Forget the drive down to Plymouth - it is the quayside close-down which signals the real start of the holiday.
The 32,000-ton Brittany Ferry Val de Loire has all the amenities to make the six-hour sailing to France a super start to a break.
Cinema, bar, swimming-pool, restaurant, shops and duty-free shop can help while away the time - but I swear by taking a cabin.
That way you have somewhere to put your feet up, leave your belongings and even have a snooze in advance of tackling the French roads.
Not that that is much of a hardship - I can't remember the last time I was in a traffic jam in France.
Our destination was the popular seaside resort of Benodet at the mouth of the Odet river in west Brittany.
The town is neat and prosperous but not a riot of entertainment for the younger element.
Instead there is a fine walk along beach and promenade to the nearby Pointe St Gilles where there are spectacular views over the estuary.
For a good meal at a fair price try the Domino pizzeria in the centre of the town - it is deceptively dull on the outside but bright and cheery within with helpful staff only too keen to try out their English.
The set price 62 franc menu - less than pounds 7 at current rates - allows for a main course, dessert and coffee while the children's is 35F for the same.
Our home for the week was the Cap Glenan Hotel Residence apartments which feature in the latest Eurovillages brochure.
The apartments are run by a French company, Pierre et Vacances - a recent discovery of ours, but what a find they are.
Our accommodation was stylish and equipped with all mod cons from dishwasher, shower and bath to a television and looked out onto the rigorously maintained pool and beyond onto the bay.
The beach, a mixture of sand and shingle, was - as the brochure said - just 50 yards away and is perfect for those aimless holiday football or frisbee contests.
On the other hand, I can recommend another brilliantly relaxing way to pass a morning.
First, get yourself a 24F net from the Champion supermarket on the edge of town - excellent for all your other provisions too - then take yourself and children off for a couple of hours crab-fishing. It's a marvelously mindless way to while away thehour s. And on holiday that's allowed.
There is plenty to see in the area if you are the touring type - just 20 miles east is Pont-Aven where Gauguin set up his school of artists.
His heritage remains in the presence of dozens of studios scattered throughout the town.
If you have the cash you can treat yourself to an original painting by one of them. More likely, you can shop for a poster or print which runs out at between 45F and 80F and, suitably framed up, makes a chic holiday souvenir.
The Cafe du Centre next to the town bridge is a hospitable spot for a reasonably-priced snack but if you are the picnic type then try out the beautifully kept gardens in Theodore Botrel Square alongside the river.
With typically French extravagance the gardens are littered, not with beer cans, but with tasteful examples of modern sculpture.
In another corner the old men play boules on their patch of dust - and just watching them in what is probably the world's least active sport is another ideal way to unwind.
The regional capital of Quimper, less than 15 miles north from Benodet, is reachable also by boat.
But for more orthodox travellers there is plenty of parking in a bustling location with all the attractions you would expect - a market, hundreds of top shops and the 13th century cathedral of St Corentin, imposing centrepiece to the city.
I discovered after my return that the city is also the birthplace of the inventor of the stethoscope - although I am not sure how I would have used that information had I known earlier.
This superb area of Brittany is just a two-hour drive from Roscoff ferry-port but if you need to make an overnight stop, as we did, I can recommend the Clarine chain of hotels. These are scattered throughout France but the one we stayed at Landivisiau is in a handy spot just half an hour's drive from Roscoff.
Lisette and Jean-Claude Cuinet run a neat and relaxed establishment on the outskirts of the pretty little Breton town.
The restaurant is good enough to attract the locals to drive out to it and offers a two-course meal at 59 francs (around pounds 6) and three courses for 78F. Youngsters can feast on a three-course meal with drink for 39F.
As a guide to accommodation costs a room for one person is 290F a night, for two it is 330F, with breakfast an additional 38F each.
Benodet fact file
DIRECT-SELL operators Eurovillages offer selrive family holidays to France and the rest of Europe. New villages added to the range include Belle Dune in Picardy and La Baule in Brittany. The Clarine hotels are also bookable through Eurovillages. Fora br ochure ring 01606 734400.
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Jul 5, 1998|
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