Saint-Nazaire is a popular seaside town with international connections from the transatlantic ocean liners and ships that set off from its shores to the artists responsible for the incredible art installations, sculptures, and murals that decorate the city. With 15km of spectacular coastline, relaxing sandy beaches, and gorgeous nature reserves, “Little Breton California” is the ideal place to decompress. Here are our top ten reasons to explore the beaches, parks, hikes, and ships of the town – there’s even a submarine to discover.
1. Saint-Nazaire’s beautiful seafront: the perfect place to relax
Sit on one of the many seafront terraces at Place du Commando and sip a lemonade (or something stronger) while watching the tide come in or head to one of the new cafés that come alive once the sun sets. Pathways have been redesigned so pedestrians and cyclists can move about easily. The play area made of driftwood and rope near the Harbour Master’s Office is perfect for children.
If you want to learn more about the pêcheries, the fishing huts that hang over the Loire Estuary, head to the port of Trébézy or Sautron to get a better look. At Sautron, you can even rent a fishing hut if you want to try your hand at fishing or just relax in the peaceful surroundings of the Loire estuary, far away from your office and the demands of work.
2. 20 stunning beaches and coves
Several kilometres of beautiful coastline reveal 20 lovely beaches and coves. The coves around Port Charlotte and Saint-Eugène provide unparalleled peace for those looking to swim or read with no distractions (other than outstanding natural beauty). Head to Le Skate Park water sports centre if you’re looking for an active time or if you have small children, the central beach has beach games made of driftwood to enjoy. There are two designated Handiplage, six with lifeguards in summer, and one that has starred in a famous French film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot. Plus, three of Saint-Nazaire’s beaches have Blue Flag status.
3. La Havane district
The La Havane district transports you back to the 1900s. Stroll along the seafront and enjoy the sight of beautiful, coloured houses. The names of the streets – “Havane”, “Vera Cruz”, “Santander” – remind visitors of the many destinations of the transatlantic ships built in Saint-Nazaire.
4. A town full of art
Stunning street art and murals can be found on the walls across Saint-Nazaire, including a six-storey-high abstract composition by American Ellen Rutt and enigmatic figures painted by Chilean artists Inti and La Robot de Madera in the Petit Maroc Quarter. You can also find sculptures and art installations throughout the seaside town. Saint-Nazaire Tourist Office has a free guide to help you find them all – “Parcours à Saint-Nazaire – l’Art en Ville”! The guide also highlights the unique open-air contemporary art collection, Estuaire, with 34 works to see along 60km of estuary.
5. Les Escales Festival
On the last weekend of July, Saint-Nazaire hosts an incredible festival featuring both new and established artists across diverse genres: pop, rock, soul, world and electro. The festival supports various social causes, offering a platform for young designers, promoting local food and having stalls for charitable organisations on-site.
6. The Customs Officers’ Path
Whether you’re looking for an intense hike or gentle stroll, explore Brittany’s longest waterfront pedestrian path, over 1,240 miles from Mont-Saint-Michel to the Saint-Nazaire Bridge. The GR®34 coastal path stretches 145km and can be covered in five days but there are many shorter walks to enjoy for non-hikers near Saint-Nazaire with its magnificent wild coastline that stretches for 15 km with gorgeous beaches and coves!
7. Explore Escal’Atlantic
Enter the world of legendary ocean liners, learning about the history of transatlantic vessels via interactive devices and games. Look at over 200 artefacts from legendary cruise ships including a chandelier from France (1962) and silverware from Normandie (1935).
8. Visit the submarine Espadon
Named after swordfish, the Espadon was the first French submarine to sail beyond the Arctic Circle and dive under the ice fields in the 1960s. Experience life underwater in this steel giant complete with sound effects as you head aboard the only floating submarine in France that civilians can visit. Two English audio guides are available – one for adults (Marc the reporter) and one for children over 7 years old (Jean le Bidou)!
9. Visit Saint-Nazaire’s shipyard “Chantiers de l’Atlantique”
Every time a ship leaves the shipyard, an amazing open-air show is held in the Loire Estuary, delighting both locals and visitors. Two-hour guided tours of the shipyard are available in eight languages, including English. Head to the heart of the shipyard to learn all about the incredible ships that have been built at Saint-Nazaire: France, Queen Mary 2, Harmony of the Seas… Discover the secrets of the construction process that keep Harmony of the Seas, the world’s longest cruise ship, and Symphony of the Seas, its sister ship, the world’s largest cruise ship, afloat. Enough to send shivers down your spine!
10. Near Saint-Nazaire, wander around Briere Regional Natural Park
Since 1970, Saint-Nazaire has been one of the 21 towns and villages that make up the Brière Regional Natural Park. As one of the largest wetlands in France and encompassing France’s second largest marshland, there are tons of opportunities to decompress and get away from the hustle and bustle to enjoy exceptional flora and fauna – from Rozé port to Kerhinet village in Saint-Lyphard.
Head out on the water for a boat ride or take a stroll on dry land simply enjoying the sight of the Loire river. The Pierre Constant Regional Nature Reserve in Saint-Malo-de-Guersac is the perfect place for ornithologists, depending on the season, you can see herons and Eurasian spoonbills, bluethroats, wagtails, and swamp sparrows as well as, of course, ducks and geese.
You can also discover the wonderful world of arts and crafts and gastronomic specialities. Brière is known for its thatched houses – you can find over 3,000 in the area. We recommend trying some langouille, a sausage made with pork tongue that works brilliantly in picnics and aperitifs, or escargots cooked in various ways. Local woodworkers also craft using an unusual wood called ‘le morta’, fossilised oak that is hard and dark, which is used to make knives, sculptures, and jewellery.
Find out more: https://www.saint-nazaire-tourisme.uk/
Lead photo credit : Plage Saint-Nazaire © Farid Makhlouf
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