Hong Kong? Give me the not-so-bright lights of Holyhead. Rio? I’ll take a warm croissant in Roscoff, s’il vous plait.

That’s because my holiday plans are now inspired by ferry connections rather than flights; and it seems I’m not alone.

Take Brittany Ferries, which recently doubled the sailing frequency on its Cork-Roscoff route from once to twice a week. They also extended the schedule to offer sailings in November and December and added 18 new pet-friendly cabins to their Amorique ship. At the same time, their Rosslare-Bilbao route saw 57,000 passengers in 2023; a 116% increase on 2022.

Meanwhile, Stena Line told Irish Country Living that they have seen a 23% increase in cars on their Irish sea routes since COVID-19, while P&O Ferries confirmed “a 16.8% year-on-year passenger growth between 2022 and 2023”.

I understand the appeal. Post-pandemic, I was reluctant to get on a plane; especially with a toddler. Turbulence and tantrums aside, the prospect of packing the car to capacity, booking a cabin for naps (and nappies), and having space to stretch our legs, made it a no-brainer.

Sure, it was slower than flying (and not always cheaper): but minimal stress made these trade-offs worthwhile for us, with the holiday beginning the moment we arrived on board. As a result, we have fallen in love with regions we would never have explored otherwise; maybe you will too?

The main bedroom at our family-friendly cottage in Pembrokeshire. \ Maria Moynihan

Picture-perfect Pembrokeshire

Our maiden voyage post-pandemic saw us set sail from Rosslare to Fishguard; which felt as far flung as Fiji after lockdown. As our daughter was just 18 months old, we booked a cabin for the three-and-a-half hour crossing with Stena Line, with a 40-minute drive taking us to

Washfield Cottages in the heart of Pembrokeshire (see washfieldcottages.wales; prices from £62/€72per night).

This part of Wales is home to 186 miles of coastal path, with plenty of short treks to choose from; whether it’s the well-worn, but no less ‘wow’, pilgrim path from St David’s Cathedral or the sandy trundle to Barafundle Bay.

Our accommodation was also located within minutes of family attractions such as Folly Farm Adventure Park, but our toddler was more than happy to paddle at the sheltered strands at Amroth, Coppet Hall and Saundersfoot. We also visited the impressive Pembroke Castle (see pembrokecastle.co.uk), where we enjoyed an excellent guided tour.

Getting there: Stena Line sails from Rosslare to Fishguard, while Irish Ferries offers similar access to south Wales from Rosslare to Pembroke. See stenaline.ie and irishferries.com

The converted cider house that we rented in Brittany. \ Maria Moynihan

Hiking the Pembrokeshire coast path. \ Maria Moynihan

La vie en rose via Roscoff

You know you’re in France when the average children’s menu features moules-frites and steack haché; though if you’re anything like my child, it’s straight to the crêpe section.

We sailed from Cork to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries in October 2022: a smooth overnight crossing of 15 hours, pain au chocolat in hand as we pulled into port.

A two-and-a-half hour drive brought us to our home for the next 10 days: a converted cider house in sleepy Saint-Père-Marc-en-Poulet; which, most importantly, was six minutes’ walk from the nearest boulangerie. (See giteslebeausejour.fr for availability, with summer rates from €130 a night before taxes and Airbnb charges).

Baked goods aside, it proved the perfect base. A 20-minute drive brought us to St Malo, which is a pleasure to stroll with its storybook ramparts and cobbled streets.

A similar spin saw us visit the elegant beach resort of Dinard, while nearby medieval Dinan offered us the chance to pedal the car-free Rance canal, with bike rental at a reasonable €13 for a hybrid/€9 for a kids’ bike for a half day from local company, Kaouann (velo-dinan.com).

This part of Brittany also offers easy access to Normandy. Indeed, a 35-minute drive saw us gawp at the monastic jewel that is Mont-St-Michel.

My top tip, however, is to book a nature walk with Chemins de la Baie, which offers barefoot tours along this famous bay at low tide. (cheminsdelabaie.com)

By the way, the guides also teach you how to escape quicksand. It just might be that bit harder after all those croissants.

Getting there: Brittany Ferries offers overnight sailings from Cork to Roscoff every Wednesday and Saturday between March and November.

For an alternative French-fix, Brittany Ferries also sails to Cherbourg from Rosslare, while Irish Ferries sails there from Dublin. See brittanyferries.ie and irishferries.com

Brittany Ferries' newest ship, The Salamanca, which travels from Rosslare, Co Wexford to Bilbao, Spain / Andrew Williamson

Exploring the river walk in Betws-y-Coed. \ Maria Moynihan

Holyhead ahoy!

Now seasoned sailors, our most recent voyage saw us travel from Dublin to Holyhead with Stena Line in just over three hours, with a 45-minute drive taking us to our self-catering cottage in the walled town of Conwy.

(While well-located and comfortable, I would be slow to recommend our rental due to its steep staircase.)

With a commanding castle and pretty quayside, Conwy is a delight; but our favourite attraction was Plas Mawr, the finest example of an Elizabethan townhouse in Britain, where Tudor times are brought to life. (cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/plas-mawr).

Conwy is also a 15-minute spin from the seaside resort of Llandudno, while 30 minutes in the opposite direction will bring you to Betws-y-Coed, the gateway to Snowdonia.

We also delved into some social history at the National Slate Museum (admission free, see museum.wales/slate), while on the other side of the spectrum, saw how wealth acquired through slavery funded vanity projects like the “fantasy” Penrhyn Castle (nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/wales/penrhyn-castle-and-garden).

It’s worth remembering that Holyhead is located on Anglesey, which is home to sweeping beaches like Rhosneigr and Llanddwyn and family-friendly attractions such as Foel Farm pet farm (foelfarm.co.uk).

One of the main reasons we chose Conwy was that we could be in Liverpool or Chester in an hour if boredom set in.

But we only scratched the surface of this wonderful part of Wales; and will certainly return.

Getting there: Both Stena Line and Irish Ferries offer sailings from Dublin to Holyhead. See stenaline.ie and irishferries.com.

Or why not try

Viva Espana: Explore the Basque Country with Brittany Ferries’ twice-weekly service from Rosslare to Bilbao,

with sailing times from 26 hours 30 minutes. Visit brittany-ferries.ie

Take the high road: Whether you’re seeking a city break or highland fling, you can sail to Scotland in just two hours from Northern Ireland, with P&O Ferries offering daily crossings to Cairnryan from Larne, while Stena Line offers a similar connection from Belfast. Visit poferries.com and stenaline.ie

Oh Man: Small but mighty, the Isle of Man is connected to Dublin and Belfast by the iconic Steam Packet Company, with crossing times starting at two hours and 45 minutes. Visit steam-packet.com

Enjoying a barefoot walking tour at low tide along the bay at Mont-St-Michel. \ Maria Moynihan

Fare Game

Ferry fares will fluctuate depending on several factors, eg whether you travel in high or low season, choose a standard or flexi ticket, bring your car or go by foot, bicycle etc.

To give an idea of prices this summer, however, Irish Country Living found the following based on two adults and two children travelling with a car.

* Rosslare to Fishguard with Stena Line, sailing 11 May and returning 18 May on a flexi ticket, €674.

* Dublin to Holyhead with Irish Ferries, departing 11 May and returning 18 May on a flexi ticket, €670.

* Larne to Cairnryan with P&O Ferries, departing 11 May and returning 18 May with a standard flexi ticket, £428/€502.

* Cork to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries, departing 11 May and returning 21 May with a standard ticket and four-berth cabin, €961.

* Rosslare to Bilbao with Brittany Ferries, departing 10 May and returning 23 May with a standard ticket and four-berth inside cabin: €960.

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