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Europe’s ferry schedules are famously fluid, and it’s often devilishly hard to keep pace with new route developments. Here is our choice of a quartet of interesting ferry options for spring and summer 2011.
1. St. Peter Line to Russia
The news last week that over 60 ships were trapped in thick ice in the Baltic for some days is probably no great incentive to go and book some ferry trips. But Baltic spring ice does melt–eventually–and this year sees some interesting new options for Baltic travel by ship.
Cypriot-owned St. Peter Line last year launched a thrice-weekly service from Helsinki to St. Petersburg and back. And next month the company expands its offering with twice-weekly sailings from Stockholm to St. Petersburg (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and a weekly departure from Tallinn to St. Petersburg (on Sundays).
2. Brittany Ferries to Bilbao
French operator Brittany Ferries has long been one of the most adventurous operators in the Western Channel with a raft of routes linking England and Ireland with northwest France. Later this month, the company opens a new service from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain, so reviving a long established ferry connection that abruptly disappeared when P&O pulled off the route last September.
Last Saturday, Brittany Ferries also reinstated its Poole to Cherbourg service. This is a very useful short link from England’s south coast to Normandy’s Cotentin peninsula. At the moment, Brittany advertise sailings just to October, so the long-term future of the route is still in doubt.
3. Maltese Connections
Virtu Ferries are one of several operators serving the Maltese market. The company had a welcome dose of free publicity in late February as Virtu’s smart white catamarans were featured on many news reports as the vessels evacuating foreign workers from Libyan ports. Virtu operates a year-round fast-ferry link between Pozzallo in Sicily and Malta. This year the company will also offer a Saturday catamaran service from Catania to Malta, starting on May 7, 2011.
Virtu’s latest Australian-built catamaran hit the headlines in September 2010 when it encountered Somali pirates on its delivery voyage to Malta. Virtu prides itself on speed, and reports say that the pirates were easily outpaced.
4. Scotland-Northern Ireland: Kintyre Express
Not for many years has there been any direct ferry link across the North Channel between the Mull of Kintyre (in western Scotland) and Northern Ireland. The last operator to offer a service was the splendidly named Argyll & Antrim Steam Packet Company which turned out to have rather flaky finances, and the service stopped in 2000.
Now Kintyre Express will fill the gap with a new fast passenger ferry from Campbeltown to Ballycastle. Services start on May 27, 2011. The route will be operated by fast RIBs with a heated cabin, so the 90-minute crossing is surely going to be a whole lot more fun than the average ferry journey. We reserve judgment on whether this is an inspired idea by Colin Craig, the man behind Kintyre Express, or whether perhaps it might be the balmiest idea in the history of European ferry transport.
We hope it is a great success, but Kintyre Express really needs to get its act together in terms of publicity and having a functioning online booking system on its website. This new ferry link creates a raft of new travel opportunities allowing visitors to Kintyre and Islay to make an easy hop over to the most beautiful part of the coast of Northern Ireland. The Antrim Glens and the Giant’s Causeway are both within easy reach of the Ballycastle ferry terminal.