There’s everything from adrenaline-fueled adventure to lounging around on the west coast, here are the best things to see and do on France’s west coast. Note: This article is part of a mega feature called “West Coast Road Trip”.
The west coast has some of the most beautiful and historic cities in France. Nantes, an episcopate near the end of the Roman Empire before it was conquered by the Bretons, is now France’s sixth largest city in the Loire-Atlantique. Half an hour from the Vendée, La Rochelle is known as the Jewel in the Bay of Biscay. Also in Charente-Maritime department Aquitaine’s first Roman capital and historic Saintes, a Town of Arts and History. Further south, you’ll find the world capital of Bordeaux wine.
Discovering the Arts
Creativity thrives in France, so summarizing artistic venues and places to visit is no simple task, but here’s an overview to get you started.
Nantes’ Estuaire Arts Trail is a 60km route of riverfront and estuary, showcasing 33 different works of art. You can explore the trail every summer on foot, by bike, by car or even by boat, and the goal is to integrate art into the environment, with the countryside in the background and the river running from the city center to the Atlantic. . Find out more about the current exhibition online or at the tourist offices. bit.ly/3CAKBjP
Also, the fascinating Summer Journey (Le Voyage à Nantes) runs from early July to mid-September and brings art indoors with exhibition spaces as well as outdoors on a larger scale. Often thought-provoking, sometimes controversial, these installations demonstrate the city’s integrated connections with creativity. levoyageanantes.fr/en
The Museum of Fine Arts in La Rochelle is housed in an aptly beautiful neo-Classical palace but is currently under renovation – check its website for the latest information on reopening dates. museedesbeauxarts.larochelle.fr
Happily, Bordeaux Musée des Beaux Arts, known as MusBA, has no such restrictions. Located on the Cours d’Albret, its permanent collection includes fine examples of Renaissance, Impressionism and Symbolism and is a beautiful area to wander around. musba-bordeaux.fr/en
It’s hard to go anywhere in France without encountering ancient history, and the west coast certainly has its share. Almost every town and city has Roman ruins, notably the amphitheater of Saintes and the magnificent 15-metre double arch known as the Arc de Germanicus, which was once the entrance to the town. aziz-turizm.fr
There are also Gallo-Roman ruins in Nantes, especially the ancient city walls, which are partially still visible. For true history buffs, of course, the main attraction of Nantes will be the chateau or Nantes Cathedral, whose construction began in 1434 but continued for quite some time – actually until 1891! cathedral-nantes.fr
Finally, for Classical architecture, you can’t beat the excellent mansions and chateaus that line the Loire, many of which are visible from the river. Head east of the city to see the Château de Goulaine, a Renaissance beauty of white Tuffeau stone. chateaudegoulaine.fr
Rivers crisscross these west coast cities and towns, boosting the economy in past times and now serving the tourism industry. If you’re in Nantes, take a leisurely cruise on the Bateau Libellule, either take a 90-minute cruise down the Loire from the city center, or take a longer sunset cruise with a plate of delicious local produce.
If you choose to paddle your own, you can enjoy similar tranquility at Saintes, from a charming electric powered boat to a canoe or canoe for up to eight people. Charente winds through town and the tourist office can help you book the trip that suits you best. aziz-turizm.fr
Cycling enthusiasts naturally love France, where this sport is given its right. On the west coast, you have a real bonus at the many cycling trails, as well as the 1,200km Atlantic bike trail Vélodyssée, which starts further north in Roscoff and takes you to Nantes, along the coast to La Rochelle and south. France in Hendaye.
More than 70% of the route is on car-free roads, each stage clearly marked for difficulty level – around Hossegor, the Léon-Cap Breton stage is 33 km and is ideal for beginners and families. bike-lavelodyssee.com
Wherever you are on the west coast, you will see opportunities for SUP (stand-up paddle boarding) as well as surfing, as the Atlantic coast is a world-renowned location for the right conditions and has the added advantage of clear water. La Rochelle has everything from kitesurfing on the sand to surfing and windsurfing: check the tourist office website for an idea of what’s on offer. vacation-la-rochelle.co.uk
You’ll be spoiled for choice in Hossegor and Cap Breton, but for paddleboarding on the lake, try Tao Magic Glisse surf school (taomagic-glisse.com/en) or Hossegor Lake Paddle (hossegor-lakepaddle.com).
You may not be able to surf in Bordeaux, but you can still try something different: rent a Segway that gives you a new perspective as you explore and lets you pack so much more into a day. It also saves on tired legs! bit.ly/3Cw7hBM
For those who really want to unwind on vacation, you can’t beat Thalasso Spa Retreat, and in La Rochelle, La Grande Terrasse tops the list. This boutique hotel in Châtelaillon-Plage features a stunning sea-view terrace, the Nuxe Spa, which offers massages, treatments, a sauna and steam room, as well as a pool with incredible views, and an excellent restaurant. la-grande-terrasse.com
You can also indulge in Bordeaux at Le Grand Hôtel, a stunning Regency building located in the heart of the city on the Place de la Comédie. It offers luxury suites and Spa Guerlain has a state-of-the-art gym… but wouldn’t you rather have a full body massage? bordeaux.intercontinental.com/en
From France Today magazine
Principal photo credit: View of the Arc de Germanicus at Saintes from the river © S. Laval
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