There’s always time for a Brittany break

St Malo
St Malo

TRAVEL: Delays due to broken down vehicle on A27

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At this time of year, when you tend to need a few extra additions to the wine cellar, many a hardy traveller will make a pilgrimage across the Channel.

But it needn’t be an extended version of Supermarket Sweep with a flying visit to a hypermarket and a boot-load of booze. In fact, Dale Winton needn’t even get off his sunbed.

While the French know a thing or two about wine, they have plenty more to offer for those who want to enjoy a rather more relaxed trip with some culture, gastronomy and a bit of shopping thrown in for good measure

With Brittany Ferries offering the hassle-free route direct from our doorstep in Portsmouth on the overnight ferry to St Malo in Brittany, your trusty car can be packed up – or left as empty as possible – to suit your needs on the outward trip.

Leave home shores mid-evening and wake up in north west France the next morning. It couldn’t be easier.

Once ashore, the pretty coastal town of St Malo awaits and the Hotel Beaufort – situated about 10 steps away from the most glorious sandy beach – is an ideal location for a base.

With its walled city dating back to medieval times, the cobbled streets and mazy passageways no longer serve soldiers attempting to protect the country from those nasty English invaders.

Instead, it now serves the modern generation of tourists, including the not-so nasty English who are even prepared to pay for the privilege of helping themselves to the local goods on offer these days.

With a Christmas market running at the picturesque Chateau from December 16-24, late gifts and a range of stalls boasting all kinds of food and crafts will help you find something for even the most difficult of relatives.

If you’re happy to explore farther afield and take your chances driving on the wrong side of the road, there’s a wealth of interesting coastal locations within easy reach.

The magnificent Mont St Michel and its 11th century abbey – less than an hour away but in neighbouring Normandy – is well worth visiting.

Perched on an island and towering into the sky, it’s an incredible feat of engineering, boasting of its links to a time from the dim and distant past.

But the French cuisine remains a standard-bearer.

As a less than enthusiastic lover of seafood in previous years, painstakingly pulling odd creatures apart before you actually get to the smallest edible morsel tended to point me towards those big, juicy steaks elsewhere on the menu.

But considering that St Malo boasts the highest concentration of seafood restaurants in Europe and, encouraged to broaden my horizons, I was soon eyeballing a gigantic platter of what appeared to be the recently-deceased cast of Finding Nemo.

To a paid-up member of Captain Birdseye’s fan club, it’s all you could wish for with the fresh catch from that day brought to your table a few hours later.

Some of it tasted great, some of it didn’t. But even after fumbling around with those things that look like nutcrackers and not actually finding any nuts to crack, it was a whole new experience to do battle with a lobster’s claw.

But as a region, regardless of the time of year, Brittany retains an easy-going and welcoming feel to it.

Just remember to grab a few bottles of locally-produced wine as a souvenir of your trip.