TRAVEL: Guess who's coming to DINAN; THIS BRITTANY IS REAL FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT.
SILENTLY gliding by just inches from my face the 8ft shark bared its teeth, before turning a blank eye in my direction and disappearing into the darkness beyond.
Thankfully, there were several inches of plate glass between me, the shark and his mates.
They were the centrepiece of the Grand Aquarium in St Malo, Brittany, a popular attraction, especially when gales swirl outside.
The rest of the aquarium was equally impressive - including a mini submarine ride - and was wholly appropriate to a town whose history is closely linked to the sea.
We had travelled to north-western France for a week's stay with Canvas Holidays on the Le Chatelet campsite at St Cast, about 20 minutes west of St Malo.
Taking our car gave us complete freedom once there while avoiding airport check-ins and lugging all the paraphernalia needed for taking three young children on holiday.
Folkestone to Calais with Eurostar is a civilised way to travel. Quick, easy and unaffected by bad weather or misplaced baggage.
The Flexi-Plus service is even better. For a small premium you get a dedicated check-in queue, priority boarding on the next train, and access to a lounge where you can get a free takeaway light meal, goodie bags for the kids and a newspaper.
Of course, the downside is a fivehour drive with frequent enquiries about whether we are there yet.
The pain of this was reduced somewhat by my wife bringing the CD of Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire read by Stephen Fry which accompanied us there, on most of our explorations and all the way back - 1,200 miles in all.
Brittany boasts around 800 miles of rugged coastline. Once known as Little Britain, it is one of the seven remaining Celtic areas of Northern Europe.
It has lovely beaches - vast areas of fine sand and smaller coves flanked by headlands with rockpools for children to explore.
Brittany also has huge tidal ranges so the sea retreats to the horizon exposing miles of mudflats - home to mussel and oyster farming.
Guided tours are available in some of the bays where local knowledge can be the difference between life and death.
Studded with quicksand, the tide comes in faster than a horse can gallop, easily stranding the unwary. Unsurprisingly, shellfish is found on most menus. Coastal roads have stalls selling the catch of the day, and every town has at least one fishmonger.
Brittany is also known for pancakes - galettes, made from buckwheat flour and eaten with savoury fillings, or crepes stuffed with fresh fruit and smeared with chocolate or kirsch.
Eating out is reasonable, especially lunch where moules marinieres with frites costs about EUR8.50 (pounds 5.70).
St Cast itself boasts seven beaches, ranging from the half-mile, crescentshaped Grande Plage to our favourite, the cosy Plage de la Mare.
Onsite there's plenty to do. Le Chatelet has a main swimming pool and a smaller one for toddlers. Both are solar heated although when we arrived in May half-term, they were too cold to use.
There was also a games room, carp fishing, a children's playground and a Wild & Active club offering active ities for all the family. Helpful Canvas reps supplied extra blankets when we were chilly at night, but our self-catering accommodation - in a three-bedroom mobile home - was spacious and comfortable.
There are plenty of places of interest within easy reach of St Cast and my favourite was Dinan, a town seemingly untouched since the Middle Ages. Many buildings date from the 14th and 15th centuries with cobbled streets and higgledypiggledy half-timbered houses.
The Tour de l'Horloge (clock tower) stands 140ft tall and offers great views over the town, surrounding countryside, and the viaduct spanning the river Rance.
Also worth seeing is the Gothic church of St Saveur which has a shrine containing the heart of Bertrand Du Guesclin (1320-80), a Breton and French military commander in the Hundred Years War.
But no visit to northern Brittany is complete without visiting Mont St Michel. Rising from the surrounding bay like Hogwarts, it is no longer an island due to silting and can be reached by road. However, last year a EUR150million (pounds 100m) project to clear the silt and return it to true island status was announced.
Mont St Michel - on which a monastic establishment was built in the 8th century - is a jaw-drop-ping spectacle with massive walls and tiny houses rising up to the abbey perched at the top, crowned by a gilded statue of St Michael, 500ft above the sea.
It costs nothing to go on to the mount, but once you've got past the restaurants and tourist shops, there is a charge (EUR8 (pounds 5) for adults/children free) to enter the abbey.
On the way back to St Cast we took the coast road to St Malo through Cherrueix, a bleak windswept area.
On one side were little cottages and about a dozen stone windmills. On the other, the vast expanses of sand and mud dotted with rows of bouchots - stakes on which mussels attach themselves before collection.
As we watched, a rickety tractor carrying a shellfish farmer chugged in from the distant bouchots while schoolchildren braved the rain on their brightlycoloured sand yachts.
A final memory before facing the drive east to Calais, accompanied once more by the mellifluous tones of Mr Fry. And, yes, we'd had a simply wizard time!
A SEVEN-NIGHT break for two adults and up to four children with Canvas Holidays at St Cast will cost pounds 507 per family (a saving of 15 per cent) as of May 17, 2008. Price includes return Eurotunnel crossing for car and passengers and accommodation in a Century mobile home. Bookings must be made by September 26, 2007. The same holiday arriving onsite on August 17, 2007, for example, costs pounds 1,107. Tel: 0870 192 1159. www.canvasholidays.co.uk
LIVING HISTORY: Dinan is stunning; FAIRYTALE CASTLE: Mont St Michel; WIND POWER: Bleak landscape of Cherrueix
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jun 23, 2007|
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