This way for a family holiday that's relaxing and entertaining too
With France being so close, it really is the ideal destination for a family holiday. Rather than fly, our choice is a more leisurely Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo. The en-suite cabin for the 12-hour overnight journey is large enough to accommodate 19-month old Harriett's travel cot and she sleeps well on the journey.
We arrive at St Malo, welcomed by cobbled streets and alleyways, and Harriett enjoys leaping up and down any steps she finds. This busy, historic fishing port on the Emerald Coast is famous for pancakes and galettes (French cakes), and has been beautifully restored since it was nearly destroyed in the Blitz.
From there we head to Dol de Bretagne, 40 minutes away, and to Domaine des Ormes, a holiday resort in the grounds of a restored chateau. Canvas Holidays has a selection of wooden lodges, mobile homes and tents set in the picturesque tree-lined landscape – and it's in one of these that we will be staying for the week.
The smell of pine is somehow inviting and the cosy retreat provides plenty of room, with Harriett sleeping comfortably in the loft room. Equipped with all the mod-cons including a dishwasher, self-catering is easy. There's even a complimentary bottle of tasty local rosé.
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Back home we live on a busy main road and so the solitude of les Ormes is greatly appreciated and we frequently wake after 9am. The joy of holidays!
Every morning we head for the heated indoor pool. Harriett has really taken to swimming and she particularly enjoys the wild river and jacuzzis as well as watching daddy go down the shoots. Then we fill boulangerie bread with salad and cheese before eating our lunch on a variety of park benches. And why not? The weather is permanently above 25 degrees and there's bright sunshine. French passersby smile and wish us bon appetit.
On the first day we visit Dol de Bretagne, which stands on the remains of a cliff and is home to St-Samson cathedral. On returning to les Ormes, we walk around the grounds seeing bats, mice, red squirrels, ducks, Canadian geese and – to Harriett's great pleasure – a family of goats. Making our way back to the lodge, my pregnant wife Caroline and I are dragged to the park. The swings, roundabout and train are a daily necessity for our little rascal.
We have a semi-relaxing stroll through Jardin du Val Cocherel in Dinan as we try and keep Harriett to her routine of having an afternoon doze. But the little wriggler won't have any of it, insisting on clambering out of her pushchair, strapping her shoes and reins on and toddling. In fact over the course of the holiday our little prodigy insists on staying awake every day, for fear of missing out. But the car journey always proves too much, despite her vocal assessment of the Peugeot 208 we're driving, she falls asleep…
At Dinard we patiently wait for the lifting bridge to drop. This busy fishing port offers another pleasant afternoon of lunch and walking.
It's not long before dreams of sampling local beer come to me. But will Harriett sit still for long enough? At Combourg, where the romantic novelist Chateaubriand lived in the Chateau de Combourg (and was inspired by the area), she finally settles down. After our stroll by the tranquil cypress-lined lake and some curious looks in estate agents' windows – at land for 35,000 euros and properties from 20 or 30 thousand more – we find a café and I indulge. Caroline has a fruit juice.
We enjoy it so much that we do the same again the following day in Pontorson, after another walk in another delightful park with an array of flowers. In fact, there we have a conversation with an old local who complains about the smell of the place. During our chat he moans about the recession and adds that the locals marched down Rue de Liberation at the end of the Second World War.
Sadly our holiday quickly draws to a close but on our way to Cherbourg we're sure to stop in Saint-Lo, twinned with Christchurch in Dorset, home to its own Notre Dame cathedral, which was damaged in the Second World War. Here we stumble upon Les Jardins Publiques, for a final park lunch.
Returning home on the Brittany Ferries three-hour fast jet service from Cherbourg to Portsmouth, Harriett waltzes around, catching the eye of passengers and watching the swell of the sea from the deck. Her first trip abroad is a resounding success. Just like her parents, she is clearly a born traveller.