Monday, October 02, 2017

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

We found France generally to be disabled-friendly. This is surprising, especially as we have found Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all somewhat disappointing in various ways. Almost every marina makes some effort to provide disabled facilities, although a key weakness is grab rails in the showers - but France is by no means alone in this and the UK can be even worse.

Sam tends to use portable options for going to the loo when possible as we don't always have time to find and get to a disabled toilet when we are out and about. So we have not explored every possible disabled toilet! We have a loo on board Kalessin, which he can use with a bit of help. And we use a lot of wet wipes. But he does like to have a shower every few days if we possibly can.

In the motorway service areas or aires it was particularly nice in hot weather that there is often a wheelchair accessible picnic table under shade of some kind.

Brittany Ferries: You can book a disabled access cabin but there are a limited number of spaces on the car decks from which you can get a wheelchair from the car to the lifts. A member of the booking team normally phones the day after making a booking to say whether they have disabled parking or not. On one occasion we were allocated a less accessible space which Sam just about managed, but he can't get through a six-inch gap between cars. On the fast ferry to Cherbourg we parked in the bow and used a ramp to get to the passenger deck. On the St-Malo ferry we always book a disabled access cabin, even for daytime crossings. These are small and windowless but much better designed than those on the Stena Harwich ferries. Brittany Ferries staff are very helpful, someone greets you on the car deck and gives you a card to show where you have parked, and they will usually try to clean cabins quickly so you can settle down.

Condor Ferries: We travelled only on fast ferries in daytime. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry we were parked on a ramp with good access to the passenger deck. On the Guernsey to Poole ferry we got Sam out and I then parked in a normal tight space. When we returned to the car Sam managed to get into a back seat on the right-hand side; if we'd had to wait to get him into the front side passenger seat it might have taken an extra 20 minutes at a guess. On both ferries we asked about the best seat for Sam and were given "reserved" seating which was easy to get in and out of, instead of the allocated seats. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry all passengers have to get off in Jersey for a passport check. We had a dedicated crew member to help with this but it was a pain in the b*m. Staff were again very helpful but not as organised as Brittany ferries.

Hotel F1, Saint-Malo: we have stayed here several times, partly because it is cheap. It looks very unprepossessing and is a bit shabby and the windows are small, and there are no ensuite bathrooms – you have to go down the corridor to use the loo or shower, although we get used to this after several weeks on a boat! However it's on a road in a retail estate which is close to the main roads and to a huge Carrefour supermarché, and 10 minutes from the ferry port, but is quiet overnight. The triple ground-floor rooms have plenty of space for a wheelchair, and a corner table which is comfortable to eat at. The double bed is adequate for one night and if not I could use the upper bunk. The staff whom I think must be husband and wife are very friendly and helpful.

Hotel Domaine de la Barbinais, Saint-Malo: We have stayed here once and it is lovely, with a huge disabled room where you can park right outside and walk in, and a huge wet room although the floor is a little slippery. However the room rate is about three times that of the F1 and if you eat in the nice restaurant you aren't left with much change from €200 for two people.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels (this article)
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

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