The Loire-Atlantique is named after the River Loire and the Atlantic Ocean. It lies on France's west coast and is part of the Pays-de-la-Loire. Its capital is Nantes.
It is one of the 83 departments created after the French Revolution. Originally part of Brittany, it became separate in 1941 when it was occupied by the Germans. Breton culture is still, however, very important.
Average temperature in the Loire-Atlantique
The Loire-Atlantique offers a good variety of beaches, whether you prefer long stretches of sand or rocky coves, sophisticated resorts or more traditional seaside towns. La Baule is quite a sophisticated resort, with more in common with those in the South of France than on the west coast. Just around the headland is Le Croisic, a more attractive and traditional resort with fishing boats still using its harbour. Equally good beaches can be found at Pornichet, which also has a very upmarket marina, and at the little village of St Marc. Saint Brevin les Pins has a vast stretch of firm sand and the attractive pines, oaks and mimosas provide welcome shade in the summer. If you prefer rocky coves to long stretches of sand, the best are to be found to the west of St Nazaire.
The marshlands of the Grande Briere have a very small population who make their living from fishing for eels, gathering reeds and cutting peat. Tourism is comparatively new to the area but it is now possible to rent a punt and explore on your own. The city of Nantes, the capital of the Pays-de-la-Loire as well as the department itself, is worth a visit. The old parts of the city (medieval and 19th century) are particularly attractive. The Cathedral of St Pierre and St Paul was restored after a fire in the 1970s and contains the tomb of Francois II and his wife Margaret. The 19th century part of Nantes lies in the west of the city and has attractive squares and Art Nouveau buildings. The small walled town of Guerande, on the edge of the marshes of the Grande Briere, is also worth a visit. Although it is not possible to walk around its 15th century ramparts, a large promenade runs around the outside of the walls.
The Ocearium at Le Croisic describes itself as an "activity aquarium" which will appeal to children of all ages. There are 45 aquaria in total and children will enjoy looking at plankton under a microscope and standing under the glass tunnel as sharks and winged-rays swim above them. Also at Le Croisic is the Espace Escargots, a snail breeding farm, for a day out with a difference. The Aquabaule swimming complex at La Baule is the biggest in the region and has wave machines, a lazy river and jacuzzis, with the water a very pleasant 30 degrees. Children who do not usually like museums may enjoy the somewhat bizarre collection at Nantes' Natural History Museum which includes a shrunken Maori head, an Egyptian mummy, a complete tanned human skin and a collection of stuffed birds and animals.
Museums, galleries and culture
Most of the department's culture is to be found in Nantes. The Château des Ducs dominates the south eastern corner of medieval Nantes and is home to two museums. The Musée des Arts Populaires is housed in the prison tower of the chateau and illustrates Breton history and folklore. The other is the Musée des Salorges which is concerned with the expeditions and slave trade which brought Nantes its riches. One of the most interesting exhibits is the barge used by Napoleon for a ball held in the city in the early 19th century.
The Nantes vineyards are the largest in France with 750 producers. The local wines are Muscadet and Gros Plant, both of which are white and complement the local seafood beautifully. Not far from Nantes on the D4071, both Muscadet and Gros Plant as well as Gamay and Cabernet Franc can be tasted at the Domaine Guerande where three generations have worked.
A walk along the beach and through the pine forests is always enjoyable in any of the resorts in the area. However, for those seeking a more challenging route, the long distance path, Grande Randonnee no 3, runs from La Baule to Nevers, so you may wish to tackle part of that. Nantes is said to be the greenest city in France with 500 km of walking and cycling paths, many of them along the banks of the River Erdre.
There are two golf courses near La Baule, both set in attractive surroundings: Golf International de la Baule and La Bretesche golf course, 20km out of La Baule. The course at Vigneux de Bretagne, near Nantes, is criss-crossed by the river Cens and is particularly challenging.
Land-yachting is very popular at St Brevin. Beginners and more experienced yachters are catered for, as are children who can make use of the specially adapted yachts. The wide bays, creeks and islands from La Baule south, make sailing a pleasant pastime and the breeze off the Atlantic makes excellent conditions for surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing. La Baule has a tennis club with 29 courts and is open to non-members. The region's beaches make beautiful terrain for horse riding, either on the beach itself or through the pine forests which lie behind so many of the beaches.
Food and drink
The Loire-Atlantique is famous for its oysters but being a coastal area there is a vast wealth of other shellfish available in both the restaurants and shops, everything from crabs and lobsters to langoustines and soft shell clams. If you are feeling adventurous you may wish to try the locally caught eels from the Grande Briere marshland or pike from the region's rivers. Pike with beurre Nantaise (white butter sauce) is a local speciality. Salmon from the river Loire is also extremely tasty. If you are a meat lover you must try the steaks from the famous Chateaubriant. The Clisson cheese, made from goats' milk, comes from Nantes and has a washed rind of Muscadet giving it a distinctive flavour.
Ease of access
Most people come to the area by car using the western ferry ports such as St Malo, Caen or Cherbourg. If you prefer to minimize sailing time the journey can be done in a day from Calais. Nantes has flights from the UK and a high speed train from Paris if you do not want to bring your car.
Value for money
The Loire-Atlantique offers good value for money so long as you steer clear of the plush bars and restaurants in La Baule. There are many equally attractive resorts along the coast and if you want to keep the costs down, consider staying inland.
The Loire-Atlantique is a good choice for a family beach holiday with plenty of sporting and other activities available and perhaps a spot of culture or wine-tasting thrown in to keep the adults happy.