Discover the Atlantic coast
of central western and southwest France
Les Sables d'Olonne - a popular seaside resort in Vendée with miles of
sandy beaches and a renowned yachting marina
The west coast of France, south of Brittany, is a popular
tourist area. From the mouth of
the Loire as far as the Spanish border, France's Atlantic coastline
is characterised by long expanses of sandy beaches,
oyster beds, popular yachting marinas and a broad band of low-lying or
flat land, some of it
The area known as "Vendée
of the Loire estuary area, and covers almost half the coast between the
Loire and the Gironde. Today, Vendée is a French department,
Roche sur Yon; but in the past the name covered a larger area.
parts, notably around Saint
Jean de Monts
, the Vendée coastline is quite
heavily built up
sea front development. Even so, in spite of the brash coastal
development that took place in and around the 1970s, places like Les
Sables d'Olonne have managed to conserve their old world charm, and
behind the seafront apartment blocks, les Sables, Vendée's
resort, still has an old town, with its narrow streets and whitewashed
walls. And in other parts of Vendée, away from the
are long sections of unspoiled coastline.
Inland, one of Vendées most popular
attractions is the Puy
historic theme park.
Large parts of this area lie at or even marginally
below high-water mark; and in early 2010, severe Atlantic storms
coupled with very high tides, broke through the sea defences leaving
fields and in some cases housing developments in over two metres of
water. As a result of this, and of the threat of more to come due to
global warming and rising sea levels, the French government has now
forbidden all future development in at-risk zones , and some
housing estates that have already been built, but heavily flooded, are
to be demolished.
The historic port
of La Rochelle, in the Charente Maritime
Les Charentes form part of the Poitou Charente region. South
of the historic Vendée area, in the Charente
department, the ports of La Rochelle
are very attractive, as well as being popular with ocean
yachtsmen. La Rochelle boasts one of the best and most interesting
sea-water aquariums in Europe - showpiece of the La-Rochelle based
company that has designed and built many of the other big aquariums in
Europe. Rochefort, a busy naval port in the days of
sail, is famous for its former Royal ropeworks and maritime
museum, as well as a hisotric "transporter bridge". Further to the
south, on the Gironde esturary, the
town of Royan
is a genteel seaside resort that has been popular with holiday makers
for over a century. Close by is the very popular zoo park at La Palmyre.
The area is reputed for its mild and sunny climate
Inland from the coast, this whole area is very pleasant; part
Deux-Sèvres department, the "Marais Poitevin" area, is often
called the "green Venice",
on account of its extensive network of drainage canals and waterways.
is a region where the pace of life is slow, like the water in the
that flow through it. Rowing boats can be hired in many places, and the
river Charente is navigable for 170 kilometers from its mouth at
Rochefort up to the town of Angloulême.
North west of Bordeaux
lies the Saintonge
home of Cognac
and the aperitif wine "Pineau". Several Cognac houses offer cellar
visits. This generally flat
and wine-growing region is famous for its historic churches, many of
mediaeval carvings. There is a popular steam tourist railway,
the Seagull line, at Saujon.
South of the Gironde
South west of the historic city of Bordeaux lie
(meaning the heaths
in English) ,
continuously forested area in Western Europe - though the area was not
covered in forest until the nineteenth century. Near the popular resort
of Arcachon is the Dune du Pilat, the highest sand dune in Europe. And
of course, around
Bordeaux, in the heart of the old Aquitaine
lie miles and miles of famous vineyards, producing a wide range of
that include some of the best and most expensive in the world such as
Château Mouton Rothschild, Graves, Médoc and
Sauternes.. The most famous vineyards lie in the Médoc area,
and the Atlantic, south of the Gironde estuary.
The long west-facing coast of Les Landes and the
western Pyrenees department is known as the Côte d'Argent, or
the Silver Coast. This a stretch of fine sandy beach almost 200 km long
and - away from the resorts - largely deserted, even in mid summer.
The deserted sections are accessible on bike or on foot from
the small forest roads that follow the coast, or by car at the few
small resorts nestled in the sand dunes.
At the southern end of the west coast lies the fairly
popular touristy area around Bayonne and Biarritz: but even here there
is plenty of room on the beach for everyone, even if the roads may get
a bit busy during the peak holiday period, when all the holidaymakers
and second-home owners are down for their summer break.
Behind Bayonne and the port of Saint Jean de Luz,
the last slopes of the western Pyrenees come almost down the coast,
leaving just the narrow coastal strip along which run the motorway, the
main road and the railway to Spain. The Spanish port of Bilbao - with
ferry services from the UK and the impressive Guggenheim art gallery
- is just a hundred kilometres or so along the Spanish coast
from the border crossing at Biriatou.
The climate on France's Atlantic coast is generally
mild to warm; and although rain cannot be excluded even in summer, the
often pass over the coastal region, before breaking over the hills