I have a soft spot for the ferry. Whenever we travel I look for ferry routes and seek out ferries as an alternative to trains and planes. Few forms of transport epitomise slow travel as much as the ferry.
Last week we were on the beautiful Bellarine Peninsula on the southern coast of Victoria, Australia, watching the car ferry leave Queenscliff for Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula on the other side of Port Philip Bay.
The salty ocean breeze, the squawk of sea-gulls overhead, and the briny smell of the sea brought back memories of ferry trips, short and long, in Australia and abroad.
Sydney-born, I lived and worked on the city’s glorious, sparkling harbour for many years, including a few years spent sweeping the sand from the wooden floorboards in a centuries-old sandstone house called The Boatman’s Cottage, which we rented in East Balmain.
Through the French doors of our bedroom on the first storey, where I would hurriedly get ready for work each morning, I could see my green and yellow ferry, having turned the corner from Circular Quay, appear beneath ‘The Coathanger’ (Sydneysiders’ nickname for the Harbour Bridge), before carving its way through the choppy cobalt water toward our wharf.
I’d carefully clomp down the narrow, twisting, timeworn stairs in my heels, guzzle down my coffee, and grab my bag as I heard the familiar groans of the old green and yellow ferry reversing into place at the dock, knowing that left me all but a minute or two to lock the door, dash down the road and hurry across the gangplank before it pulled away.
While the ride to the city didn’t last more than ten minutes, those relaxing moments each morning and most afternoons, with the wind in my hair, were enough to give me a taste for travel by ferry.
Years later, after we moved to the Middle East and started holidaying in Europe, I began to seek out ferry routes.
Places like Venice, where we rented old palazzo apartments and took the commuter ferries up and down the Grand Canal every day, were pure heaven. Istanbul, where large breezy ferries carry passengers across the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe, was also bliss for a ferry fan.
Best of all were weeks spent island-hopping between the Greek Islands and along the Croatian coast and cruising between the Scandinavian capitals, where every few days time could be savoured aboard long-distance ferries.
It was time spent whiling away hours reading books, listening to music, wandering the deck, snoozing in the sunshine, sipping glasses of wine inside when it got windy and wild out, and, if we timed things right, watching the sunset over the sea or, even better yet, an ancient harbour, as we arrived at our destination.
These days, during this age of low-cost flights and speedy catamarans, travel by ferry often seems to get overlooked, yet it’s a form of transport I’ll always choose when I can – precisely because it forces me to slow down.
That ferries are often more affordable (no baggage fees), more comfortable (heaps of leg room), and more convenient (ferries generally run more frequently than flights) are bonuses.
My slow travel tip: if you’re planning a holiday to a port city, island or coastal destination, seek out ferry routes before researching flights.
As it’s getting to that time of year when I start to dream about European travel, these are a few excellent European ferry routes from P&O Ferries that I recommend.
European Ferry Routes
Most travellers make a beeline for Amsterdam, but Rotterdam is a fascinating city, packed with history, and there’s no better way to arrive than by the port.
This is probably one of the most overlooked of routes, and yet Zeebrugge, on the coast of Belgium, is a picturesque beachside town and a terrific way to travel to charming Brugge.
Are you also a fan of ferries? Do you have any favourite ferry routes, in Europe or beyond?
My reminiscences on ferries has been sponsored by P&O Ferries but all reflections are obviously my own.