Beyond Nantes: unexpected adventures in the Atlantic Loire Valley

Known as ‘the garden of France’, the Atlantic Loire Valley is filled with exciting experiences and hidden gems to explore

There are vineyards and chateaux – bien sur – but the Atlantic Loire Valley also offers stunning beaches, cute fishing ports, wild swimming and plenty more. Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or planning a longer stay, here are some places you won’t want to miss.

Pound those pedals

Explore part of the 500 miles of the Loire à Vélo cycle paths. Pick up a bike in Nantes and spend an afternoon wheeling along the side of the Loire towards Le Cellier, stopping off for a glass of something cold at one of the many guinguettes (riverside cafés) along the way. Relax on the terrace of La Sablière (External link) , which holds concerts at 7pm every Friday in the summer, or enjoy a picnic by the colourful beach huts at Mauves Balnéaire (External link) , where there’s also regular live music.

Have a river-borne breakfast

Take a cruise along the river Erdre – a quiet tributary of the Loire lined with beautiful chateaux – there are wooden fishing boats called toues that offer a variety of cruises in small groups. You can even take a private cruise à deux followed by an apero and dinner, before spending a romantic night (External link) alone on board – the captain will even bring you breakfast in the morning.

Eat an original beurre blanc

Steep yourself in history at Restaurant Clémence (External link) , dating back to 1890 on the banks of the river at Saint-Julien-de-Concelles. The restaurant is named after Clémence Lefeuvre, who created the famous beurre blanc sauce there at the end of the 19th century. Today, it specialises in regional dishes prepared from local ingredients, beautifully presented at a reasonable price. Alternatively, head for the modern, airy beach shack-style space among the vineyards of Basse-Goulaine at La Cantine du Vignoble (External link) for international cuisine ranging from tandoori chicken to boeuf tartare, or a brunch of tasty wraps, sweet and savoury cakes, eggs, crepes, and fresh fruit juices on Sundays.

Be beside the seaside

Set in France’s north west, the Atlantic Loire Valley has more than 280 miles of coastline. One of the most popular coastal resorts is the glamorous La Baule, with more than five miles of golden sand – plus plenty of options for water sports and a market, as well as spas and a casino. For a change of pace, Pornic offers both sandy and rocky beaches and a medieval old town. Pornichet – a 900-metre sandy beach lined with villas and woodland – is where you’ll find the locals.

Go beyond the grapes

Vignoble Marchais (External link) is a 27-hectare vineyard just outside Nantes where you can take a tour, meet the winemakers and taste the wines, plus there’s an onsite restaurant where you can help yourself to barbecue food alongside wine and local beers. Want to get really up-close-and-personal with the wine-making process? Spend the night in a giant barrel (External link) . Or check out family-run Château des Vaults (External link) , where you can learn how organic wine is made and attend exhibitions, concerts and literary evenings, as well as tours and tastings.

Make the most of the water

Go snorkelling around the crystal-clear waters of Île d’Yeu, try stand-up paddle boarding on the river Oudon past the grounds of Château de Craon (External link) or explore La Maine – a diminutive tributary of the Loire – by canoe. Alternatively, head to the marshlands of Vendée near Noirmoutier and paddle through the maze of narrow trenches, perhaps stopping for a picnic at the Rairé windmill (External link) – where you can also spend the night in the adjoining gîte.

Step back in time

Guérande is a centuries-old fortified town where you can explore the ancient cobbled streets inside the walls and enjoy a drink or meal on the terrace of its bars and restaurants. Or head to Clisson in the heart of the vineyards to explore the château (External link) – parts of which date back to the 13th and 15th centuries – and its unusual Italianate architecture.

Enjoy a music festival

Whatever your taste in music, you’ll find a festival to suit you over the summer. Contemporary music fans will love Les Escales (External link) in Saint-Nazaire, while fans of live music and – erm – trucks can check out the City Trucks Festival, held in La Pommeraye. Plus, look out for events dedicated to classical, jazz and more all over the region – check out the Atlantic Loire Valley website for what’s on.

Go to the market

Browse more than 200 food stalls at Talensac Market (External link) in Nantes or, Tuesdays and Fridays, head out to the 15th-century timber-covered marketplace (External link) at Clisson. The market has been held here for 500 years, so they must be doing something right. If that doesn’t tickle your French fancy, try freshly-cooked snails at Marché Lafayette (External link) in Angers, or catch the “bac” (ferry) to the 150-year-old market at Basse-Indre on Sunday mornings, which is notable for its fish and seafood stalls.

Get your ’gram on

You can’t visit the Atlantic Loire Valley without capturing at least one stunning chateaux on camera. It’s hard to find a more impressive one than the fairytale Château de Brissac (External link) , with dreamy round turrets and landscaped grounds – with seven floors and 204 rooms, it’s also known as the “giant of the Loire Valley”. The château has been in the Brissac family since 1502, and the 13th Duke of Brissac currently lives there – become his houseguest by staying overnight in a grand château room, complete with a four-poster bed and tapestries on the bedroom walls.

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