JERSEY: The 600-year-old fortifications of Mont Orgueli overlook scenic Gorey harbour
NORMAN MILLER embarks on a sea voyage with a difference as National Ferry Fortnight gets underway this weekend
RAINBOWS flicker every few seconds against sunlit spray, a salty gauze marking our progress across a choppy Breton bay.
As the last of the craggy, fort-topped islands and slender lighthouses disappear astern my wife Jess and I settle back into comfortable seats, homeward-bound after a seafaring taste of Gallic-tinged Jersey and the ancient French coastal gem of St Malo.
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The Channel Islands, tucked in close to one of France's most appealing coastlines, are an ideal stepping stone to show how it is done.
Located three hours from the Dorset coast and an hour from the shores of Brittany, Jersey packs its scenic and historic punch into a compact island just nine miles by five.
We pootle through rural lanes, swoop along high cliffs and clamber down to wide golden beaches such as St Brelade's where the Wayside Cafe provides a fine lunch.
Having previously visited Sausmarez Manor (think bucolic gardens wrapped around a ravishing Queen Anne house) and the renowned Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust we delve instead into the island's Second World War heritage.
Jersey War Tunnels is a thought-provoking museum about the Nazi occupation housed in an underground labyrinth hewn out over four years by forced labour.
Ugly Nazi gun emplacements litter coastal clifftops though the Germans surrendered the island without a fight in May 1945.
The 13th-century Mont Orgueil Castle is a far more appealing slice of martial architecture, its epic honey-stoned battlements looming above the pretty village of Gorey. Scrambling through it we pause at a succession of stunning ocean vistas.
Dinner is on the quayside at the aptly-named Feast where the menu includes scallops and Jersey Royal spuds.
A couple of doors along at the charmingly old-fashioned Moorings Hotel, we dream of the next day's foray to France.
Condor seems an apt name for the sleek vessels we board, their twin-hulls slicing through the waves as we surge away from the quayside.
Upgrading to club class gives us deep seats, plenty of space and a grand view through large windows in a prime deck position.
Teas and coffees are complemented by hearty meals.
It may not be fancy but my steak and ale pie keeps my stomach from mutiny as we power towards France.
St Malo presents a magnificent face to arrivals by sea. Thick walls ring the medieval town, rising from golden sands at low tide and surging surf at high.
We wheel our bags along a wide, yacht-lined quay, through an ancient city gate into a web of cobbled streets to find H´tel France & Chateaubriand commanding a beautiful square, the Napoleon III glamour of its public areas allied to elegantly modern rooms.
Wandering around the old town we find delectable delis clustered on Rue de l'Orme, including the Bordier where superb cheeses are sold next to a museum dedicated to Breton butter.
Tastebuds primed, we hit Le Cafe de St-Malo where gleamingly fresh shellfish platters laden with oysters, whelks, crab and langoustine precede beautifully cooked skate.
We follow this with galettes, Brittany's dark buckwheat crªpes, atop the old town ramparts.
Gazing across at Fort National perched on an offshore rocky outcrop accessible across golden sand at low tide we feast on these galettes, mine stuffed with smoky Breton sausage, my wife's a mushroom-laden delight.
St Malo's history is served up at the evocative museum in the old castle keep, like much of the town lovingly restored after being damaged in the Allies' fierce 1944 assault.
Displays chronicle a rich maritime heritage, including the exploits of the corsairs, the privateers who dominated St Malo in the 16th and 17th centuries when the city was a hotbed of roguishness.
Sophistication rules today and we mix boutiques with cultural dips.
The historic House of Poets and Writers has a show of modern Asian art inside an ancient wood-fronted building tucked away on Rue du Pelicot while inside the St Vincent Cathedral a ravishing modernist bronze altar is gently lit by afternoon sun filtered through glorious modern stained glass.
On our last morning we stroll around the harbour to St-Servan.
Older even than the walled town, this is where Celtic tribesman laid the foundations of St Malo a century before the birth of Christ.
The town takes its name from the Celtic Saint Maclou linked to the 6th-century monastery that once stood here.
The vast ornate interior of the 18th-century St Croix Church nods to St-Servan's former pre-eminence and is set amid medieval lanes that embrace a little sandy bay dominated by the 14th-century Solidor Tower.
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Its striking triple towers now house a museum chronicling the brave Bretons who sailed from here on voyages around Cape Horn.
Reading of their stormy travails I am glad our voyage home is slightly easier.
Condor Ferries (0845 609 1024/condorferries.com) offers day returns from Weymouth/Poole to St Malo via Jersey (six hours on the island) from £260 (car plus two passegers).
Staying overnight on Jersey requires a three-part ticket from £455.
Club class upgrade from £14.95pp per leg.
The Moorings Hotel (01534 853 633/themooringshotel.com) offers doubles from £115 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Hotel France & Chateaubriand (from the UK: 0033 299 566 652/hotel-chateaubriand-st-malo.com) offers doubles from £51 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Jersey Tourism: 01534 448 800/jersey.com. St Malo Tourism: 299 566 443/saint-malo-tourisme.com
For National Ferry Fortnight (March 17 to 31) discounts and promotions visit: discoverferries.com/nff2012