What better place to brush off winter lethargy and enjoy the outdoors than in France’s beautiful Pays de la Loire? With the double attraction of the Atlantic and the Loire Valley, you’re spoilt for choice of tempting destinations in this large region, just a four-hour drive from the north coast after arriving in port, and enticingly calm before the summer crowds arrive.
If you love to be by the sea, aim for the seductive sweeping curve of La Baule, home to chic hotels and dubbed France’s most beautiful bay – or base yourself in the quaint fishing harbour of Pornic. Les Sables-d’Olonne is the start and finish point of the Vendée Globe sailing race, with a marina full of gleaming boats to admire. The island of Yeu is a haven for birdwatchers. Pampering comes in the form of thalassotherapy, harnessing the natural properties of sea water to deliver invigorating treatments. Take as long as you need to recharge your batteries here, interspersed with bracing walks on the beach.
Snaking its way inland from the Atlantic, the River Loire is the region’s lifeblood, bordered by majestic châteaux, vineyards and villages as it wends its way into the neighbouring region of Centre-Val de Loire. Here you can fish and kayak to your heart’s content, surrounded by spring colours and newly-emerging wildlife. Or keep the pace slow and lazy on board a traditional flat-bottomed boat, marvelling at the châteaux and mills on the riverbanks.
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 longest-preserved tapestry, secreted within its château. 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.
Keen on a tipple? The Loire Valley 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. Now that spring has arrived, 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 right among the vines at La Table de la Bergerie, south of Angers.
Speaking of cycling, the area boasts over 2,500km of safe, signposted cycle routes for exploring its lovely landscapes 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.
It’s impossible to do justice to Atlantic Loire Valley’s local cuisine. Given the abundant water, fish and seafood can be found on menus everywhere, with oysters a particular delicacy along the coast, and hake or zander served with delicate beurre blanc in riverside restaurants. Goats’ cheese and asparagus are popular too. Sweet-toothed visitors must try gâteau Nantais, a moreish almond and rum sponge cake – and Cointreau, the famous orange liqueur, has been produced in Angers since 1849.
The best way of exploring? In the comfort of your own car, packed with everything you need. The Atlantic Loire Valley is easily accessible via Brittany Ferries’ ports of Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth. What’s more, their superb choice of spring breaks, make getting there great value too!
Book now with Brittany Ferries and enjoy a 2-night sail & stay hotel break from just £121 per person.