France’s vast Atlantic Loire Valley combines the best of both worlds: a dramatic coastline stuffed with spas and oysters, and a majestic river snaking inland past châteaux and vineyards, resplendent in autumn as it embraces the grape harvest. You’re spoilt for choice of tempting destinations here, just a four-hour drive from the north coast after arriving in port with Brittany Ferries.
Out on the Atlantic coast , there are plenty of spots where you can indulge in seafood – look out for rustic oyster shacks for an unmistakeable taste of the local area. A staggering 13,000 tonnes of oysters are produced each year from the Loire estuary to the Bay of Aiguillon. If eaten raw, the traditional dressing in the Atlantic Loire Valley is white wine vinegar and finely chopped shallots, and accompanied by a dry white wine such as Muscadet. In Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, the sardine is king, served simply grilled with lemon or made into rillettes (coarse-textured pâté).
The Atlantic coast is also an excellent destination if all you wish to do is get away from it all and be pampered, which comes in the form of thalassotherapy , harnessing the natural properties of sea water to deliver invigorating treatments. Notable spa resorts and hotels include Les Sables-d’Olonne (Côte Ouest MGallery by Sofitel and Spa Atlantic), La Baule (Barrière Le Royal and Le Château des Tourelles), Pornic (Alliance Pornic) and St-Jean-de-Monts (Thalasso Valdys).
Seeking a city break? Regional capital Nantes is a major arty hotspot. Its Fine Art Museum reopened in June 2017 and houses over 13,000 works, while imaginations have run wild with the Machines de l’Île, merging Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci. Vibrant Angers is a tangle of architecture, gardens and vineyards plus the world’s only educational theme park dedicated to plants. And though renowned for car racing, Le Mans is a beautiful medieval city in its own right: admire the half-timbered houses, awe-inspiring St-Julien cathedral and dine in style at the Michelin-starred Auberge de Bagatelle.
Sample the Atlantic Loire Valley’s world-class wines this autumn – after all, it’s harvest time! The Loire Valley itself is the third largest appellation area in France with a UNESCO-listed wine route of over 800km , where 250 million bottles of wine are produced each year. You might fancy a romantic cycling trip through the Fiefs Vendéens or Anjou-Saumur vineyards, sampling local delicacies and chatting to winemakers en route. You can even eat among the vines at La Table de la Bergerie, south of Angers, which was awarded its first Michelin star in 2017.
Speaking of cycling , it’s an ideal way to explore the Atlantic Loire Valley’s autumn colours – and the region boasts over 3,000km of safe, signposted cycle routes for exploring its lovely landscape on two wheels, with or without vineyard stops. Breathe in the Atlantic air along the dramatic north-south Vélodyssée, which links Brittany to the Basque Country. Or wind your way along the river from Cuffy on the Loire à Vélo, a must-do route combining all the food, wine, nature and heritage of the area in one journey.
Look out for the region’s famous châteaux along this route: Angers with its extraordinary ‘Tenture d’Apocalypse’ tapestry; Saumur and its multiple attractions devoted to horses, including the famous Cadre Noir; Brézé with its vineyards and underground fortress; Montsoreau with its contemporary art collection. And a little way off the beaten track, the Chateau de Brissac is a ‘real-life’ chateau with modern residents, owned by the Dukes of Brissac since 1502. Walk alongside the underground river, sample the three AOC red and rosé wines produced here, and stay overnight – it’s also a bed and breakfast.
The best way of exploring? In the comfort of your own car, packed with everything you need. Atlantic Loire Valley is easily accessible via Brittany Ferries’ choice of routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth. What’s more, their superb choice of holiday breaks, make getting there great value too!
If you’re looking for a short break, get away from it all and enjoy a 2-night hotel break in France from £121 per person in one of our best-selling hotels. Or, if you’re looking for something longer, nothing beats the freedom of having your own place, and right now you can save up to 25% on selected cottage holidays .
What are you waiting for? It's not too late to plan a late summer or autumn break in Western France with Brittany Ferries!