1/ The Pointe du Payré, Jard-sur-Mer
If you love to be by the sea, this one’s for you. Jutting into the Atlantic in the far south of Vendée, the Pointe du Payré is one of the most beautiful natural sites to admire in the region. A five-kilometre walk starts from the Plage de la Mine and ventures through the oak forests and out to the cliffs, which attract scores of geologists with their unusual Jurassic rocks. From here you can look across to the breathtaking Plage du Veillon, a sand dune spit at the Payré estuary that has formed an inviting turquoise lagoon.
2/ The Brière Regional Park
Welcome to the Atlantic Loire Valley’s maze of canals! North of the Loire estuary near Saint-Nazaire, the Brière is the second largest French marshland after the Camargue. You can walk, cycle or horse-ride, but perhaps the best way to explore is by flat-bottomed boat, weaving your way through the meanders of canals and floodplains. For panoramic views, head up to the observatory in the new 24-metre-high Rozé Belltower in Saint-Malo-de-Guersac. And don’t miss the chance to go birdwatching at dusk and look out for waders like the sacred ibis and white spoonbill – it’s magical.
3/ The Marais Poitevin
If you like the sound of the Brière, you’ll love this other labyrinth of watery trails, known locally as the ‘Green Venice’. The Marais Poitevin adventure begins from the any of the piers in Damvix, Maillé, Le Mazeau, Maillezais or Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux, either by kayak, pedalo or paddleboard – but it’s the opposite of white water here. You’ll drift slowly with just ducks for company, a canopy of trees above and the odd cow watching you pass by. Off the canals, you can also explore the nature reserve on the Île de Charrouin and the reserves around Nalliers and Mouzeuil-Saint-Martin, which spread across 350 acres.
4/ The Coteaux du Pont-Barré, Anjou
This 20-acre nature reserve near Angers is an ideal hiking spot, offering stunning views of the Layon valley vineyards – but it’s biodiversity that sets it apart from anywhere else in the region. Interspersed with numerous small plateaux and rocky escarpments, the hills support a mosaic of natural habitats. There are 420 plant species here, of which the Gagée de Bohème, Wild Tulip and Rose de France are protected. You can spot insects such as the red-winged locust, silver cicada and mountain cicada – and no less than 87 species of butterflies have been identified.