The charming city of Brest is perched on the North West coast of Brittany. Steeped in military and naval heritage, this city is incredibly proud of its maritime history, and with good reason too. After being almost obliterated in the Second World War, the city has been rebuilt to celebrate its past and embrace its future. If on arrival the city feels a little sparse, don't be fooled. It boasts a pleasure marina and commercial port with lots to see, and the surrounding areas make for a family road trip with beaches, coves and picnic spots aplenty. Buckets and spades at the ready...
When to go
Brest's weather is pretty agreeable, warm summers and mild winters. (Our tour guide claimed it never rains in Brittany, only tears of emotion fall, this said while the rain was lashing down harder than a weekend in Wales, but the summer should be a scorcher.) July and August are when the city really comes into its own, with the coastline surrounding it, and the harbour in Brest itself, glowing. This July, Brest will celebrate the most important maritime event in France, the Brest Maritime Festival, when 2,500 magnificent boats, including spectacular Tall Ships come from four corners of the world and dock in the port for all to see. Expect stalls, music festivals, street food, performance art and boat building competitions as Brest proudly shows off its maritime heritage to an estimated 650,000 visitors. Fireworks round off the week, before all the ships leave port at the same time on July 19th, making for a truly stunning sea view.
Regular flights from the main airports in the UK operate to Brest, but a new CityJet route this year makes getting there even easier. The super-quick service from London City to Brest takes an hour and a half and runs three times a week from London City, with one way fares starting from £83, and returns £138, including taxes. CityJet operates a 10 per cent discount policy for children under two years who travel on parents' laps. If you haven't been to London City or Brest airport before, you'll be pleased to know that both are zero faff, so you can breeze through without any bother, no matter how many buggies, bumps or babies you have in tow. To book flights visit CityJet.com or call reservations on 0871 666 50 50.
Where to stay
For a hotel which is practically perched on the marina, book into the Oceania City Centre on Rue de Siam, one of the main shopping streets through the centre of the city. Despite its central location, the hotel is surprisingly quiet, and, as expected, has a nautical but nice feel throughout, with sea-faring décor at every turn. Try the cracking sea restaurant for a good value set menu. Doubles start from 120 euros, with family rooms for four available throughout the year at varying costs.
What to do
You cannot go to Brest and not visit Océanopolis, the world famous aquarium where turtles turn on the charm, seals shimmy and penguins, yes, actual king penguins (the really big ones from Frozen Planet!) roam around in front of your very eyes. Invest as much time as you can at this really magical place, where you could easily spend a day thanks to its three extensive zones: tropical, polar and temperate waters. Tickets are €17 for adults and €11 for children, with nifty strollers available for hire for €3 if you didn't bring the pushchair.
At various times throughout the day there's a touching tank open for inquisitive children (and adults, let's be honest now) to get up close and personal with all sorts of weird and wonderful fish.
The four harbour and grey seals are fed and exercised at 3pm, so plan your trip around then for a real treat. Get to the enclosure early though, or be fully prepared to hoist your kids on to your shoulders - it's a popular sight for visitors.
Be sure to take the glass lift rather than the stairs at the end of the shark section - it moves at a snail's pace so you can really take in the sharks swimming around above your head. By the end of the summer you'll be able to have an altogether more otterly fantastic time when Océanopolis opens its doors to a brand new otter sanctuary.
A boat trip of the bay
If you're not driving in Brest, hop on bus number 3 from the city centre and head to the marina for a boat ride to take in the stunning scenery, departing from right outside Océanopolis. A 90 minute trip is €15 for adults and €6 for children under 16. After stepping back on dry land, take ten to mosey around the marina, where 800 boats are docked. A pretty impressive site, even for the non-nautical in your family.
The botanical gardens
Founded in 1975, the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest is a local beauty spot about a 10 minute drive, or local bus trip from the city. Four tropical greenhouses surround a gorgeous lake and nature trail, perfect for buggies and little feet. The greenhouses themselves are jam-packed with info, which might seem a little daunting, but a couple of Euros gets you into the grounds and an ideal spot for a picnic. Listen out for hundreds of frogs frockling on lily pads on the lake to raise a smile.
The cider (sorry kids)
Brenton cider is a sweet little delicacy, which, as it turns out, isn't mutually exclusive to active family fun. Look out for it on the menu at lunch time in restaurants and seaside bars. Although one glass will do you all afternoon - sweet but nice and strong...
Enjoy the coast
Hire a car and whizz along the coast to Saint-Mathieu, a small village on the North West coast. Here you can join the GR34 hiking route and walk the Brittany coastline. If you're not geared up for a full-on tantrum-inducing hike, buy supplies from the local shop and mosey along for a picnic instead. Watch for the coastline though, impressive but exposed along the walk, so be sure to keep kids to the path.
Stay by the sea
Check in to the l'Hotel Vent d'Iroise, Plougonvelin where rooms feel like your very own beach hut. Ask for a balcony overlooking the coast - they are more like terraces so room for everyone of an evening. Rooms start from around €65 a night. On a good day you can take a boat trip to l'île Vierge, at the south-western most tip of the English Channel from across the road from the hotel.
Climb the lighthouse (buggies at the bottom please)
Across the road from the l'Hotel Vent d'Iroisestands the Saint-Mathieu lighthouse, open to the public for guided tours, whatever the weather. 163 steps might sound manageable, but believe us, it's steep climb to the top so you'll have to do it in shifts if you have very little people who need to stay put at the bottom.