With one of the most beautiful bays in the world, Les Sables d’Olonne doesn’t just offer an incredibly beautiful coastline but also plenty of ways to discover the local history, culture and gastronomy. Plus, if you’re a sports fan, the town has been named a Terre de jeux 2024, a place where Olympic athletes can prepare, so it’s the perfect place to try surfing, cycling, or even javelin. Here are eleven great reasons to visit Les Sables d’Olonne from mosaic-covered houses to epic festivals.
1. Marvel at one of the most beautiful bays in the world
Les Sables was awarded the “Most Beautiful Bay in the World” label in 2021. It’s no surprise with the wild coasts, sandy beaches, and diverse nature. It’s also a brilliant place to indulge in nautical activities: surfing, sailing, kite surfing, and even sea wading (longe-côte). Les Sables d’Olonne is also the stage for major events including the famous Vendée Globe, the greatest sailing race around the world, and the Golden Globe Race, an incredible solo around-the-world sailing race. Walk along the unmissable seaside promenade with traces of history from the first seaside baths in the 19th century — old villas, hotels and varied architecture, from art deco to art nouveau through to the present day.
2. Immerse yourself in the spirit of adventure
Embark on a maritime adventure in Les Sables d’Olonne, a city with five ports and a long tradition of seafarers, ocean races and sailors.
Les Sables d’Olonne has always been a land of adventurers, whether they are the cod fishing campaigns of the 17th century, pirates and privateers or simply passionate amateur sailors.
Today’s adventurers are the skippers who set off for a world tour and sail up the mythical channel of Les Sables d’Olonne: Samantha Davies, Ellen MacArthur, Alex Thompson and other British skippers, in the two major offshore races — Golden Globe Race and the Vendée Globe.
The 1st edition of the golden globe race started in England in 1968. Robin Knox Johnston won it, he has since been ennobled by the Queen. Ellen Mac Arthur, 2nd in the 2000-2001 Vendée Globe, was also recognized as Lady by the Queen.
3. Get to grips with the Sablais heritage
Whether you’re interested in the seaside, maritime history, religion, or the natural world, Les Sables d’Olonne has it all: ancient seaside villas, churches, monuments, and boats like the trawler Kifanlo, an official historic monument.
Plus, a museum dedicated to seafarers, NACEO, is set to be created in the coming years. In addition to its buildings, the city endeavours to renovate its neighbourhoods including the town centre of Olonne.
This heritage is highlighted through guided tours offered to the public, led by speakers from the Tourist Office to tell you more about the seaside architecture, fishermen’s district, Les Sables seen by painters and more.
4. Experience l’art de vivre à la sablaise
Les Sables d’Olonne with its beaches, ports and wild coasts enjoys a setting that encourages relaxation and being active.
It is the perfect place to embody the art of living: walking, hiking, well-being, and breathing in the fresh sea air. For locals, walking by the sea is part of everyday life, living to the rhythm of tides and seasons. In summer, go for picnics, beach restaurants, and sea baths.
For the more sporty, opt for surfing available all year round or other sports like BungyPump and running.
Sit with a café or hot chocolate on the embankment with a treat from the chocolatiers for the gourmands, shop in the city centre, select produce at the neighbourhood market, or an enjoyable evening at the port.
In short, why not choose the pleasure of living the present moment & enjoying the good times?
5. Experience the Sablais terroir
The clay soil rich in minerals and salt air are the key factors that contribute to the production of wines that harmonise so well with local seafood products, fish, and chocolates. Try some for yourself at Domaine St Nicolas and Domaine des Granges. Domaine St Nicolas, located in the place called les Clous on the island of Olonne, is considered today one of the early innovators in biodynamic cultivation. The Domaine des Granges focuses on organic farming. The family that currently operates the estate, the Nobiron family, comes from the 4th generation of winemakers. It produces outstanding red, rosé, white and even sparkling white wines in the Champagne method.
The fishing port of Les Sables d’Olonne is third in France in terms of the value of the products, providing seasonal fish and crustaceans, all year round. The salt of the marshes is added to the products of the local farms in the kitchen to create unique flavours.
Head slightly away from the sea for scooter rides in the vineyards with Libert-e-trott, tasting visits at the St Nicolas estate, a guided tour of the auction house with the association Mer Avenir, meeting sauniers (salt manufacturers) in the heart of the salt marshes, and more.
6. Ocean and environmental protection
Les Sables d’Olonne has great cycle paths so visitors can rent a bike and discover the town and coast without using a car — sea buses are also available. Plus, you can find out more about what the area is doing to help ensure the ecosystem thrives for years to come. ADEV and APNO 2 local associations organise guided tours about protecting the local animal species, and exceptional environment. Discover the dunes, oases, bourbes, and moors; learn about the primary role of beach leachates (litter brought by tides) that feed or shelter birds and other animal species.
7. Watch exciting sporting events
Les Sables d’Olonne organises both national and international events, such as offshore races, Iron Man, Vendée Va’a, surf/wave-ski championships, and more.
The area was recently named a Terre de jeux 2024, which will allow the town to host foreign sports delegations to train as part of the preparation of the Paris 2024 Olympics. Water sports are not the only sports on offer, you can try your hand at target shooting, boxing, javelin, archery, 3D shooting, badminton, motocross, X Terra, and darts.
8. Having a fun time
Party at one of the festivals that happen throughout the year from classical music and theatre to magic and comedy. The main festivals include:
- The Festival Souffleur d’Arundel (theatre & humour) in July-August
- Unity Festival (French songs) in July
- Spring Baroque Music Festival
- Classical Music Festival: “Villa Charlotte classics” in September
- La Fou Day in the region, dedicated to classical music, in January
- The Magic Festival in February
- St Maths’Humour Laughter Festival in November
In the day, head to MASC, a modern and contemporary art museum that features original works in the old Sainte-Croix Benedictine priory founded in 1622.
9. Meeting local talent
Artists and artisans to discover include Thomas Fleury, a bladesmith, Danièle Arnaud Aubin, an artist who creates mosaics on the facades of houses in Ile Penotte, and Matthieu Portero, a manufacturer of windsurfing boards. Also, explore the work of Marc-Arnaud Pavageau, a gemologist, Dorothée Hoffmann, an art restorer, Emeline Chauderlot, a stained glass technician and restorer, Patricia Garandeau, owner of Savonnerie Sablaise (handmade), and Patrice Devalez who produces old-fashioned, 100% natural and organic vermouths.
10. Rest in a cosy address
Here are few suggestions for relaxing accommodation in the area:
- La Vigie Residence at the foot of a lighthouse, the Armandèche
- Bed and breakfast, Les Corderies, a beautiful building with Sablais heritage
- Les Roches Noires Hotel & Spa, facing the sea and a great surf spot
- The West Coast Hotel & Spa, 1930s-inspired décor right by the sea
- The Residence Pierre and Holiday Villas of Olonne, close to exceptional natural spaces: forest, marshes, and beaches
11. Savour great food
There are plenty of restaurants offering high-quality cuisine at great prices that make the most of the fresh local fish and produce. Here are a few top picks:
- Le Resto la suite SVP — a cuisine that mixes local products and exotic flavours, helmed by Mélanie Sire, who worked with Paul Bocuse in Florida, then Joël Robuchon in Paris.
- Le Quai des saveurs — 2 toques in the Gault&Millau thanks to the gourmet cuisine of chef Maxime Dourdin who worked at George V in Paris then in Geneva.
- L’Abissiou — based in the city centre, chef Boris Harispe has worked in Michelin-starred establishments in the south of France and Savoie, and cooks delicate dishes with seasonal products. A subtle, very refined cuisine.
- Loulou Côte Sauvage — a seafront restaurant with exceptional views serving chef Jean-Marie Guerry’s creations.
- The Cayola — faces the bay of the same name, 2 toques in the Gault&Millau guide – its chef Sébastien Bonavita offers flavourful, gourmet cuisine.
- Arthur’s Cabin — rustic beach restaurant, specialising in plancha cooking.
- La Cotriade les Sables d’Olonne — two fish restaurants, serving indulgent seafood platters.
Lead photo credit : Explore sandy beaches © Farid Makhlouf
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