Of all the coastal areas to drive in France, Brittany in the northwest is one of the most satisfying, but with a coastline 750 miles long a day trip is not sufficient if you want to see it all. If taking your own car from the UK, it makes sense to travel from Portsmouth to St Malo, as you will then be perfectly positioned to start your coastal drive in Brittany itself. The French word for Brittany is Bretagne, and it has a distinctive culture and history that is aligned with the Celtic communities of Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.
As Brittany is very close to the UK, the climate is similar. It is wetter than many other parts of France, though along the coast, showers are more rare than in inland areas. Roads are generally good and motorways (autoroutes) are much less crowded than in the UK. If you are departing from main highways to see some of the sights at the coast, expect single-lane or single-track roads.
As with many parts of Europe, there are specific rules that drivers have to obey. You must carry a high visibility jacket and a warning triangle in case of a breakdown and fit headlamp beam converters. If your registration plates do not include the GB Euro symbol, you must display a GB sticker. Uniquely in France, drivers must also carry a breathalyser certified by the French authorities – it must display the letters NF on the packaging.
Throughout Brittany, accommodation is varied and plentiful, and you can stay in good quality Bretagne hotels or opt for cheaper guesthouses if you are prepared to forgo some of the luxury features of a hotel stay.
Undoubtedly worth a visit either on arrival or before you return home, St Malo is a fortified city with an interesting history that includes monastic settlements and notorious pirates. As well as walking along the ramparts, there are beautiful and impressive historical buildings, including the château of St Malo, part of which is in use as a museum. Here you will find Europe’s largest concentration of restaurants, with oysters a specialty. These are fished for from the charming port of Cancale, ten miles east of the city.
Key coastal highlights
If you are keen on visiting beaches, you will not be disappointed as there are many wonderful coves and sandy inlets from which to choose. The top five favourite spots are Dinard, St-Guirec at Ploumanac’h and L’Aber-Wrac’h on the north-west coast, Morgat on the west coast at the end of the Crozon peninsula, and the enormous stretch of sparkling sand at Quiberon on the peninsular south coast. Some of these beaches are quite distant from the main roads, and holidaymakers who like to visit them tend to book a hotel in France for a longer stay.
Finally, you must be sure to pause to look at the megalithic stones of Morbihan, and to look out for the special places along the Emerald Coast, named for the springtime colour of the sea. In contrast, the Pink Granite Coast has spectacular rocks and an extraordinary rocky landscape with many inlets, islands and peninsulas.
If your idea of an amazing holiday experience includes wildlife and water parks, you will have a good time in Marbella, but if you truly, truly, want to experience the authenticity of this city, and want her to fill your heart, then you must allow her to embrace you with her beguiling Bougainvillea-clad laneways and azure seas.
Marbella’s beauty is not to be found following a guide, flag flailing above the throng of sticker-clad tour groups who alight their cruise ships for a few fleeting hours before whisking off to one more exotic destination, merely glancing at the city’s beauty.
It is in the Old Town – the afternoons lazing on pristine beaches, the warm nights dancing with strangers who become friends, talking ‘til dawn – which is where the passionate souls of Marbella are to be found.
The Art of the Long Lunch
Marbella’s secret is the placid ease at which the Marbellis live their lives. They know how to take pleasure in a sunlit afternoon, languishing over a lunch of gazpacho, fried fish and cava, which lasts until long shadows form on stone archways, and the sun gives way to starlit skies above Mediterranean seas.
Long lunches begin with an array of fresh tapas before you take a seat at a crisp white linen-clothed table, and casually peruse the menu. Then enjoy a glass of crisp white wine perhaps, followed by lively conversation, as you take in the coastline that stretches before you.
A Return to Tradition
Dare to explore a little further than the opulent marinas and coastline of Marbella, and you will venture into Old Town, and the historical Plaza de Los Naranjos and the Church of St Mary.
The Plaza, or Orange Square, is where café owners greet you with an invitation to enjoy their fine fair, and local shop owners, who inherited their family’s businesses, still ply their trade. And whether you are religious or not, the Church of St Mary, with its façade of red stone, quietly sitting at peace among the many ruins accessible in this part of town, will put you at ease.
A Stay Within the Heart of Marbella
A stay in Marbella’s hotels can be likened to lifestyles of the rich and famous – well George Clooney does keep a villa here – and although ritzy hotels are the norm, what enticed me was the quaint Andalusian-styled villas that hark back to the days when the likes of Grace Kelly holidayed here. Do as the locals do: rise late in the morning, enjoy espresso and baked goods on your balcony, and take in the splendor of all that lies before you.
Terraced gardens and quaint balconies beckon you to explore Marbella’s cobbled lane ways, flanked by the traditional white houses featured on many a picture postcard. Look around as you pass people on the streets as they go about their daily lives; slow down, and walk at their leisurely pace.
Marbella is a celebration of spirit, a slow dance under moonlight, and a touch that caresses your soul.
This article is written as part of the #hipmunklove project. All opinions are my own and I would never recommend anything I didn’t believe in or use myself.
When you’re away on holiday, the last thing you want to be doing is watching the pennies and constantly budgeting yourself into a frenzy. You’ve worked hard to save up for your time away, and you should be able to enjoy it without worrying, right?
Well, yes, but unless you’re lucky enough to find a money tree, and if you do, please share the location, then you are going to have to be a little careful to a degree. Despite that, there are ways to cuts costs, both before you go away and whilst you’re there, which means you’re free to enjoy all the fun of your break, without counting the pennies every hour.
We’ll cover pre-going away first, because it basically makes more sense time-wise! You will no doubt be aware that there are extras you need to add onto your travel plans, such as thinking about how you’re going to get to the airport. You can’t go away without this step, so give it some thought early on. Personally, I always drive myself to the airport and book my parking spot through Airparks. I’ve always been given a fantastic price, and I find the whole experience stress-free, compared to public transport. If you like the sound of this, then you will find facilities at most large UK airports, with parking at Stansted Airport also offered too. Nobody misses out!
If you can cut a few costs on the initial booking of your holiday and the add ons, then you will have more to spend whilst you’re there. Of course, the cost doesn’t stop when you’ve booked because unless you’ve gone all inclusive, you’re going to have to pay for food and drink, and regardless of your board basis, you’re going to spend money on activities and excursions.
All inclusive is a good idea if you’re holidaying with children, because the endless requests for soft drinks are easily met without having to pay out. Having said that, if you’re going for eating out, it’s a good idea to head to where the locals go, because this is where you will get to eat authentically and it is also where you’ll find lower costs, away from the tourist streets. Drinks-wise, why not have a few drinks in the apartment or hotel room before a big night out? Not only will you spend less when you’re out, but you’ll know exactly what’s going into your drink.
As for excursions, it’s a good idea to haggle! This might sound odd, but if you head to a street vendor you might be able to bargain the cost of your trips, especially if there is a group of you, or if you book more than one with the same vendor. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
It’s really about being sensible with what you spend your money on, but don’t let that stop from treating yourself every now and then, after all, you’re on holiday.