Is there any better place to sample fresher-than-fresh seafood than France’s Atlantic coast? We think not. Pack up your car and hop across the Channel with Brittany Ferries.
There are plenty of spots along the Loire coastline where you can indulge in the spoils of the sea – look out for rustic oyster shacks (‘cabanes aux huîtres’) 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, spread along almost 80km of coastline. There are three major oyster-farming areas: the Bay of Bourgneuf-Noirmoutier, Talmont Saint-Hilaire and the Bay of Aiguillon. If eaten raw, the traditional dressing in Pays de la Loire is white wine vinegar and finely chopped shallots, and accompanied by a dry white wine from the region. Alternatively they’re grilled, again with a few chopped shallots plus some butter and a grind of black pepper.
Fancy fishing for your own oysters, mussels, clams, winkles, prawns or shrimps? In Pornic, you can try your hand at ‘pêche à pieds’ fishing on the Joselière and Birochère beaches. Pornic’s tourist office has put together a programme of fishing outings led by a guide or local resident.
The department of Mayenne produces apples in abundance, sun-ripened to perfection and added to a wealth of dishes as well as being transformed into juice and cider. The local answer to the UK pork-and-apple combo is boudin noir aux pommes, a blood sausage served with stewed or puréed apples and a generous dash of Calvados. Mayenne has also kept the cider tradition alive – for those who prefer pears, the local perry is equally delicious – and apples are used in the Maine Pommeau apple AOC liqueur, containing 70% apples with a drop of apple brandy and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months.
No French region would be complete without its cheese choices – and Pays de la Loire has its fair share to offer. Curé Nantais from Nantes is a real symbol of the city, nicknamed ‘Brittany’s first cheese’ as Nantes was once part of this more northerly region. It’s a soft, supple cheese often used in tarts and gratins or served with pears and apples. You can’t miss the distinctive orange rind of a wheel of Port Salut, originally made by monks at the Port-du-Salut abbey in Mayenne – although its flavour is milder than its appearance. Saint-Paulin is another mild, creamy local variation. Slightly salty Trappe de la Coudre hails from Laval, handmade on site at the Abbaye de la Coudre with cow’s milk sourced from local farmers.
Local cakes: Gâteau Nantais & Brioche Vendéenne
Sweet tooth? The local gâteau Nantais is a moreish almond and rum sponge cake with a white sugar glaze, invented in the 1820s when France was importing exotic specialities from the West Indies. Or try Vendée’s own brioche, flavoured with brandy, orange flower water or a mixture of the two. Brioche Vendéenne was made for family celebrations such as weddings and communions; at weddings, the bride’s godparents would typically give the newlyweds a 20-30kg brioche as a gift.
Gâche, younger relative of the brioche, is more often made during Easter celebrations, to a slightly different recipe: more sugar and with the addition of crème fraîche, making it more dense. Brioches and gâches from Vendée are now protected by an IGP ("Indication Géographique Protégée").
Get there with Brittany Ferries
The best way of exploring the Atlantic Coast is in the comfort of your own car, packed with everything you need. Sail direct to Brittany or Normandy from Poole, Portsmouth or Plymouth with Brittany Ferries and head on down to the Atlantic Coast.
Plan your trip to the Atlantic Coast with Brittany Ferries.