At the western tip of the Loire River, Nantes has Atlantic beaches, medieval châteaux, and island escapes, all within day-trip distance. If you’re visiting Nantes for the France Rugby World Cup 2023, why not make the most of the time between matches and take in some of the regional highlights?
Ready to visit an island monastery, tour a Loire Valley château, and enjoy coastal walks? Here’s our pick of the six best day trips from Nantes
1. Mont St-Michel
Perched on a small island off the coast of Normandy, the gravity-defying hilltop monastery of Mont St-Michel is one of France’s most enduring postcard images. Built in the early 8th century, the Benedictine Abbey is both an important pilgrimage site and a remarkable architectural feat, and the views are just as impressive from the outside as they are from the inside.
Walk or drive across the causeway to the island, or join one of the guided walks along the bay at low tide, then climb the steep winding lanes up to the hilltop abbey. Views stretch across the bay from the ramparts, but you can also head inside the Abbey to explore the cloister and enjoy the many shops and restaurants dotted throughout the citadel.
Distance from Nantes: 109 miles (175 km)
How to get there: Drive (2 hours 15 mins)
Don’t miss: The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.
At the western tip of the Loire Valley, this riverside city is famous for its medieval château and its National Riding School, the Cadre Noir, one of the forefathers of French dressage and equestrianism. First stop is the hilltop Château de Saumur, where you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view along the Loire River. Afterwards, head down through the cobbled lanes of the Old Town, with its half-timbered buildings and atmospheric terrace cafés.
Horse lovers will be delighted by a tour of the Cadre Noir, and watching a training session or performance of the spectacular ‘dancing horses’ is a thrill. Saumur’s rich military history is also on display at the Cavalry Museum and Armor Museum, where you can browse the impressive collections of military uniforms, weapons, and tanks.
Distance from Nantes: 96 miles (155 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour 40 minutes) or take the train (1 hour 3 minutes)
Don’t miss: The Château de Saumur.
Locals looking to escape the city for the coast make a beeline for this unassuming Atlantic resort town. Simple pleasures are on offer here—stroll around the colourful fishing harbour, stop for lunch at one of the seafood restaurants, or grab an ice cream and walk out along the boardwalk for a closer view of the medieval castle.
The small sandy beach fills up quickly whenever the sun comes out, but the biggest draw is the coastal hiking trail, which runs all the way along the coast, linking the many beaches and resort towns. Admire the views as you follow the scenic cliff-top trail or climb down into the rocky coves to swim or stretch out on the sand.
Distance from Nantes: 31 miles (50 km)
How to get there: Drive (55 mins) or take the train (1 hour 1 min)
Don’t miss: A scenic walk along the coast.
Near the confluence of the Maine River and the Loire, Angers is one of the lesser-known cities of the Loire Valley. Angers’ imposing medieval castle stands sentry over the riverfront—climb the ramparts for a view over the Old Town, then head inside to admire the magnificent Tapestry of the Apocalypse.
Half-timbered houses line the streets of the Old Town, where you’ll find the Gothic Cathédrale St-Maurice, the ornate Maison des Artisans, and a lively cluster of cafés and restaurants.
Distance from Nantes: 56 miles (90 km)
How to get there: Drive (1-hour 10 minutes) or take the train (41 minutes).
Don’t miss: A walking tour of the historic town.
Beloved by Impressionist painter Renoir, this idyllic island juts into the ocean off the Vendéen coast and is fringed with sandy beaches, salt marshes, and lush pine forests. Time your arrival to drive the rocky 4.5km-long causeway “Le Gois”, which is accessible only at low tide—otherwise, the views from the bridge are just as impressive—then set out to explore the island by car or bike.
Plages des Dames is the most popular hangout, with its traditional beach huts and coastal forest overlooking the sandy beach, while the main town of Noirmoutier-en-l’Île has a bustling market and canalside restaurants. Be sure to stop by the salt marshes, where tiny huts sell bags of fresh sea salt or offer oysters tastings.
Distance from Nantes: 56 miles (90 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour 45 mins).
Don’t miss: A visit to the traditional salt farms.
6. La Rochelle
Nicknamed “La Ville Blanche” (the White City) for its gleaming limestone façades, La Rochelle wears its maritime heritage on its sleeve. The Vieux Port (Old Port) is the beating heart of the city, where ferries set sail for the Île de Ré and Île d’Oléron islands, and three medieval towers afford views over the harbour.
Hop on one of the shuttle boats for a short cruise across the port, then stroll around the waterfront or stop for lunch at one of the waterfront restaurants—the seafood here is as delicious as you might expect. Don’t miss a visit to the Maritime Museum, with its impressive collection of historic ships, and La Rochelle Aquarium, which is one of the largest in Europe.
Distance from Nantes: 87 miles (140 km)
How to get there: Drive (1 hour 50 mins) or take the train (1 hour 44 mins).
Don’t miss: The Old Port of La Rochelle.
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