Brittany and the Brits, a very special love affair
Brittany has long been a favourite for British family holidays. Close enough for ease of travel, familiar enough to suit all generations, and peopled with a tourist industry that is disarmingly warm and welcoming to the Brits.
And so, when the Keycamp Holidays brochure dropped through the letterbox opening up large swathes of Europe for us to choose from, it was for Brittany that we eventually opted.
It fitted the bill perfectly for a quick and easy week – not too much driving abroad and what there was on very pleasant, empty roads; straightforward Channel crossings, plus one of the best holiday parcs in France.
We booked with Brittany Ferries from Poole to Cherbourg outward and St Malo to Portsmouth on our return, and stayed overnight at Poole on the way down so that we could enjoy a little extra time in the New Forest and along the south coast before hopping the Channel.
It's always encouraging to hear a good report about your destination of choice – and the Keycamp Holidays team was full of praise for our chosen site when we tentatively suggested we'd like to opt for the Ch�teau des Ormes parc at Dol-de-Bretagne.
What had swung it for us was the extensive water-park that would keep our daughter busy and happy for much of the week, a selection of fishing lakes to entertain our son, and the promise of a site with enough facilities to make it a relaxing break for us too.
According to the people in the know, Chateau des Ormes is one of the best in the Keycamp selection. It may be large – at 700 pitches – but it is very well equipped, clean, friendly and – here's a word you don't always associate with holiday parcs – rather upmarket!
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We've been to Keycamp parcs before and have always enjoyed them, but we were soon agreeing that this one really was rather special.
The approach to Ch�teau des Ormes is an impressive driveway between a beautifully manicured 18-hole golf course and rolling parkland with horses grazing taking you towards a rather grand ch�teau.
From our initial reception and throughout the holiday, the staff there were really worthy of praise; helpful, friendly and full of enthusiasm – even though this was the final week of the season.
Their entertainments or animation programme was coming to a close, but nevertheless they would drop by our mobile home to suggest events that might interest the youngsters and were quick to deliver extra blankets and pillows when the night temperature dropped.
Their programme, which includes Leo's Fun Station for littlies, toddlers' swimming lessons, a Soccer Station, an activities selection aimed at teenagers and even an over-16s' disco, ended with an extraordinary, free, open air production that borrowed heavily from the story of Zorro and featured video, fireworks, sword-fighting as well as plenty of diving into the pools. Quite a sight and it drew out virtually the whole parc to watch and applaud.
For our accommodation, we had gone for a Villagrand Deluxe mobile home, surprisingly spacious, with three bedrooms, plenty of living area, decking and a kitchen area quite adequate for cooking up family meals inspired by the meats, cheeses and vegetables on sale at Dol-de-Bretagne, just a couple of minutes' drive away.
When you want to leave the cooking behind, there is a restaurant, pizzeria, a take-away, snack-bar and three bars – which ran a variety of quizzes and entertainment during the evenings too.
And we certainly worked up an appetite each day – horse riding from the parc's equestrian centre, long walks in the French countryside and day trips around the bustling walled port city of historic St Malo and to Mont-St-Michel, where you can lose hours in the natty shops that nestle into the tiny streets of this 264ft high rocky islet connected to the mainland by a causeway.
Mont-St-Michel is a major sightseeing attraction, so expect the crowds by the bus-load. But elsewhere you can explore medieval towns, happen upon picturesque villages with great local produce shops and enjoy miles of empty beaches without large numbers of tourists to contend with.
When you've had your fill of sightseeing, there is plenty to do to while away the days at the parc, aside from just relaxing in the sunshine.
Set in 250 acres of parkland and woods, there is lots to encourage you into activity. You can hire pedaloes, canoes and cycles, join archery lessons, play mini-golf - or you can simply sit in the shadow of that chateau and watch the world go by.
And although the vast majority of accommodation is in mobile homes (who could imagine that there were so many different styles!) there is also a delightful selection of tree-houses and round-houses, which would certainly be worth considering on a return trip.
On our last night, sitting out on the balcony of the restaurant looking across the Ch�teau des Ormes parc in the setting sun, it was easy to understand why Brits opt for Brittany year after year.