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9 hidden gems you can easily sail-drive to

Road trips conjure up thoughts of freedom, the open road, you and your tribe! Add in the ferry and now you can really reach those places on the road less travelled. Bring the bikes, the buckets and spades and travel at a time that suits you, with time on board to enjoy a bite to eat, look out for dolphins and even sleep in a comfortable cabin.

Recent research has shown how important it is for holidaymakers to escape the crowds and seek out authentic experiences it also shows that between 1-2 hours is the optimum journey that holidaymakers want to travel when going in search of attractions that are off the beaten track. So, here’s our guide to hidden gems within two hours of your ferry port.

The roads less travelled

France

Take an Aéroplume flight in the airship hangar on the Cotentin Peninsula

Normandy Experience: Aeroplume flight in Écausseville © Coraline et Léo

For a truly unique experience, drive to the airship hangar in Écausseville on the Cotentin Peninsula, which houses a well-kept secret. One of twelve built by the French army during the first world war, the hangar is now the last of its kind. During the summer months and the end of October, the 150m long and 30m high building is used for Aéroplume flights.  This incredible contraption, designed and invented by Jean-Pierre David looks like its straight out of a Jules Verne novel and for half an hour, you become the pilot! You are strapped underneath a helium balloon and “flap” the wings to fly around the hangar. When your feet are back on the ground, head to one of the Contentin Peninsula’s spectacular lesser-known beaches.

Hangar in Écausseville is a 35mins drive from Cherbourg, a 1h10min drive from Caen or a 2h drive from St Malo. Sail with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth or Poole to Cherbourg and Portmouth to Caen and Saint Malo, or with Condor Ferries from Jersey to Saint Malo.

Seal colony on Plage des Phoques, Berck

Credit: Somme Tourisme / Stephane Bouilland

Within an hour’s drive of Calais you can observe the seal colony of the Baie d’Authie where a number of harbour and grey seals make their home. The seals can be seen year-round at low tide resting on the sand banks in the bay around 200m off the coast. Drive to Berck and go to the viewing point at the Club Nautique Berckois.

DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries have multiple sailings a day from Dover to Calais. DFDS also sail from Dover and Rosslare to Dunkirk.

Ireland

Hook Lighthouse and Booley Bay Beach

Credit: Failte Ireland

Discover what life was like as a lighthouse keeper in the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. The 800-year-old Hook Lighthouse has a fascinating history and spectacular views out to sea. Combine the visit with a trip to the secluded beach at Booley Bay, also on the Hook peninsula. With golden sands, crystal waters and cliffs either side, this sheltered beach attracts few visitors and is a real hidden gem.

Hook Lighthouse is an hour’s drive from Rosslare Europort. Sail with Irish Ferries from Pembroke to Rosslare or with Stena Line from Fishguard to Rosslare.

British Islands

Stargaze at Fort Island on the Isle of Man

Fort Island Credit: Visit Isle of Man

The Isle of Man has 26 designated Dark Skies sites around the island, where you can see the Milky Way Galaxy and Orion Nebula with just the naked eye.

Drive 30 mins south of Douglas to Fort Island and you’ll have one of the best views of the autumn constellations in the southern sky including the Square of Pegasus. Bring your binoculars or telescope to discover even more.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sails from Heysham to Douglas and from Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin to Douglas in high season.

Isle of Wight

Book a sauna on Compton Beach and head to Chessel Café for homemade cakes

Credit: Slow Motion Sauna

Compton Beach, although not a hidden gem, has a new, rather unique attraction that opened this summer. Former BBC Radio 1 DJ, Rob Da Bank, has stationed a traditional Lithuanian woodfired sauna on the beach – the Slow Motion Sauna, so you can feel the heat and then jump into the sea to cool off. Great for the circulation and a fun experience no matter what the weather. Just 5 mins’ drive away from Compton Beach is the little know Chessel Café. A favourite with cyclists, it serves homemade cakes and locally roasted coffee in what was once a working pottery.

Compton Beach is a 12 mins drive from Yarmouth, 30 mins from Cowes or 35 mins from Fishbourne. Sail with Wightlink to Yarmouth or Fishbourne or with Red Funnel to Cowes.

Jersey

Devil’s Hole and La Mare Wine Estate

Le Mare Wine Estate Credit: Visit Jersey

Jersey’s northern coast is wilder and more dramatic than the popular southern beaches. Drive to the Priory Inn in the north of the island, park up and then descend the steep footpath down to Devil’s Hole, an impressive blowhole that has been eroding the coast for millennia. Continue along to Sorel Point for spectacular views of these multi-coloured volcanic rocks disappearing into the sea.

Reward your efforts with a tipple from Jersey’s only vineyard and distillery, which is a 10min walk from the Priory Inn. Book a guided tour and tasting experience at La Mare Wine Estate and try the locally produced wines, cognacs, fudge and chocolate.

Priory Inn is a 20 min drive from St Helier. Sail to Jersey with Condor Ferries from Portsmouth or Poole.

Scotland

Where the sea meets the singing sands, Eigg, Small Isles

View over towards Eigg and Rhum Credit VisitScotland / Paul Tomkins

Yes, you read this correctly, it does say ‘singing’ sands. The sands on the beach at Cleadale, in the north of Eigg, are made of quartzite, which, in dry weather squeaks or sings when the grains are walked on, or when they are blown in the wind.  Singing Sands beach has fantastic views over to the Isle of Rum and is a short, though marshy ramble from the road. 

The Small Isles are some of the most remote islands in Britain accessible only by ferry from Mallaig.  Although you can take your car it is easier to leave it in Mallaig and get a taxi, the community bus or a lift from a local on this tiny island.

Singing Sands beach is a 14 mins taxi from Galmisdale. Caledonian MacBrayne sail from Mallaig to Galmisdale.

The Netherlands

Art Routes and vintage shopping in Middelburg, Zeeland

Zeeland, in the south-west corner of The Netherlands, consists of several islands and peninsulas, most of which lie below sea level. Middelburg, the capital of the province, has a lively art and cultural scene and is a treasure trove for antique and vintage shopping.

On the first Sunday of every month the artists of Middelburg open the doors to their studios, workshops and galleries and welcome visitors in to see their work. Between 1300 and 1700 you can walk the Art & Culture Route pop into the studios, meet the artists and admire their work without any obligation to buy.

There are several antique shops dotted around the streets of the town centre. Head to Sint Jansstraat for vintage Chanel and Dior. Middelburg’s Sebastian den Herder Vintage & Designers may have the perfect outfit waiting for you. And don’t worry, even the most enthusiastic shoppers will still find space in the car to bring everything home.

Middelburg is 1h30 from Europoort Rotterdam and Hook of Holland and 2h from IJmuiden. Sail with P&O Ferries to Rotterdam, with Stena Line to Hook of Holland or with DFDS to IJmuiden.

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