Our pick of the must-see spots along this coastal tour of western France from the Castle of the Dukes and splendid vineyards to life-size science fiction and Europe’s tallest sand dune. Note: this article is part of the megafeature “West Coast Road Trip“.
The Castle of the Dukes
A few metres from Nantes’ shopping streets, this stunning château juxtaposes centuries of royal history with the modern city life that surrounds it. Do the full tour of the museum from top to bottom or simply amble through the grounds.
Life-Size Science Fiction
Just over the bridge from Nantes city centre, you can enter the world of science-fiction writer Jules Verne in Les Machines de l’Île, encountering larger-than-life mechanical creatures and exploring the workshop where they are brought to life.
Brasserie La Cigale
In a high-status location on Place Graslin, La Cigale is the dining equivalent of The Ritz in Nantes. The interior is bursting with gold and green enamelling and potted palms, reminiscent of an Agatha Christie setting. Once visited, it stays with you.
Le Vieux Port
For a town that grew thanks to its fishing and maritime industries, it’s no surprise that the Old Port is La Rochelle’s central hub. During the day, you can bask in the sunshine while at night there are twinkling lights; whatever the time, enjoy the hubbub.
Walk the Ramparts
For the best views of La Rochelle’s rooftops and harbour, climb up to the walkways of the ramparts. Look out for a red buoy, which marks where Cardinal Richelieu ordered a seawall to be built during the Great Siege of La Rochelle 1627-1628.
Aquarium La Rochelle
This is one of the country’s top aquariums, showcasing more than 600 different species and more than 12,000 animals – including sharks! Conveniently located near the Old Port, it’s well worth a few hours of your time.
The Île de Ré
A 30-minute drive west of La Rochelle, the Île de Ré is where chic Parisians love to unwind, so the island is suffused with city sophistication. You’ll never see more designer espadrilles, sunglasses and linen beachwear in one place!
The vast underground crypt in this basilica is one of the largest in Europe. Look for the ornate carvings atop the pillars: the weighing of souls and Daniel in the lions’ den as well as modern additions depicting Covid-19.
You’ll inevitably pass the 276,000 acres of vineyards, so why not do one of the many tours on offer? The views are spectacular, vigneron properties are usually fabulous and you’ll literally get a taste of the region.
The Water Mirror
While you’re in Bordeaux, make sure you allow time to visit the Place de la Bourse and its surreal, artistic water feature, the Miroir d’eau. It creates a mirror effect, reflecting the buildings upside-down, and provides a very 21st-century focal point for the town.
Europe’s Tallest Sand Dune
The Dune du Pilat is a veritable sand mountain. At over 100m high and nearly 3km long, bordered by pine forests and the ocean, it’s a breathtaking place to visit, especially at sunset, or from a paraglider!
Gascony’s Regional Nature Park
This extensive protected area inland from Arcachon and south of Bordeaux is a peaceful haven of wetlands and woodlands. Slip away from the crowds, into the dappled shade and enjoy cycling, paddleboarding or canoeing.
From France Today Magazine
Lead photo credit : The Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes © Cil Via
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