Brittany Ferries celebrates its 40th birthday

Started by Breton farmers 40 years ago, Brittany Ferries is still going strong, says Zoë McIntyre

On New Year’s Day 1973, the cargo ship Kerisnal left the port of Roscoff loaded with Breton artichokes and cauliflowers. Its arrival at Plymouth marked the first voyage of Brittany Ferries, a company that over the ensuing four decades has grown into the leading ferry operator on the western side of the English Channel.

Initiating the venture was a group of Breton farmers who wanted to take advantage of the UK joining the Common Market that year. The cooperative, led by pig farmer Alexis Gourvennec, had toiled to build a new port at Roscoff and charter a ship to take their produce by the shortest route to this lucrative new market.

The farmers are still Brittany Ferries’ main shareholders and the service has evolved from a simple freight carrier to incorporate luxury cruisers that annually transport two million holidaymakers on nine routes. The company has earned many accolades, including the 2011 British Travel Awards for ‘Best Tour Operator to France’. Its chairman, Breton farmer Jean-Marc Roué, said: “We have, over 40 years, built a strong image and earned a well-deserved reputation for providing a high-quality service.”

Brittany Ferries routes have helped to popularise motoring holidays to western France and the four French ports that it serves are all close enough to the UK for a weekend break. In just a few hours, holidaymakers can be sipping Calvados on Roscoff’s granite-stoned port, exploring the cobbled streets of Saint-Malo, walking in the footsteps of William the Conqueror at Caen or exploring underwater life at Cherbourg’s Cité de la Mer.