Travel essentials

Sea

While aviation shrinks, competition is growing across the Channel – with the traveller set to benefit from new ships and faster crossings. The no-frills airlines have done wonders for pricing policies on cross-Channel ferries. The concepts of offering lower fares to fill off-peak capacity and incentivising travellers who commit well in advance have been adopted to by all the operators. But they haven’t picked up some of the more annoying airline rules. In particular, ferry lines take a much more relaxed view about timekeeping; arrive well in advance of a sailing and you may well be allowed on a earlier departure; miss your intended crossing and you are likely to be rebooked, free of charge, on the next available service.

From Dover, the easternmost short-sea route is on Norfolkline (0844 847 5042; norfolkline.com ) to Dunkirk. It offers sailings every two hours (with a few gaps on Saturday evening/Sunday morning). Auseful offer for frequent visitors is the Multi-Trip deal, where you can buy three or more return trips for as little as £19 each way (for a car and four people), though peak supplements apply. The company now claims to be the secondbusiest on the Channel, ahead of SeaFrance.

P&O Ferries (08716 645 645; poferries.com ) remains the market leader, with sailings to Calais as frequently as every 45 minutes.

An on-board attraction is Langan’s Brasserie (though not aboard one of the ships, Pride of Burgundy). Online fares start at £25 each way for a car and up to nine passengers.

The biggest ferries on the Channel are currently under construction in Finland for P&O, with the first due to be delivered towards the end of this year.

For travellers to the Pyrenees, P&O’s Portsmouth-Bilbao service continues until September. The French border is about 90 minutes’ drive.

SeaFrance (0871 423 7119; seafrance.com ) runs the fastest ferries between Dover and Calais, with a 75-minute crossing time on the Berlioz, Molière and Rodin. A new Nightsaver one-way fare of £25 for a car and up to five people is available. Note that SeaFrance no longer carries foot passengers.

Following the demise of SpeedFerries on the Dover-Boulogne route, LD Lines (0844 576 8836; ldlines.co.uk ) – part of the large French shipping group Louis Dreyfus Armateurs – has stepped in with a single-ship operation; Norman Spirit crosses four times a day in each direction, with a sailing time of 105 minutes. It offers foot-passenger fares on daytime sailings.

LD Lines also operates the Transmanche Ferries link from Newhaven to Dieppe. This historic route is served twice a day in each direction by the Seven Sisters. And LD Lines has enjoyed sufficient success on the Portsmouth-Le Havre cross that the brand-new Norman Arrow high-speed catamaran is under construction in Singapore, and will enter service on 26 March with a journey time of 3 hours 15 minutes.

Brittany Ferries

(08705 360 360; brittanyferries.co.uk ) has a busy network from Portsmouth, as well as Poole and Plymouth – where the new Armorique is soon to celebrate its first year on the Roscoff route. From Poole, you can sail to Cherbourg – which is also a destination from Portsmouth, in addition to Caen and St-Malo.

Condor Ferries

(0845 609 1024; condorferries.co.uk ) also serves St-Malo, from Weymouth using a high-speed ferry - but the journey takes 5 hours because of a stop in the Channel Islands. The company also operates a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth to Cherbourg each Sunday from 30t May to 5 September 2010.

Tunnel

The year-round alternative to cross-Channel ferries is Eurotunnel (0844 879 7371; eurotunnel.com ), with a 35 minute crossing time from Folkestone to Calais – and a £15 day-trip deal on 16-18 February. Eurostar (08705 186 186; eurotunnel.com ) is operating a full service from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford to all its French destinations, with summer-only trains to Avignon starting on 10 July.

Air

The main airlines between the UK and France are easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com ), Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com ), with Air France (0870 142 4343; airfrance.com/uk ) and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com ) also major players. Air France operates to Paris from a wide range of UK airports, while BA flies from three London airports (City, Gatwick and Heathrow) to Paris and provincial cities.

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