Our journey to France actually began in Britain. While visiting family in Bristol, we accompanied them to Brittany on a route they take often: a ferry from Plymouth, England to Roscoff, France. Brittany Ferries operates out of several ports in France, the UK, Ireland and Spain.
The base fare for the journey was about £35 each, and I believe the cabin was an additional £55. What’s pretty neat about Brittany Ferries is that you don’t even need to book a cabin or room, as the price of the ferry doesn’t include sleeping accommodations. We noticed a lot of people who spent the night in a seat. It was a ten hour journey, so it’s definitely something to consider if you’re planning on doing some budget travel or if you’re not up for another flight. If you’re going with a group of 4, it makes sense to go with a 4 person cabin as it is works out to being around £22 per person and guarantees every person a bed. The cabins offer the basics: bunk bed, sink, toilet, and shower. There’s lots to do onboard including a cinema, library, bar, cafes, and even a fine dinning restaurant. If you’re going to Spain over the summer you might want to book early as it’s an immensely popular route and seems to be sold out months in advance.
When we awoke, we were docked in Roscoff, which is a little port town located in north west France. For the first part of the trip, we stayed with family in a small town an hour away from the port. There was plenty of wine, french pastries, readings, and copious amounts of Creme De Casis. We bought ourselves a rail pass before we left Canada, as we knew we were going to get some serious use out of it. A few days later we took the train to Paris from Lannion. Our hotel was booked through booking.com and included free breakfast which is as good as gold as the cost of eating out in Paris is pretty steep. If we go back, getting an AirBnb or hotel with a small kitchen would be ideal. Not just because of the cost, (though a meal will set you back about €20 per person, which hurt when you converted it back into Canadian dollars) but finding vegetarian food for my wife was harder around dinnertime. Also, sometimes cooking while traveling allows you to feel a bit more at home while discovering different ingredients in markets and stores.
We ended up getting a boutique hotel in the Pigalle, close to Montmartre. Some say the area still contains that romantic nostalgia associated with Paris. Narrow cobblestone alleys, flower boxes in windows, candle-lit restaurants, street artists and musicians speckled with beautiful architecture. But of course, Pigalle holds a slightly sleazy reputation in Paris as well, so you’ll also come across many sex shops, peep shows, and cabarets. Staying in Pigalle was certainly more affordable than some of the neighbouring areas, and allowed us easy access to Montmarte. We also spent time at larger attractions like The Louvre, Museum D’Orsay, The Love Lock Bridge, and the Dali Museum and of courseThe Eiffel Tower. A week was more than a sufficient amount of time to spend in Paris.
We all make mistakes while travelling, and this trip certainly had a blunder or two in planning out our route. Initially we wanted to go from France to Spain and thought we would take trains between the two. However, we found a great flight to Barcelona from Paris with Easyjet. I’d highly recommend checking out RyanAir and EasyJet when planning a European vacation, as our tickets to Barcelona with return to Paris were about $100 (CAD) per-person. Barcelona was amazing, and be sure to check out our experience here. Because it was a cheap round-trip flight this meant we had to go back to Paris after, so instead we thought Versailles might be worth a visit before taking the train to another area. I wish we used that opportunity to go elsewhere, anywhere. Versailles is nice to see from a historical perspective, but honestly didn’t wow me in any sort of way after the museums and architecture we had already seen. The cost was restrictive to certain areas as tourists had to pay up to see more. Even though we did pay up, we felt a little annoyed by the whole situation. The palace was crowded, and it was hard to move or see anything. We purchased tickets online before arriving, but the lineup for ticket holders was still around two hours long. Has anyone had a similar or very different experience at Versailles? We would be really interested in hearing it.
Leaving Versailles was the best part of Versailles (for us). We had plans to spend the entire afternoon there as our train to Nice didn’t leave till about 8 or 9 o’clock, though feeling rather bored we headed towards Paris early. It was an overnight train, and we ended up sharing a 4 person cabin with folks who were getting off at Toulon so we got the top bunks. I don’t think I slept for more than fifteen minutes at a time. I felt like I was on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter. If you take a direct train daytime train ride, it’s about 5.5 hours from Paris to Nice. We did see a beautiful sunrise as the train rolled along the south of France. So there was a silver lining to this trip – plus it was are one and only overnight train. Thinking back on these experiences, I appreciate the bad ones just as much as the good – especially since it keeps me laughing.
Nice is gorgeous! We wandered to the water almost immediately and I quickly found myself in brighter spirits. The beach is made of small stone like pebbles that are extremely hot during the summer months. The heat on our feet guided us into the warm blue Mediterranean waters that felt like a warm soup compared to the North Atlantic waters we swam in only weeks before. Planes fly very close overhead in and out of Monaco all the time, so it’s pretty neat swimming while an aircraft is only a couple hundred feet above your head. Visitors to Nice are spoiled with picturesque sunsets, lots of greenery, gorgeous cafes, the French Alps, and a clear blue sea. It’s no wonder Nice is so popular over the summer months when vacationers flock to the small city to spend their days, weeks, and months. Pretty much any area in the French Riviera is pretty spectacular, so be sure to consider other sea-side towns if you’re looking for a little R&R.
The next part of our trip took us to Marseilles. The train from Nice to Marseilles is spectacular! We passed through Toulon and Cannes and wished we could get off the train at every stop.
Marseilles seems to be working hard to bolster their cultural attractions so when we went it seemed to be in the beginning of an interesting revival. One person said to me that it’s the fastest changing city in France and the great thing is, Marseilles is the most culturally diverse city in France. Water activities seemed like the most popular thing to do as the port was jam packed and near impossible to get same day ferry tickets to the good spots. We did spent the day at a beautiful sandy beach that stretched out for miles.
After Marseilles we took a cheap RyanAir flight to Brest, it was about €40 per person. Brest is a small city on the North West corner of the country that was completely flattened during WW2, and later rebuilt. It’s a pretty quiet University city. We flew into Brest as we were trying to get back to spend a few more days with family before flying home.
Our flight to Canada left from Nantes so we spent a few days at a hotel to experience the city. Nantes is culturally diverse and has a great mix of food, affordable drinks, and a hip arts and culture scene. The city was centralized and the Light Rail Transit system made getting around a breeze, even to the airport on the last day! We loved the Machines of The Island of Nantes, which incorporates mechanical machines in a Jules Vern steam punk sort of way. Kids seemed to have an especially great time at the park but even as an adult we had a blast – be sure to not miss the Mechanical Elephant march. It was a great way to end the trip before flying home.