London to Brittany in a Day?
August 5, 2013 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Due to some ill-advised scheduling, we (Americans) are travelling from London to rural Brittany, then back to our reserved room in Paris three days later. Rennes is the closest major city to Plumieux, the village where our friends live. All of the stuff I see online says to take the Eurostar from London to Gare du Nord in Paris, then transfer to Montparnasse to take the TVG to Rennes. From there we would catch a bus to get us near Plumieux, close enough for our friends to pick us up.

Is it realistic to think that we could do this in a (albeit long) day? This suggests that getting across Paris, on the Metro, from Gare du Nord to Monparnasse is pretty straight forward. We could also get there via taxi.

This trip is planned for late September and early October.

But the whole thing seems daunting to do in a day, even though I have never been to Europe, let alone experienced the transit there.

Please chime in, if you care to, about the practicality of this. Would it be better to get a room in Paris for one night and break this into two days, rather than one? Plus, is there a way to bypass Paris on the way out there? Traveling by train, there does not appear to be a way to do this.
posted by Danf to Travel & Transportation around France (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Assuming the bus times to Plumieux match up with your train ride, I don't think that would be a problem. The ride from London to Paris was very easy on the Eurostar and the Paris metro is also easy to navigate. There are also a lot of guides to stations and buying tickets (some with photos) online if you want to map it out beforehand. It would be a long day especially if your luggage is on the heavy side (note that not all metro/train stations have elevators, just steps) but doable.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:32 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might consider a train to a port and then go on a ferry to Brittany.

It takes 90-100 minutes to get from London to Portsmouth harbour on the train and then about 12 hours to get to St Malo, there are frequent night sailings that means you sleep for most of this, you would have options to sleep in deck seats, or get single or multi-occupancy cabins.

You can also go Portsmouth - Caen, which would be 3 hours less on the boat but would mean more of a drive on the other end.

The alternative route would be to go London - Plymouth by train (about 3.25-3.5 hours), cab to the harbour and then ferry to either Roscoff or St Malo, both ferries take about 7.5 hours. Again there are night sailings on these routes as well as day savings, but not every day, so may not suit depending on how flexible you need to be. The Plymouth ferry definitely takes cars, and I assume the Portsmouth ones do. If you are planning bear in mind that booking a cabin will require money on top of the basic fare.

St Malo is closest of these options to your intended destination. It would be about a 90 minute drive from St Malo to Plumieux. You can get one way tickets for both the UK train and ferry so can head back to Paris after visiting your friends. I would advise you book ahead for both if you decide on this option, since this will save you money. You might consider family/group savers for the train if there are 3 or 4 of you.

If you are hiring a car then check with the rental people that you are allowed to take the car across a national border and that this does not impact on your insurance cover, for example. If you take a vehicle into France bear in mind you will need to buy a few pieces of safety kit, a triangle, yellow safety vest, little sticky things for the headlights (seriously) - you can get these on the ferry.
posted by biffa at 1:50 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I flew into Brussels in the morning, then took the TGV to Gare du Nord and transferred to Montparnasse and then caught a later train to Le Mans, and then transferred to a smaller regional line that was going by Sablé-sur-Sarthe. It's probably a touch shorter distance than you're going, but not by much. It was incredibly easy. I was there in time for dinner, and had long enough to do some sight-seeing in Paris if that had tickled my extremely-jetlagged fancy. It didn't, and I didn't plan ahead and change any cash over so I couldn't use the luggage bins at Montparnasse to drop my stuff. But I just wandered down the block and found a cafe and enjoyed a bit of Orangina while I waited for my train.

Looking at a (possibly not *the*) Eurostar schedule, you'll need to leave London by 11:30-ish to make it in before the last train to Rennes on a weekday at about 4:45pm. And that is going to give you plenty of time to take the metro between Gare du Nord and Montparnasse. Then the regional bus is another story, but Plumieux is only an hour outside Rennes and I'm sure there's a good regional connection.

I guess it all depends on your sensibilities, but I would not hesitate to plan this and save myself the trouble of stretching this out over two days. Especially if I was short on time.

Bonus, I hope you get to see Castel Muer, near Ploughrescant. Last summer I was hellbent on seeing this tiny little architectural marvel, but we dilly-dallied in St. Brieuc for dinner and by the time we got there the sun had set and we couldn't see a damn thing.

Enjoy Brittany! It is so beautiful.
posted by jph at 2:02 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've never been on the Eurostar, but I have been on the TGV. It's pretty great. It's organized similarly to a plane, and there's food for sale. You see countryside.

Now, you can go by plane from Gatwick to Nantes, Easyjet and Flybe both offer flights. Easyjet is supercheap at £37 one-way. It's a two hour drive from Nantes to Plumieux. Versus an hour drive from Rennes to Plumieux.

You can rent a car and drive, it might be more convenient and cheaper.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:16 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

London to Rennes looks like a reasonable one-day train journey. I have travelled from Limoges in central France back to the UK in one quite tiring but trouble-free day, leaving at 10am and I was home for dinner. RailEurope will sell you a ticket from London through to Rennes via Paris, you'll need to buy a separate ticket for the Metro but this is not too hard. Seat61 suggests you can also change in Lille which avoids the trip across Paris. The tricky part of the journey may be the bus to Plumieux, it's hard to find out online how frequent or how late these run, so I would start with working that part out, and work backwards to see if it all fits in a day.

French trains in my experience are comfortable, on time, and fairly straightforward to use even with limited French. The only snags I've found are closed Metro lines making the trip between stations in Paris a little more complicated, so check online beforehand for engineering works, and if you buy train tickets in advance you need to get them stamped in one of the yellow machines at the station before you get on board.
posted by penguinliz at 3:32 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can also fly London Stansted to Dinard with Ryanair at about the same price as the Gatwick flight to Nantes. Your onward drive would be a little shorter and Dinard it a lovely little seaside town and would make a nice place for a meal.
posted by biffa at 3:50 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Totally doable. Its one subway line between the station, no changes.

But if the price was right I'd fly
posted by JPD at 4:19 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is looking like flying is penciling out for the better, even with getting to whatever airport from St. Pancras Station.

Thank you so far for all of the answers!
posted by Danf at 4:27 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

be careful about added fees and what not for Easyjet or Ryanair. They are like if Southwest was run by a bunch of evil pickpockets trying to take as much from you in fees as possible.
posted by JPD at 4:35 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you do fly, I prefer EasyJet by a factor of about 10 over RyanAir. It's not necessarily more luxurious (and there are still add-on fees) but I don't think they have quite as many in-flight loud adverts and the seats seemed bigger. Also the staff were much, much nicer. It's easy to get from St Pancras to Gatwick.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:42 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, Ryanair and easy jet are both wankers but perhaps EJ a bit less so. They will both diddle you on any luggage you will want to put in the hold, make sure you book hold luggage when you book online, they will diddle you twice as much if you just walk up with it. Don't be sucked in by all the crap about paying extra for boarding first or picking a seat, its less than 2 hours.
posted by biffa at 4:49 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

We will just have carry-ons, the kind that go in the overhead bin in a full size plane, and get gate-checked on a commuter jet.

Not sure what kind of planes EJ has, but will they charge us for our carry-ons?
posted by Danf at 4:51 PM on August 5, 2013

You can see their Cabin Baggage policy here and here, though keep in mind that it's one bag per person not a bag + a purse the way most American carriers do it. They were pretty nice about it the last time I flew, and I had a lot of textbooks.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:01 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ryanair will charge you for your carry-on if it exceeds 10kg.
posted by Hogshead at 5:18 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Easyjet only lets you bring one bag per person. It must be 56 x 45 x 25cm or less.

I've flown Easyjet a zillion times (last time was 3 weeks ago) and enforcement of this policy is fairly random. Sometimes nobody bothers to look. Other times there is someone standing there asking you to put your bag inside a frame they have. If it doesn't fit, you have to pay the extra fees.

For Easyjet, find a way to print your boarding passes before you head out to Gatwick. That way you can head straight through security instead of waiting in a long line. They're starting to roll out mobile boarding passes but it may not be working for Gatwick.
posted by vacapinta at 11:42 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Our Brittany friends just offered to pick us up in St. Malo, if we take the Portsmouth ferry. This, after being unwilling to pick us up in Rennes, which seems a slightly longer drive. Go figure. So, now looking at this ferry and a way from Essex to Portsmouth, which should not be very daunting.

I was interested in Portsmouth anyway. Does anyone know if there is naval history on display there. What would you do with a Sunday afternoon in Portsmouth?

I appreciate everyone's replies!
posted by Danf at 11:23 AM on August 6, 2013

Naval history? The brand new, amazing Mary Rose Museum! Also fortifications, the Nelson Trail, and parts of the City Museum.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

St Malo is lovely as well. Much nicer for a day trip than Rennes.
posted by JPD at 11:47 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Driving from St Malo, if you ask them to take the 168 west (just south of St Malo) instead of crossing the river further south then you can drive across the world's oldest tidal barrage (ie that harnesses the tide to generate electricity). They have a small visitor centre.
posted by biffa at 4:09 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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