10 of the best breaks in France easily accessible by ferry | Travel


One of the most picturesque places on the Normandy coast, the picturesque port of Honfleur is lined with townhouses dating back to the 16th century. It’s the perfect spot for long, sunny lunches and dinners of fish and seafood caught earlier in the day. Immerse yourself in the Eugène Boudin Museum to discover the city’s rich artistic history, with works by artists such as Monet, Dufy and Boudin, and stroll over the breathtaking Pont de Normandie, a vast cable-stayed bridge, which reaches 7,000 feet and offers magnificent views of the Seine estuary. Stay at Le Manoir, a charming 18th century mansion with an excellent restaurant (doubles from £167 B&B, sawdays.co.uk). Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, dfds.com.


“A long stretch of beach and a handful of excellent fish restaurants”: Villiers-Sur-Mer. Photograph: David Holbrook/Alamy

If you want to get in and out of glittering Deauville and Trouville without staying there, this charming village 10 minutes along the coast is a great place to stay, with a long beach and a small pedestrian street with a handful of excellent restaurants of fish, shops and food emporiums. Ideal starting point for hikers, the tourist office has maps of 12 walking circuits, with 35 km of marked paths to be covered on foot, by bike or on horseback. Then take a seat at Café de France (2 rue du General de Gaulle) for mussels and chips and excellent local wine, and stay at La Mascotte, a charming house a few streets from the beach (doubles from £100, sawdays.co.uk). Ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, brittany-ferries.com.


Boats in a marina
“Famous for its wild mussels”: Barfleur. Photography: David R Frazier Photolibrary, Inc./Alamy

Seafood lovers and history buffs should head to Barfleur; a traditional Norman fishing port, which has played a central role in Anglo-French history for over a century, famous for its wild mussels. Sunny evenings are best spent at one of the harbor’s quaint fish restaurants, while days can be enjoyed on the three sandy beaches close to the village, with sailing and diving nearby. Stay at Fleur et Mer, a charming four-bedroom B&B (some sleeping up to four people), with bikes, child trailer and baby seat available to hire (doubles from £75 B&B, fleuretmer.fr). Ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg, brittany-ferries.com.


A bridge over a river
“Monet’s garden in Giverny is close at hand”: Lyons-la-Forêt. Photography: Hemis/Alamy

If you are looking for a real sense of escape, this charming village, steeped in over 1,000 years of history and surrounded by one of the oldest and largest forests in Normandy, is ideal. For centuries the resort of choice for the Norman dukes and the kings of France, thanks to the excellent hunting, Lyon is home to a lively 14th century covered market and its streets are lined with medieval buildings, now home to shops of antiques, tea rooms and restaurants. . Monet’s garden at Giverny is easily accessible, as is Château Gaillard, and La Licorne – a 16th-century building with spa, indoor and outdoor pools and renowned restaurant – makes an ideal base (doubles from £92, hotel-licorne.com). Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, dfds.com.


A cathedral overlooks the water
“Home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France”: Amiens. Photography: Steve Allen Travel Photography/Alamy

An hour and a half drive from Dieppe, Amiens is an ideal base for a short stay; steeped in history, home to one of the finest cathedrals in France, with a handful of excellent restaurants lining the banks of the Somme. Take a boat trip to discover the unique hortillonnages – 300 hectares of floating gardens that ablaze with color in spring, illuminating the city’s network of canals – and visit the Somme Museum, dedicated to life in the trenches, in the nearby town of Albert. Stay at La Marotte, one of the city’s swankiest addresses, which recently got a new spa and rooms in a former Banque de France building (doubles from £178, hotel-marotte.com). Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, dfds.com.


A busy street
“The biggest flea market in Europe”: Lille. Photography: Hemis/Alamy

If shopping therapy is high on your list of weekend hobbies, Lille, an hour and 15 minute drive from Calais, is a great choice. France’s fourth largest city is home to Europe’s largest flea market, La Grande Braderie de Lille, as well as the sprawling Euralille shopping center and a charming old town dotted with boutiques, homeware stores and mouth-watering patisseries . Elegant Flemish-style buildings house classic brasseries as well as more contemporary restaurants, and the city’s excellent rail links make it ideal for exploring further afield. Stay at Mama Shelter, a trendy and affordable design hotel with a lively cocktail bar and restaurant (doubles from £92, mamashelter.com). Ferry from Dover to Calais, dfds.com.


Sand dunes down to the sea
‘A lot of bucket and shovel opportunities’: Boulogne-sur-Mer. Photographer: L. de Rocquigny OTBCO

Ideal for a family getaway, Boulogne is just 20 minutes from Calais and combines plenty of bucket-and-shovel possibilities with a beautifully preserved old town, home to cobbled streets teeming with excellent restaurants, bars and shops. Stroll or cycle the nearby Route de la Corniche for magnificent sea views, or explore the rolling sand dunes that rise behind the beaches. Older children can try kite-flying or windsurfing, while the whole family can explore the coast by canoe or kayak. Stay at L’Enclos de L’Evêché – a 19th century mansion in the heart of the town, with five charming bedrooms (doubles from £85 B&B, enclosdeleveche.com). Ferry from Dover to Calais, dfds.com.

Saint Malo

Place Chateaubriand in the Intra-Muros district of St Malo: an alluring combination of history, great food and long sandy beaches
Place Chateaubriand in the Intra-Muros district of St Malo: an alluring combination of history, great food and long sandy beaches Photograph: EQRoy/Alamy

Ideal for a car-free break, this walled town offers an alluring combination of history, good food and long, sandy beaches. Start with a stroll along the ramparts of Intra-Muros, the old walled town, before exploring the medieval streets, dotted with creperies selling the region’s emblematic pancakes, oyster stalls and cider houses. At low tide it is possible to walk to the two picturesque islands that lie in front of the town, while Sillon beach – a 3km stretch of sand – is perfect for lazy afternoons with a ice cream and a book. Stay at Villa St Raphael, a chic 17th century villa with five elegant bedrooms (doubles from £85 B&B, villa-st-raphael-saint-malo.com). Ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, brittany-ferries.com.


Narrow streets
“Vibrant and arty atmosphere”: Quimper. Photographer: Emmanuel Berthier

The cultural heart of the region, Quimper combines a striking cathedral and a well-preserved old town with an artistic and dynamic atmosphere. Famous for his earthenware – pottery with distinctive Breton designs – the town has potteries and workshops that you can visit, as well as the earthenware museum, which houses over 500 pieces. Picturesque half-timbered houses line the banks of the Odet, with flower-decked bridges spanning both banks. Delve into the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which includes several works by Gaugin, and grab some cider and galettes for a picnic in the pretty Jardin de la Retraite. Stay family-run Hotel Kregenna stone’s throw from the cathedral (doubles from £78 B&B, bestwestern.com). Ferry from Portsmouth to Roscoff, brittany-ferries.com.


A woman walks along the ramparts
“The bucolic hinterland of Brittany”: Fougères. Photography: Clara Ferrand Wild road & Vanessa Martin Cashpistache

If you’re more interested in Brittany’s bucolic hinterland than its bustling beaches, Fougères makes an ideal base for exploring the north-west of the region. Famous for the thousand-year-old fortress that towers over it – the largest in Europe – the town is an atmospheric tangle of pretty cobbled streets lined with traditional half-timbered buildings. One of Brittany’s most beautiful castles, the Rocher Portail, is nearby, as is Rennes, the region’s capital, with its impressive Place de la République and lively bars, due to the 20,000 students who call the town home . Stay at the 14th-century Château de Montbrault, which exudes classic French style (double rooms from £118 B&B, chateau-de-montbrault.com). Ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, brittany-ferries.com.