Wednesday, 26 September 2018

French pride

THERE is life after football for today’s star players. Take Eric Cantona, once the bad boy at Manchester United. French

THERE is life after football for today’s star players. Take Eric Cantona, once the bad boy at Manchester United. French to his soccer boots, Eric once spectacularly Kung Fu-kicked a fan during an altercation. Nowadays, the moody, very Gallic Cantona is into movies.

For the past week in fact I have been enjoying all things French, including testing a new French car on home soil (that is, in France, more of which later) and witnessing one small seaside town’s obsession with “le filme Britannique”.

Dinard, on the northern coast of Brittany, just a handful of kilometres from St Malo, has held a festival celebrating British films for the past 24 years. Their particular penchant is for Alfred Hitchcock whose splendid statue complete (naturally) with birds adorns the seaside promenade.

Dear Eric, he of the upturned shirt collar and vociferous look, turned up as president of the jury at the Dinard film festival. His haunting stare, now enhanced by a beard, greeted readers of the festival’s programme.

Well if Cantona, who played for Man U in the Nineties can reinvent himself into a movie star and authority on film, there’s a chance for us all. But it struck me that this might only happen in France where the whole nation embraces culture. They are as proud of their culture as they are of their cars.

Taking a Peugeot to France could be like taking coals to Newcastle and indeed there are many thousands of Peugeots on French roads. But there are also many other French-made cars on the roads there. The French are proud of their car marques, which continue to thrive, unlike our own indigenous car manufacturing industry which has been sadly lost in the mists of time.

This week’s drive, the Peugeot 2008 Crossover, is a brand new model recently launched in Britain. I took its slightly bigger brother, the 3008, to Scotland in the spring, and was impressed by the car’s willingness to perform (though that was a hybrid which required slightly more dexterity in driving).

The new 2008 also has a very willing 1.6 diesel engine that is plenty enough powerful for the smaller car. In fact, I think this is a virtue: for two people and their luggage on a Continental driving holiday and fuel consumption figures of 70.6mpg on the combined cycle, this all boded well for a happy trip.

And so it turned out. This particular model was comfortable because the Feline trim included Midnight black leather seats. I always say it is worth paying for some extras, particularly good seats with a covering you personally are happy with. Also in this version of the car, the Cielo panoramic glass roof with electric blind was a nice touch for touring. As was the loadspace: we had acres when you included the rear seating area.

I am not a fanatic when it comes to SatNav systems — I use the method my father adopted successfully for years when I was a child passenger in awe of his navigational know-how that always seemed to get us to the seaside. Like my dad, I tend to follow my nose.

But the 2008’s SatNav system delivered us to Portsmouth with little mishap — actually, only once when I decided to follow my nose — and continued to show us the French way, if you see what I mean, on those good roads of France.

We went with Brittany Ferries because we like the much improved service. Again, and I am sorry to keep banging on in favour of the French, but it is a fact that Brittany Ferries, with their French crews and their attention to detail are a far cry from the generally pretty dismal ferry crossings of yesteryear.

This is the motorist’s way into Europe. You catch the 8.15pm from Portsmouth and after supper either in the onboard restaurant or self-service restaurant or just a snack you have brought yourself to have on deck (if you are willing to brave the elements) you can turn in to a cabin or one of the airline-like sleeping seats. A cabin is worth paying for if you are able because it provides a good basis for your holiday to come, that is, a good night’s sleep.

You wake refreshed in France the next morning. We were on the road after a first coffee — oh, how I like the coffee over there — by about 8.30am. Driving in France at this time of the year is a pleasure because the marauding summer motorists who hurtle south are safely back at work, their children at school.

I can thoroughly recommend the Portsmouth to St Malo overnight route (returning on a day crossing) and the fact Brittany Ferries will not disappoint you. And you could not say that about English Channel ferry crossings a decade or so ago.

You can go from Portsmouth to a variety of ports, including Caen and Cherbourg and book for 2014 for just £25 deposit. For more details go to www.brittany-ferries.co.uk

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