having been largely devastated during the Second World War, only to rise from the ashes and become a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site. An important trading port throughout much of its history, Le Havre was built on the trade of cotton and coffee throughout the 18 centuries. At the end of the Second World War, less than 2% of the city remained. The renovation process was led largely by architect, whose interesting and unique designs would go on to see Le Havre awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its architecture.
Le Havre is an absolutely remarkable and unique highlight of France’s Northern coast, boasting everything from prime surfing beaches to one-of-a-kind architecture to the most decadent cuisine imaginable. For an afternoon, a weekend or an extended stay, Le Havre makes an ideal destination.
Last but not least, Roscoff really does encapsulate rustic seaside living at its finest, Brittany-style. A beautiful fishing village lined with 16th-century buildings and cobbled streets you’ll never tire of losing yourself in, Roscoff has wonderful family holidays and short breaks written all over it.
Taking the relaxing boat ride to the nearby Île de Batz comes highly recommended during your stay, as does spending as much time as possible reveling in the fabulous beaches right on your doorstep. Roscoff is also home to more than its fair share of museums and exhibits, not to mention La Maison des Johnnies et de l’Oignon de Roscoff, a ‘Museum of the Onion Johnnies’ – aka the famed door-to-door onion sellers of Brittany’s past.
In terms of cuisine, everything you’d expect is served up both generously and with the kind of passion and tradition unique to this incredible corner of France. As a town that has depended on the sea throughout its history, seafood represents the cornerstone of the dining scene in Roscoff – mussels in particular often being the star of the show. And of course, there is perhaps nowhere better in France to indulge in a glass or two of cider at the end of the day.