Discovering the French coast is a boat owner’s dream - and it’s now easier than ever before.
Travelling between different marinas has never been simpler, thanks to MDL Marinas’ Freedom Berthing: an unparalleled berthing package encompassing over 120 marina locations spanning the UK, France, Spain and Italy. Passeport Escales supplements MDL’s Freedom Berthing programme to create the largest marina network in Europe; booking a berth on the continent is easier than ever before, and lighter on the pocket too, and with the addition of two new ports in the beautiful heart of Brittany, there has never been a better time to explore.
The first addition is Port la Forêt, an expanding and bustling marina based in La Cale, Brittany. Boasting an easy access to the Glenan Archipelago; a collection of stunning islands with crisp, sweeping white sands, clear, turquoise waters and, in April, blooms of the protected Glénan Narcissus flower carpeting the islands. The main island of the ‘Breton Tahiti’ cluster, as it’s commonly known, is Saint Nicholas. Authentic local cuisine headlines and proves the perfect way to unwind after days spent at the international diving school and walking France’s smallest nature reserve – once a hotbed of lobster and langoustine farming in the 19th century.
From Saint Nicholas, at low tide, a ribbon of sand opens up a pathway to Bananec Island – renowned around the world for its non-profit sailing school, open to adults and teenagers and teaching in both English and French.
Port La Forêt itself is a must for those looking to experience the best of Northern France. It also holds a rich cultural legacy in the world of sailing, being both the first deep-water marina in the region, as well as one of offshore racing’s leading training centres. The Port is just a short journey from the picturesque town of La Forêt-Fouesnant, a stunning hub of sun-drenched beaches, tranquil walks and evocative architecture that make it unlike anywhere else in the region. Nearby Penfret Island is home to an iconic lighthouse and semaphore while Île Cigogne is recognisable by its prominent fort – built in the 18th century to keep pirates at bay.
The second marina to be added is Vie Portuaire; set in the heart of the historic town of Concarneau. It is regularly the site of regattas due to its stunning beauty, whilst also boasting outstanding facilities for its 767 berths. Easily accessible 24 hours a day, Vie Portuaire opens up the best path from the marina to the city centre, and is the gateway to vibrant Concarneau. On offer are a variety of tourist activities including the ville close, walled town, where visitors can step back in time wandering the narrow, cobbled streets filled with restaurants and shops to discover. Or, visitors can head up high along the ramparts to enjoy the scenic route and enjoy views over the marina and the fishing harbour.
Concarneau has a rich, living history, with a fishing industry that goes back hundreds of years and is thriving today as much as when it first began, and is celebrated each summer in le Festival des filets bleus (festival of the blue nets) with dancing, sea shanties and well-stocked fish markets. For the history and architecture enthusiasts, the Château de Keriolet, on the town’s outskirts has been restored to its former glory for tours, showing how it changed from the 15th century to the gothic 19th century.
Discover European adventures, culture and beauty with MDL Marinas’ Passeport Escales.
Our trip to the newly opened luxury lodges at Woolverstone Marina was a magical New Year trip that helped us escape the January blues!
Less than ten miles from Ipswich, Suffolk, we made our first pit stop at Jimmy’s Farm for a spot of lunch. Set in a 200-year-old-barn converted by Jamie Oliver’s friend, it offers a rustic yet contemporary restaurant with numerous food and farming-related attractions for the whole family.
Arriving at Woolverstone Marina, we were greeted by MDL staff before being taken to our magnificent accommodation - one of the ten individually designed luxurious lodges. All of them have excellent design features and homely furnishings, and ours even had an open fire and a hot tub! When combined with the wonderful setting the marina has to offer, it was love at first sight for my wife and me.
The furnishings are simply first class and the team at MDL Marinas have left no stone unturned in creating a luxurious yet homely feel for each lodge. From the flat screen TVs to sofas, it was the finishing touches, such as the wine rack that really completed the experience. So when relaxing with a nice bottle of red wine in a peaceful and tranquil setting, we were able to drift away from the day-to-day stresses of regular life as soon as we sat down.
After a perfect sleep in the sleek, modern bedroom we headed for the nearby River Stour the following morning to enjoy a leisurely-paced winter walk. We soon headed back to the lodge for lunch and the welcoming hot tub on the balcony.
There is so much to do in the local area around Woolverstone Lodge Park and gladly, we managed to enjoy all the excitement Suffolk Leisure Park has to offer during our final afternoon – which was only a 7-minute drive from the lodges. For one final opportunity to really relax, we returned to our accommodation for our last meal cooked in the state-of-the-art kitchen, and just a little more wine, in front of the cosy wood burners in the living room, before we retired for the evening.
It was quite simply a stunning few days at Woolverstone Lodge Park and we’ll certainly be back! Although our children were not present for this particular trip, we’ll be returning with them in the summer where I’m sure the hive of activity around the marina will provide a real buzz for the whole family.
There are excellent boating opportunities too; Woolverstone Marina offers yacht charters and an RYA accredited sailing school for both sailboat and powerboat courses. For those who like to take in the natural beauty of Suffolk from the shores, there are magnificent and scenic walks in the area, namely The Butt and Oyster, Cliff Plantation, Woolverstone Park, Woodbridge and Martlesham Creek… and these are just the walks on from the doorstep!
Add to this the inclusion of the luxury accommodation and the soon-to-be opened children’s playground and Woolverstone Lodge Park will be offering a perfect action-packed family holiday mixed with the relaxing setting that we enjoyed so much this time around.
Thanks for the memories Woolverstone Lodge Park and we look forward to making many more here in the future!
You could WIN a romantic getaway for two in our luxury Woolverstone Lodges by sharing your #LoveIsOnTheWater photos with us on Facebook. Before the winner is announced for that, find out what our marina teams are offering our members for Valentine's Day…
Brixham Marina - Pop into the marina office anytime during Valentine's Day for a sugary pick up of love hearts and chocolate.
Chatham Maritime Marina - Between 6 and 8pm on Valentine's Day, pop into the marina office for a heart shaped chocolate and a glass of bubbly…
Cobb's Quay Marina - For a sweet treat, enjoy some chocolates with the marina team anytime on Valentine's Day.
Hamble Marinas - All day Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, catch up with the marina team over a glass of bubbly and chocolates.
Queen Anne's Battery - Hold out for good weather as QAB are planning on hosting bubbly on the pontoons! If the weather isn't good, then the bubbles will be served in the warmth and dry of the marina office. Either way anytime between 1-3pm on Valentine's Day be sure to head to QAB!
Sparkes Marina - On Hayling Island, bubbles will be available in the marina throughout Valentine's Day.
Thames Marinas - Enjoy coffee and chocolates with the teams in the marina offices of Bray, Penton Hook and Windsor.
Woolverstone Marina - For sweet treats and bubbly head over to the marina office on Valentine's Day.
… It's in good food and good company. Which is why we've brought you a list of restaurant offers, from across the network, to help make sure you've got your Valentine's Day plans covered.
Whether you want to make the most of having your boat within walking distance of the restaurant or fancy a romantic jaunt along to another one of our marinas using your free visitor nights, here's what's going on around MDL Marinas…
Port Hamble Marina, Hamble, Southampton - In the heart of the marina, Banana Wharf adds a touch of the exotic to the Solent waters. With a special Valentine's Day menu, be sure not to miss out by contacting them here.
Hythe Marina Village, Hythe, Southampton - From February 13th to 17th La Vista at Hythe is offering a special menu; even for those who can't make the day there's still opportunities to make the most of time with your Valentine… Book today!
Ocean Village Marina, Southampton - With a host of restaurants there's something for all palates, from Bacaro's Valentine's Day Tapas to Southampton Harbour Hotel's Jetty with a four-course meal, bubbly and entertainment, and not forgetting Banana Wharf's a la carte menu. Click on the links to see what's on offer!
Chatham Maritime Marina, Chatham - The ever-popular Ship & Trades is a short walking distance from the marina and is offering couples a romantic meal for two with delicious specials, a glass of bubbly, a single stemmed rose and romantic setting. If this sounds like your idea of romance contact them to find out more.
Hamble Point Marina, Hamble, Southampton - Overlooking the marina, and with a great choice of food and drink, Ketch Rigger will be offering a Sunday carvery if you're short of time during the week, book on their webpage here.
Of course, many of our marinas have fantastic restaurants in their nearby towns too, our marina teams can make great suggestions, so be sure to ask if you want more ideas!
On top of our incredible locations and fantastic restaurants and bars, find out more about the other benefits to Freedom Berthing and membership. Or if you're thinking about joining us, you can get a quote today!
Mike Fox and his wife Carol are seasoned sailors, having enjoyed sailing and yacht ownership for the last 30 years. After taking early retirement in 2017, the dynamic duo decided to set sail on board their Wauquiez 40 Pilot Saloon with pet budgie, Snowy and cross the Channel to enjoy a spot of cruising on the continent. Mike and Carol made use of the Passeport Escales scheme, which is a free visitor berthing scheme available to MDL Freedom Berthing members that provides access to 124 marinas across the UK, France and Spain.
Mike explains: “After carrying out extensive sea trials in late spring, we waited for a weather window to cross the English Channel from Cobb’s Quay, our home marina in Poole. Once the strong winds and fog had passed, we completed the trip across to Cherbourg in about ten hours.
“We had visited Cherbourg some 25 years earlier, but even for a first-timer, it couldn’t have been easier. As we approached the marina, a harbour master in a dory came out to greet us in English and to find out how long we were planning on staying and the length of our boat. We were led to a berth, where other visitors helped us to tie up. With a cheery wave, the harbour master departed, leaving us to adjust our lines, plug ourselves into the mains electricity and celebrate our first crossing of the year!
“After an hour or so, I popped along to the Capitainniare (the Harbour Office, sometimes known as the Bureau de Port) and handed over my Passeport Escales Card before using my best schoolboy French to request a berth for two nights. The lady on reception inputted our details, asked a few questions and then handed us a receipt for two free nights, along with a goody bag with security codes for the shower and toilet facilities, the free WiFi, a map of the town and details of events and offers. The Harbour Office has lounge facilities with TVs providing local news and weather, along with printed forecasts in both French and English.
“This experience was to be repeated time after time at the other marinas we visited. The level of English varied, but there was never any question about the willingness to help and make life easy for visiting boat crews. The Passeport Escales system is well-tried and tested in France, and with dozens of participating marinas, it’s so much easier than filling in forms at each one.
“Unfortunately stormy weather kept us in Cherbourg and after our two free nights, we paid for our berth, but at a much lower rate than July and August would have been. We made the most of the chance to visit local markets, bakeries, shops and restaurants and we had a very enjoyable and relaxing stay, in spite of the weather!
“Once the bad weather passed, we topped up the water tanks from the taps on the pontoon and cruised on down to Guernsey. Having left the EU, here we had to fill out forms and obtain Customs clearance. We stayed one night before heading on to Lezardrieux in Northern Brittany.
“This is one of our favourite harbours in the region – we have been coming here for 23 years and know the staff well - and once again, we were greeted by the harbour master, led to a berth and settled in. On showing the Passeport Escales card we were provided with a free berth, along with the pass codes for the facilities and then left to our own devices. Daily weather and tidal details were posted in English and French behind the sill.
“From here we travelled to Roscoff, a completely new harbour for us, and the first of many on this trip. We were certainly not disappointed; the scenery was great, dolphins visited us and our route planning preparation paid off again.
“We were met on arrival, and with a through-tide in the marina, the harbour master’s help into our berth was much appreciated. Other boat crews also took lines to ensure it was a smooth arrival and we passed the favour on to the next few yachts that arrived. The facilities in Roscoff are superb – being a new marina, it has all the usual facilities, plus launderette, chandlers, cafe and restaurant on site, plus a free bus service to Roscoff in season.
“As we moved further south, we visited many more marinas under the Passeport Escales scheme and found the standard to be universally high, facilities very good, and if we arrived at peak times, we were usually greeted by the harbour master. We never had any issue with the card and it certainly helped to keep costs down. There were no harbours or ports we wouldn’t go back to, and in fact, some could become firm favourites.
“We reached the Gulf de Morbihan and offlying islands fairly quickly and spent an idyllic month in the area, before journeying north again and heading to Brixham for a family celebration in August, before cruising back over the Channel to Brittany and Normandy for a few more weeks.
“Overall, we travelled almost 1,200 miles in three and a half months and visited dozens of harbours, marinas and anchorages. There were a few bad spells of weather, but these were forecast well in advance, so we were able to hole up in carefully selected ports of refuge, with better shelter and access to shops.
“The Passeport Escales scheme worked really well for us and is a valuable part of our MDL member benefits package. We benefited from around 60 free nights and with so many French marinas on the scheme, there was plenty of choice. We certainly made good use of it this year and will definitely be doing it all again!”
Find out how to become a Freedom Berthing member so you too could tour Europe in style!