MY FIRST ever foreign holiday was in Brittany. It was the summer of 1972 and my dad had won ferry tickets by dreaming up the pithy slogan “Sealink Sets You Free” in an Edinburgh Evening News competition.
Dad, mum, me and my two brothers piled into the trusty Austin 2200 and squabbled our way down to Plymouth for the crossing to Roscoff. We stayed in the seaside town of Pleneuf, one week in a caravan and one week in the ground floor of a gite. My memories of the holiday have faded almost as much as the polaroid instamatics taken at the time, which show three children scowling into bright sunlight, wearing flared trousers and pudding bowl haircuts. Halcyon days.
Fast forward 42 years and I’m back in Brittany with my wife and our three children, having made the same journey, crossing this time with Brittany Ferries. We’re staying in Camping Les Deux Fontaines in Raguénès, near the pretty market town of Nevez, a mere 90-minute drive from Roscoff on the southwest coast of the region. The picturesque campsite was previously an orchard and boughs heavy with fruit overhang our Canvas Holidays three-bedroom Select mobile home with decking.
Arriving a few hours before the official check-in time of 4pm, we pick up picnic fodder from the hypermarché in town and head to Raguénès Plage, a spotless sandy beach just five minutes from the site. We have the place pretty much to ourselves and spend the afternoon soaking up the rays, splashing in the sea and eating sandy baguettes and cheese.
Returning to the site in the late afternoon, we unpack and hit the pool complex, the children careering down the four-lane water slide, the adults cooling off in the lagoon-style pool. There’s also a pool for toddlers and a heated, covered pool, and although it’s peak season, it’s not overcrowded and sunbeds are plentiful. There’s no restaurant on site, but there is a takeaway, so dinner that night is tasty pizzas and frites on the terrace of the poolside bar.
The next morning, after a shower that switches from piping hot to icy cold if someone in a neighbouring commune even thinks about turning on a tap, I go to the on-site shop hoping to buy freshly baked croissants for petit déjeuner, but for some unfathomable reason it turns out you have to place your order the day before. Bof! Back to the hypermarché…
Meanwhile, the children sign up for the free Canvas Holidays kids club and for the next couple of days throw themselves headlong into a range of fun activities including water-walking, bodyzorbing, raft building, treasure hunting, canoe games, a circus workshop and sweetie bingo, all supervised by friendly young staff with apparently limitless energy, enthusiasm and joie de vivre. “If you do something that’s against the rules, and it’s funny, they just let you do it,” marvels our 10-year-old son. He and his older brother and younger sister also enjoy a pony ride (10 euros each) in the adjacent woodlands. In the evenings, various market stalls set up with the aim of parting holidaymakers from their cash on trinkets, jewellery, handicrafts, hair-braiding and, improbably, tupperware.
There’s lots going on outside the campsite too though. On one excursion we follow signs to the hamlet of Trégunc and stumble upon a poissonade, which appears to be a sort of mini-festival in a field, celebrating Breton culture and cuisine, with folk music, dancers in traditional dress, and trestle tables laden with the regional specialities of cider and seafood. For hundreds of locals it’s the place to see and be seen.
The next day we drive an hour north to the Aquashow in Audierne, a great hands-on aquarium and bird show which the children love – especially the gruesome bit where cormorants fly down and devour live fish. We then press on to Pointe Du Raz, a dramatic promontory which is just about the most westerly place in France. It’s a further half-hour drive there, and then another 45 minutes of reasonably strenuous walking, but well worth it to enjoy the most stunning views of the Atlantic coastline, including the La Vieille lighthouse and the island of Île de Sein in the distance. You can get a minibus back to the car park if your feet are too sore, or if your nerves are too shredded by seeing your children charging heedlessly about the edge of the cliff tops.
Two other trips prove equally memorable. First is Concarneau’s medieval Ville Close, a walled town on an island in the centre of the harbour, accessed by walking across a drawbridge. It’s just 20 minutes away from Névez but it has an otherworldly quality to it, full of twisting alleyways and historic ramparts, quaint shops and enchanting restaurants. It’s busy and we’re lucky to find a table just about big enough for five at Le Skipper, where we hungrily devour moules and frites and their speciality crepes with scallops and bacon, washed down with Breizh cola, a Breton fizzy beverage that’s even better than the real thing. Somehow the children still have room for exotic ice creams from one of the gelateries – apricot and cookies, tiramisu and dulce de leche, anyone?
The other must-visit is Pont-Aven, a charming riverside hamlet just 15 minutes away by car. It was favoured by post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin and still attracts artists and art lovers today. Galleries abound, with works on sale at prices to match most pockets, but if you’re not looking for something to hang above the mantelpiece, take a wander along one of the gorgeous riverside walkways, lined with flowers and trees. Try to get a table by a window in the Moulin de Grand Poulguin restaurant, as we did. It has the town’s last working watermill, serves delicious seafood and steaks, and has lovely views over the river.
Too soon our ten nights is up. Camping les Deux Fontaines has proven to be an ideal base for a wonderful holiday – and I don’t intend to leave it as long as I did the first time before revisiting Brittany.
• Ten nights at Camping les Deux Fontaines, Raguénès, costs from £2,385 per party, based on accommodation in a Select Plus three-bed mobile home with air conditioning and decking (sleeps up to eight) on a self-catering basis and arriving on site on 30 July, 2015. For more information visit www.canvasholidays.co.uk or call 0345 268 0827