With Nantes less than an hour from the Atlantic Ocean, the city’s residents tend to head off to the coast for the weekend as a matter of habit. In sunny weather, as in the rain, the Loire-Atlantique seaboard is magnificent. We are very lucky that it has such a variety of scenery to offer. Wild coastline, long sandy beaches, little pleasure ports, coastal paths … Let me share my favourite places by the ocean with you.
Pornic is one of the most beautiful of coastal destinations, and also one of the easiest to reach from Nantes. The journey takes one hour by train or 50 minutes by car. With its picture-postcard scenery, this little town lying south of the Loire is simply delightful. And it’s a safe bet to say that, just like us, you too will fall under its spell. Among its attractions are the old port, so beautifully overlooked by a château, the coastal path, with all its fishing piers, and a thalassotherapy (sea water therapy) health spa, which is well-known to both locals and visitors alike.
One thing definitely not to miss when visiting Pornic is the ice cream at the la Fraiseraie crêperie, a veritable local institution.
The Guérande salt marshes
The Guérande salt marshes are a particularly unusual and unique place. Salt is harvested here via evaporation using a traditional method which has changed little since the Middle Ages. The landscape consists of pools of water, which collectively form the ‘saltern’ (saltworks) and from which the water very slowly empties until the point of evaporation.
The instant the sun comes out, the landscapes here take on a wonderful appearance, with the blue sky reflecting in the almost completely still waters of the ponds. The salt marshes of Guérande: a guarantee of stunning visual delight! Whenever we bring friends here they are always impressed.
And, if you are lucky enough, you may even get to see the paludiers (salt workers) harvesting the salt, or or blanc (white gold) as it’s referred to in these parts.
To get the most out of your visit here, be sure to go on a guided tour with Terre de Sel, who will tell you everything there is to know about the salt marshes of Guérande.
The first destinations I introduced you to are definitely essential ones to visit, but they do attract a lot of people, especially in summer. At that time of year, I prefer places that are more hidden and less well-known. Mesquer-Quimiac is one of these.
The scenery at Pointe de Merquel is quite superb, and reminds me of that of the Gulf of Morbihan in southern Brittany. There are also some beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters to be found at Quimiac. These are little known to tourists, and the area is one of my favourite spots to come for an afternoon on the beach.
A change of scenery now, with a little harbour town of typical Breton character: Piriac-sur-Mer. The elegant houses that characterise the town are constructed from grey granite and feature steeply pitched, red slate roofs that are very typical of the local architecture here.
It is always nice spending the day in Piriac. I adore strolling around its little streets and enjoying the opportunity to take advantage of the beaches and coastal path. The town itself also has a number of good quality facilities, i.e. pub, crêperie, shop and so forth.
A French commune located right on the border between the Loire-Atlantique and Morbihan departments, Pénestin is an enjoyable place to walk around and explore on foot. It lies surrounded by the ocean, and the local coastline here is particularly rich and varied. A pleasurable way to tour the area is by stopping off at several places to enjoy views of, among other sites, the Vilaine estuary, the long sandy beaches, the ochre cliffs and the points of Bile and Halguen. With Pénestin not a very well-known place, it is somewhere I like to visit to rest and recharge my batteries no matter what the time of year.
If you happen to be visiting this area, take advantage of the opportunity to lunch at La Roche-Bernard, a fortified village located on the Vilaine, just a little upriver from the coast.
So those are my five favourite places located on the Atlantic coast close to Nantes, but there are so many others to tell you about too. If you happen to have something of the spirit of the road tripper in you, simply set off and go for it. It really doesn’t matter whether you head up or down the coast between Pornic and Pénestin: the entire stretch is well worth exploring!