Six Choice Stops on the Road Back Home


One of the big questions for families going on holiday to France in the summer is the journey back to the ferry.

For most, it’s a somewhat sad journey full of anxious waiting around that tends to deflate the holiday atmosphere.
Sorting out what to do precisely on your last day depends very much on where you’re based for your holiday. The biggest grouping of Irish car-driving holiday-makers will be on the West Coast – holidaying in places along the coast from Brittany down to Biarritz, with a high concentration of them on the Vendée coast.

For the vast majority, the two ferry ports of destination on that final day are Roscoff in Brittany and Cherbourg in Normandy. Whether you’re going for Roscoff or Cherbourg, if you’re leaving from the Vendée, you have a journey of about 4.5 hours (typically more like 5.5 with stops for eating and refuelling) to Roscoff. From the Royan area, the journey is about 6 hours, while those coming from the far south can have a non-stop journey of between 8 and 10 hours to the ferry.

Depending on which ship you’re going for, you may end up with a lot of hours on your hands and what to do with them is the question. You’re still on holiday and a break that you’ve worked hard to earn. You have your children with you and they would certainly prefer to stop somewhere interesting rather than sitting in a car for hours on end and you have all this time that can be filled. The only question is what is the optimum way to fill it?

Here are a few suggestions…

1. Nantes:
This is really one of the best places to spend a couple of hours. You can’t go wrong if you head straight for the Ile des Machines, where you’ll find a world unlike no other – a workshop that turns dreams into mechanical moving parts. If you’ve time for lunch, try the vast pizzeria in another abandoned warehouse down the quay, where the food is cheap and plentiful and you have the side-show entertainment of people making pop videos beside you on a regular basis. Once you’re done, you can find the Nantes ring-road pretty quickly again and continue on your way to the ferry with a car full of replenished energy levels.

2. Futuroscope:

Futuristic Stopover Point: Even for a relatively quick stop, Futuroscope is a satisfying visit

Futuristic Stopover Point: Even for a relatively quick stop, Futuroscope is a satisfying visit

This one just never sounds as good on paper as it is in reality but trust me when I say that this is one of the best theme parks this side of the Atlantic Ocean. It was the brainchild of a mayor of Poitiers about 30 years ago – a place of fun and science and exploration that’s literally just off the motorway. You won’t get to see even a quarter of the place if you stop here for a few hours, but you will love it and give that flagging holiday buzz a massive boost for the journey home.

3. Dinan:
This is more for those who absolutely must be not too far from the ferry many hours ahead of time. It isn’t a place for entertaining the children (although there is a nice park in the centre of town where they can let off a lot of steam) but it is one of the prettiest mediaeval towns you’re likely to find anywhere in France. Its Breton character feels a bit more like an Olde English town than a French one but I can think of no nicer a place to stretch the legs after hours of driving than wandering through its lovely cobbled streets with gorgeous half-timbered shops leaning in to greet you.

4. St Malo:
If you stop here, you might begin to feel like you’ve already got a foot back in the ould sod, what with the general cool windiness and the long wide beaches. St Malo is a really great preserved old sea-dog of a town, with high walls enveloping the old citadel like a huge stone blanket. Inside, the film-set atmosphere is very enticing and there are dozens of great spots to have some savoury Breton crepes or window-shopping for souvenir trinkets and BD (comic-book) stores.

5. La Rochelle:

Pretty, Port and Parks: La Rochelle can be a perfect stopover point

Pretty, Port and Parks: La Rochelle can be a perfect stopover point

This is for those who are coming from much farther south. La Rochelle is particularly appealing as a city in any case, but it’s one of the best cities for hanging around with children too. They’ve a free bike scheme that’s been going for well over 30 years, they have a multitude of wonderful restaurants near the old port for having a farewell lunch while watching the world go by, they have a beach in the town (if you really want everyone to get wet and sandy one more time) and they have a long serpentine park in the centre of town with lakes containing ducks that love being fed crumbs and a deer park with deer and goats that just love being fed lettuce and patted on the head.

6. Oradour-sur-Glane:
Finally, for those of you driving back to the ferry from the Mediterranean resorts close to Spain, this town is really worth stopping to check out. You probably won’t have much time, so this is a place that isn’t far off the route home and which is free to enter. It was a village that was entirely destroyed by the Nazis after they murdered everyone they found in it in July 1944. An entirely new town was built beside the old one and they left the original Oradour exactly as it was as a monument to those killed. It’s not a barrel of laughs but it is a place that everyone should see at some point in their lives.

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