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Park helps bridge the gap between Brits and French

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There is something that still excites me about going over a big bridge, writes Diane Davies. It seems to say this majestic piece of engineering is taking you on a long journey, to a far and distant land.

There is something that still excites me about going over a big bridge,

writes Diane Davies

. It seems to say this majestic piece of engineering is taking you on a long journey, to a far and distant land.

So it was with great childish delight (more me than the children) that we travelled along the 3,356m of St Nazaire bridge – by any stretch of imagination a pretty impression structure – and knew we were on the way to an exciting holiday destination.

This spectacular cable-stayed bridge carried us over the Loire River and to St Brevin in the beautifully scenic Loire Atlantique on the West coast of France. It was soon clear to see why this area is so popular with British holidaymakers.

Loire Atlantique is a five-and-a half-hour drive from Calais, four hours from Cherbourg and three from Caen. We opted for the latter, choosing to let the ferry do the hard work for us.

We travelled from Portsmouth to Caen/Ouistreham with Brittany Ferries. Setting off at 8am we docked at 3pm local time having had chance to watch a film, sit down for a leisurely lunch and even had a cat nap in the cabin. There was entertainment in the bar and a large duty free section.

Time flew aboard the Normandie ferry and soon we found ourselves en route to our Siblu holiday village

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Now I do like a bridge, and Siblu are the experts at bridging the gap for British families looking to venture over the channel. This was certainly evident at the site we chose, Les Pierres Couchees in L,Ermitage, near Saint-Brevin-les-Pins.

A little bit French, a little bit English, you can try your hand at the foreign tongue while being reassured that the staff will also speak English. Your little ones will be picking up some of the basics in French while being reassured by the English speaking entertainers.

Holidaymakers can simply enjoy the sunshine and the facilities on site barely noticing they are in foreign parts or they can throw themselves into enjoying the French culture both on and off the camp. The choice is yours.

Certainly this Siblu park has plenty to offer. Les Pierre Couchees has an excellent, clean water park complete with slides and a toddler pool. Ideal given the average temperature for July and August is 21C.

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Helping entertain the children day and night are the three clubs: Bubbles for babies aged one to 4, club pirates for children 5-9 and club barracudas aged 10 to 14.

A particular highlight of our week was the talent show performed by the children. It was a well choreographed, co-ordinated and entertaining show rather than the usual cute five-year-olds singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

The talent show was indicative of the high standard of entertainment on this park, from the singers and dancers to the hilarious hosts and talented guest musicians, which drew us to the amphitheatre each night. There is also a pub and restaurant if you are looking for a quieter evening and a takeaway.

There is a busy programme of sports from football and volleyball to bums and tums, aqua fun and tennis. You can choose whether to take part in darts tournament or try your hand at pentanque.

Within a stone's throw of the site is a quiet sandy beach with safe bathing and popular with water sports fans. Other beaches nearby include those at Saint Brevin L'Ocean and Saint Brevin les Pins.

To enjoy the scenic locality you can join the fantastic cycle route which is literally outside the park. La Loire a Velo (the Loire by Bike trail) is a safe cycling route which covers an astonishing 500 miles of the region.

A fairly short ride from the park on the route is Saint Brevin L'Ocean. Whilst Saint-Brevin-Les-Pins is the larger of the two, we felt L'Ocean was more inviting and had a lovely beach. Bikes can be hired at Les Pierres Couchees.

The draw of the bridge never waned during our holiday despite the many times we used it to visit the city of Saint-Nazaire. There is plenty to visit in this historic city and was a great opportunity to subtly educate the children.

For the Brits, the city is best remembered for its role in the Second World War and the famous Allied raid in this German-occupied area in 1942. The French are proud of its history of building transatlantic liners.

There are three museums at Ville-Port Saint Nazaire celebrating or detailing these and are a must-see.

At Escal'Atlantic you 'board' a luxury liner enjoying a tour from the cabins to the stores and steerage, the dining room and then leaving rather quickly in a lifeboat.

There is chance to enjoy a light snack in the piano bar simply soaking up the ambience. It really is easy to be transported back in time on this 'floating city'.

In the neighbouring museum, Sous-Marin Espadon, you can explore an authentic, 250ft-long submarine. Talk about the sublime to the ridiculous. Not one for the claustrophobic, a headset gives you all the facts as it directs the tour through the confined Espadon. A unique experience.

The Ecomusee is nearby and relates the history of Saint-Nazaire focusing largely on its boat-building past but also looking at the occupation and the bombings which devastated the town.

Saint-Nazaire has all the shops, restaurants, bars etc of a large city and also boasts some 20 beaches. It does not have many historical buildings of note, having been almost flattened in the war. Many of the German-built submarine pens remain.

An excellent day out is the nearby Planete Sauvage at Port-St-Pere. The trail around this park is so long there is a mini 'service station' halfway round so that you can grab a drink and use the loo before the second 5k.

Having travelled around the safari trail there are a number of restaurants and attractions including a marine city and dolphin show.

If you really want to make this visit special there is an opportunity to spend a night on the reserve in a traditional yurt with the zebras and gnus nearby.

After a tiring day exploring, it was nice to head home and relax. There is a range of accommodation on the site which is set in a forest, each home afforded extra privacy by the trees and greenery.

We stayed in a three-bedroom elegance, a large and comfortable caravan which came with an area of decking which seemed to double the size of our mobile home.

It was with some sadness that we travelled back over Saint-Nazaire bridge to head home having enjoyed the fun of a beach holiday, a busy park entertainment programme, the stimulation of history brought to life and gained new experiences. Not to mention a pretty impressive bridge.

Fact file:

A seven-night holiday at Les Pierres Couchées in August starts from £494, based on standard two-bedroom accommodation. Go to www.siblu.com or call 0871 911 7777.

Brittany Ferries operate four sailings a day from Portsmouth-Caen with return fares starting from £75 per person. For more information or to book visit www.brittanyferries.com or call 0871 244 1400.

Visit www.saint-nazaire-tourisme.com for details of the attractions.

A SeveN-NIghT holiday at Les Pierres

Couchées in August starts from £494, based

on standard two-bedroom accommodation.

go to www.siblu.com or call 0871 911 7777.

Brittany Ferries operate four sailings a day

from Portsmouth - Caen with return fares starting

from £75 per person. For more information

or to book visit www.brittanyferries.com or

call 0871 244 1400.

visit www.saint-nazaire-tourisme.com for

details of the attractions.

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