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One of the lesser-known regions of France abroad, the Pays de la Loire in western France offers an extraordinary diversity of landscapes and rich heritage. From the Loire Valley to the Atlantic coast, explore historical cities, charming villages, chateaux, natural parks, and 450 km of stunning coastline.
An ideal destination for those in search of a breath of fresh air, the Pays de la Loire is very appreciated by families, and bike lovers. Here, we are never far from the water: the Atlantic Ocean and the Loire River with its tributaries (18,000 km of waterways in the region) but also picturesque canals and wetlands.
People looking for a cultural getaway will find an abundance of extraordinary sites: the cities of Nantes, Angers, Le Mans, Saumur, but also impressive Renaissance châteaux and the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.
The region of Pays de la Loire is not one of France’s historic regions but a recent creation. Indeed, the regional capital, Nantes, was once the capital of Brittany – to which it no longer belongs. The region is composed of five departments: Loire Atlantique, Vendée, Mayenne, Sarthe, and Maine et Loire.
Haven’t been to this wonderful French region yet? Go on reading for the best things to do in the Pays de la Loire.
Located by the river Maine, Angers is a beautiful medieval city to explore, with unique gothic buildings, half-timbered houses, and an impressive château.
In the heart of the town visit the Château d’Angers, a massive schist, and limestone construction, built from 1230 onwards. Here, the Dukes of Anjou held court during the 14th and 15th centuries.
This impressive château houses the Apocalypse Tapestry (14th century). Measuring 103 long and 4.5 meters high, it features 71 scenes of the Apocalypse and it is the largest Medieval tapestry series in the world.
The Royal Abbey of Fontevraud
This gothic abbey, unique in many aspects, was founded in 1101 as a mixed-gender monastery placed under the leadership of a woman.
The Abbey found favor in the eyes of God and men, including the Counts of Anjou and, notably, Henry II of Plantagenet and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who made Fontevraud a royal burial place.
Listed UNESCO World Heritage since the year 2000, Fontevraud is today home to a contemporary art center, a stylish hotel, and a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Don’t miss the polychrome tombs of the Plantagenet: King Henri II, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabelle of Angouleme, and King Richard Lionheart.
MAKE IT SPECIAL: sleep in the Abbey of Fontevraud for a unique experience!
Nantes, the capital of the region, is an excellent destination for a cultural getaway near Paris. Nantes’ main attraction is Les Machines de l’Ile, an artistic project that consists of an ensemble of quirky machines developed by a group of artists and machinists in the former naval workshops of Ile de Nantes.
Amongst these machines outstands the Giant Elephant, who likes to wander around the Ile de Nantes. This cheeky elephant can carry up to 50 passengers on his back and he likes to spray people with his trunk!
There’s also the giant Carousel of the Sea Worlds (almost 25m high), an incredible mechanical aquarium of disturbing marine creatures.
We can’t wait to see the company’s latest project, the Heron Tree. When finished, people will be able to wander through the branches of this giant metallic and vegetal tree and meet different creatures living on it.
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Relaxing Days at Iles d’Yeu et Noirmoutier
Disconnect from the world on Iles d’Yeu and Noimoutier, both located in front of the Atlantic coast in the department of Vendée. Enjoy its typical landscapes, endless sand beaches, and many outdoor activities for all the family.
Feeling hungry? Taste the islands’ gastronomy with delicious dishes made with fish, mainly pollack, sea bream, and striped mullet but also sole and line sea bass. Noirmoutier island is well known for its shellfish and oysters, with their delicate flesh.
Pays de la Loire by Bike
The region’s flat geography and varied landscapes make it ideal for day trips or longer trips by bike.
There is the world-famous Loire à Velo route, which every year attracts more than one million bikers. This 900 km itinerary links the village of Cuffy, in the region Centre-Val-de-Loire to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, on the Atlantic coast in the Pays de la Loire. Along the way, where the Loire River is never too far, expect picturesque villages, magnificent châteaux, and great regional food and wines.
La Vélo Francette is a lesser-known bike route that also crosses the Pays de la Loire. This 600 km bike itinerary from Ouistreham in Normandy to La Rochelle in Nouvelle Aquitaine, crosses the departments of Mayenne, and Maine-et-Loire in the Pays de la Loire. What is more, part of the section Angers-St-Mathurin is common with the Loire à Velo’s itinerary so you can always say to have tried both 🙂
The Marais Poitevin
The Marais Poitevin is a natural area of marshes shared by the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Pays de la Loire. This is the second-largest wetland in France after the Camargue, covering an area of approximately 100,000 hectares.
This manmade landscape developed since the 11th century to mitigate the effects of seasonal rainfall variations is made up of three large groups related to its hydraulic operation: the maritime marsh, the dry marsh, and the wet marsh. The wet marsh, nicknamed the green Venice, has the label Grand Site de France since 2010.
The best way to explore the Marais Poitevin is by sailing the canals on a traditional boat or a kayak. You can also explore the area by bike.
Clisson (and Other Picturesque Villages)
The Pays de la Loire is dotted with many picturesque villages, all worth a detour.
Head to Clisson in Loire-Atlantique for a bit of Tuscany in France! This oh-so-romantic town with a medieval chateau was totally transformed in the 19th century into a town à l’italienne, with an architecture inspired by the Tuscan towns.
In the same department, there’s also Le Croisic, with its picturesque port and its unique villas built at the beginning of the seaside tourism in the area. Or Piriac-sur-Mer, a former fishing port, marina, and renowned seaside resort which still retains its Breton identity through its heritage and its typical granite architecture.
Have you been to Pornic? Visit the port, formerly known for its trading activity around salt, tiles, and wine, and explore the town’s steep streets, cute shops, and fortified remains.
For something different, head inland to the village of Sainte-Suzanne in the Mayenne department. This medieval village perched on a rocky peak overlooking the Erve Valley is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it has a double-walled enclosure and a rich heritage.
Parc Naturel Régional de Brière
The Brière National Park, in the department of Loire-Atlantique, is a large area of marshland, great for birdwatching. Indeed, the Brière is a popular stop-off point for birds migrating between Northern Europe and Africa.
In the past, Brière was a center for peat digging and reed picking. Today, it is a great place for a relaxing getaway, with many outdoor activities like horseriding, hiking, or biking.
You can also explore the park’s canals and islands on a chaland, the typical flat-bottomed boat of the region. These guided visits usually last 2 hours and they are a great way to learn more about this area and feel the nature.
Don’t miss the village of Kerhinet, a well-preserved hamlet of thatched cottages (named chaumières) typical of the region, where visitors can see how the locals once lived and the clothes they wore.
TIP: some traditional chaumières in the area are offering bed & breakfast accommodation for a unique stay in Brière. Escapade en Brière located in Saint-Lyphard has always great reviews.
The Salt Marshes of Gérande
The Guérande Salt Marshes are a vast wetland zone between the mouths of the rivers Loire and Vilaine.
Here, salt is harvested since the year 868! The salt workers (called paludiers) harvest Guérande salt daily with the tides. They use the same techniques as their ancestors, without machines, obtaining a salt 100% natural, unwashed, and without additives.
The Guérande salt is very rich in magnesium and trace elements. In 2012 it obtained their IGP (Protected Geographical Indication) which guarantees the origin and quality of the salt from Guérande. It is the first time in Europe that this distinction is granted for salt!
If you want to visit the beautiful salt marshes, then head to Terre de Sel. With their tour (also available in English), you’ll learn how the famous Guérande salt is formed and see how the water circuit operates.
The Fishing Huts of the Atlantic Coast
The traditional fishing huts along the Atlantic coast are a scene straight from a postcard. These huts are built on pontoons that jut out to the sea, and they are used for net fishing.
In France, the technique of pêche au carrelet is practiced in the estuaries of the Loire, Charente, and Gironde. This kind of fishing uses a square dipping net with an area of a few square meters stretched over a flat frame and lowered horizontally by means of a winch from the pontoons. After a few minutes of waiting, to dissipate the disturbance caused by the descent, the net is brought up fairly quickly, trapping the fish that were between it and the surface.
In the departments of Vendée and Loire-Atlantique these constructions are named pêcheries and they are something to see! You can see pêcheries in Saint-Nazaire, Corsept, La Plaine-sur-Mer, Saint-Brevin, Préfailles, and Pornic.
We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Pays de la Loire. If you want to learn about other regions head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region.
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