“How would you like your steak, Madame?” Now that is not a question you might expect to be asked on a ferry. But on a recent return trip from Dover to Calais with My Ferry Link I discovered that the French connection goes further than the flag flying proudly from the ship’s stern.
I was visiting northern France with a group of bloggers in search of WWI poet Wilfred Owen. The last time I had been across the English Channel was in 1983, when we took the car and filled it up with decent wine, cheese and other foodie treats from a massive supermarket outside Calais. All I remember about the ship was overcooked food in the canteen and sticky carpets. I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of comfort and excellent facilities today and, because this ships is owned by a French company, an extra je ne sais quoi to the experience. Here are 3 great reasons to travel by ferry based on my experience aboard My Ferry Link’s ship ‘Berlioz‘.
1. Excellent food and drink
That steak was only one choice from a very generous menu in ‘Le Relais’ restaurant. The standard of cooking and variety of dishes aboard ‘Berlioz’ meant that all tastes can be satisfied. In our group we had vegetarians, carnivore and gourmands and everyone was happy. As you’d expect there are plenty of good wines to choose from, as well as local beers from Nord-Pas de Calais region and, of course, really decent coffee. There are other places to eat and drink including ‘Le Pub’ and ‘La Brasserie’ so even when the ship is full you can find a place for a meal.
Then there’s the desserts. Oh mon dieu! Fancy a delicate fruit tart or a maybe a large slice of walnut cake? Perhaps a pot of chocolate mousse or pretty apple pie?
I opted for the tart and it was divine; crisp pastry, a rich crÃ¨me anglais, delicious fruit and a light glaze – as good as you’d get in a Parisienne patisserie. You can also get genuine crusty French bread – ideal with some cheese for a snack when you arrive.
2. Quality shopping in La Boutique
The ‘window’ display outside the ship’s gift shop was dressed in honour of the close ties between Britain and France in two World Wars. As you can imagine, there are a great many people going on memorial trips as we remember a hundred years since the start of World War I and 70 years since D-Day. Being used to the vast, big-brand, garish Duty Free halls of our airport departure lounges it was a pleasure to wander round ‘La Boutique’ which has a very good range of French produce as well as British souvenirs. (Apart from the fridge magnets, which were even more naff than usual, and they didn’t have any pins, which disappointed me as I collect them from everywhere I travel.)
The wines were very tempting as were the perfumes and cosmetics but I resisted and bought a box of toffees for my son, some beers for a friend, a selection of tasty treats from ‘Maxim’s’ and a WWI biscuit tin for me. (Those buttery biscuits were scrumptious!)
3. Fresh air and space to move about
One of the real pluses of the ferry compared with plane or rail travel is being able to go outside for fresh air and enjoy the views. On our departure from Dover there was a heavy sea mist which shrouded the famous white cliffs and castle, but by the time we got half way across the Channel (or La Manche as the French say) it had cleared. Being one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes there’s plenty to see. It’s also much more fun standing on deck than being stuck in a railway carriage or cramped plane seat. There’s plenty of space inside with various seating areas including ‘ Le Pub’ which serves drinks and a wide selection of sandwiches and snacks including French specialities such as the croque-monsieur.
With bright, contemporary decor throughout the ship and big windows to watch the world go by, it feels more like a modern cruise liner than a busy working ferry. Children are well-catered for with a dedicated Play Zone with cartoons, games and child-friendly furniture. Apparently there’s also a nursery area with baby-changing facilities. You don’t get that on the EuroStar …
There are of course, other reasons to travel by ferry. Check-in is relatively painless and you can take as many bottle of water (or other liquids!) and as much luggage as you can cram in the vehicle. With a crossing time of about 90 minutes it is enough time to relax, have a meal and be well-refreshed before arrival. As you can see from our faces when we arrived back in Dover, our group of bloggers was very relaxed and happy!
Many thanks to Ellie Macdonald and everyone from My Ferry Link for a really memorable weekend in France and a very enjoyable time aboard the good ship ‘Berlioz’.