Pays de la Loire (lands of the Loire River) is a region in the west of France. It's named after the mighty Loire River, and it’s made up of 5 departments, from rural Sarthe in the east to Loire-Atlantique along the coast. Pays de la Loire offers a wide range of landscapes, from the granite coast of the southern part of Brittany to the marsh of Poitou to the quaint countryside of Maine. Nantes is the capital city of Pays de la Loire. It has a splendid castle to explore and an excellent food culture.

    Pays de la Loire is a popular place, with something for history buffs, seafood fanatics, white wine enthusiasts, and nature lovers. From castles to zoos, and from vineyards to white-sand beaches, Pays de la Loire is a great region to explore and enjoy. 

    What are the best things to do in Pays de la Loire?


    Cité Plantagenet in Le Mans

    Take a journey through time and history

    • History
    • Photo

    Le Mans is the capital city of the rural province of Maine. The city is famous for its motor racing circuit. Cité Plantagenet is the name of Le Mans old town, a well-preserved area surrounded by a Roman wall. It features narrow cobbled streets, in which you’ll find Saint-Julien de Mans Cathedral, gothic mansions, timber buildings, quaint restaurants, art and craft boutiques and more. Le Mans old town was entirely renovated in the mid-1970s, and now offers an enjoyable journey through history.

    Get a map at the tourism office located at the intersection between Rue de l’Etoile and François Mitterrand Avenue, and go explore Cité Plantagenet. Don't miss the Carré Plantagenet Museum if you’re interested in the history of the House of Plantagenet. You can also join a guided tour of the old town for a small fee.

    Location: In the centre of Le Mans


    Guérande Walled Town

    Stroll back into medieval times

    • History
    • Photo

    Settled in the centre of a peninsula, Guérande is one of the best preserved medieval towns in France. From the fortified wall to the salt marshes to the Brière Regional Natural Park, Guérande and its immediate surroundings offer a great range of places to visit. Fully surrounded by a 1,500-metre-long granite rampart, the old town has beautiful narrow streets that you can stroll through. They host arts and crafts boutiques and food shops, many of them serving the local speciality: sweet and salty crepes.

    Porte Saint-Michel Museum, Saint Aubin’s Church, and Notre-Dame la Blanche Church are 3 of the most notable places to see in Guérande, but you can’t leave this area without a guided visit of the salt marshes just west of town. Produced for at least a millennium, the salt of Guérande is famous throughout France, and the ‘fleur de sel’ (salt flower) produced here is even more famous as it’s used by many world-class chefs.

    Another area that you should not miss if you come to Guérande is the Brière Regional Natural Park, located some 10 km eastward. This 7,000-hectare wetland offers a pristine playground for serene rides in rowboats.

    Location: 20 km northwest of Saint Nazaire


    Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes

    Step into the history of Brittany

    The Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) dates back to the 13th century. It's a fortress that features seven towers linked by a sentry walkway. It became a municipal museum in 1924. Nowadays, it hosts an urban history museum. You can discover a wide range of exhibits related to Nantes and to the region Pays de la Loire. Featuring historical objects as well as multimedia installations, you’ll learn a lot in a fun and educational way through 7 permanent exhibitions. You should look out for temporary events including live music and art shows. 

    Don't miss the free walk on the rampart, ending with a slide going down the side of the castle.

    Location: In the centre of Nantes, a walk away from a lively area of restaurants and boutiques

    Open: Courtyard and rampart walk, daily from 8.30 am to 7 pm. Museum from 10 am to 6 pm. Closed on Mondays.

    Phone: +33 (0)2 43 48 19 19


    Passage Pommeraye in Nantes

    Shop in a vintage-style shopping mall

    The Passage Pommeraye is a covered street built in 1840 in the centre of Nantes. It offers a route between La Fosse and Santeuil Streets, and features splendid Renaissance-style architecture, with staircases and statues sheltered by a glass ceiling. With a length of about 100 metres, this shopping street gives you the feeling of stepping back into the 19th century.

    The Passage Pommeraye is a lively shopping street that hosts over 25 elegant boutiques and coffee shops in a 3-level shopping arcade. From fashion to interior decoration and from local food to jewels, the boutiques here are rather upscale, in line with the classy appearance of the place. Beautiful and pleasant all year round, the Passage Pommeraye is especially appealing at Christmas time.

    Location: The Passage Pommeraye links La Fosse and Santeuil Streets in the centre of Nantes

    Open: From 8 am to 8 pm daily


    Fontevraud Abbey

    Explore one of the largest surviving medieval monastic cities in France

    • History
    • Photo

    The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud is a UNESCO World Heritage site near Saumur, in the Loire Valley. Built during the 12th century, the abbey was disestablished as a monastery during the French Revolution and became one of the toughest prisons in France during the 19th century.

    Nowadays, Fontevraud Abbey is one of the most notable historic sites in Pays de la Loire. Covering 13 hectares of parkland, it’s the perfect place to take a break for a few hours, strolling around the Romanesque kitchens, the cloisters and the abbey. The majestic architecture of the edifices and the importance of the abbey throughout history makes it a must-see place.

    King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Richard the Lionheart were buried at Fontevraud Abbey at the end of the 12th century. Don't miss their reclining effigies that decorate the nave of the church Abbey.

    Location: 15 km southeast of Saumur, off D947 Road

    Phone: +33 (0)2 41 51 73 52


    Machines of the Isle of Nantes

    Enter a world of dream and fantasy in a vintage shipyard

    Inspired by Jules Vernes, Leonardo Da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes, the Machines of the Isle of Nantes are an attraction that blends fantasy, technical skill, and imagination without limits. This artistic and cultural project is in a vintage covered shipyard toward the western end of Beaulieu Island, just south to the centre of Nantes.

    Take a ride on the Great Elephant – a life-size, mechanical elephant – enjoy a tour on the Marine Worlds Carrousel and climb on the Heron Tree. All of the machines are stunning. You can also visit the workshop to see how the machines are built. The Great Elephant ride is so popular that it’s best to pre-book it online if you don't want to queue too long, particularly during summer months.

    Location: On Beaulieu Island in the heart of Nantes

    Open: November-March from 2 pm to 6 pm; April-October from 10 am to 7 pm


    La Baule Bay

    Catch some rays on the longest beach in Europe

    Stretched between Le Pouliguen and Pornichet, La Baule Bay has the longest beach in Europe – almost 9 km of white, powdery sand. La Baule is a chic seaside resort, known for its prestige hotels, first-class restaurants, vintage luxury villas, and casinos. Like all coastal destinations in south Brittany, La Baule is busy from May to September, but it never loses its stylish atmosphere.

    La Baule Beach is the main attraction from dawn ‘til dusk. Here, you’ll spot horse riders, joggers and cyclists in the morning, beachgoers all day long, and gamblers in the evening. Most leisure and sporting activities available in La Baule are located around the beach.

    La Baule is located just south of Guérande Peninsula. You can easily spice up your holiday by visiting the many attractions that lie within 10 km around La Baule, including the salt marshes, Le Croisic Aquarium, and Guérande Walled Town.

    Location: 15 km west of Saint Nazaire


    Le Puy du Fou

    See spectacular shows at this historical theme park

    Le Puy du Fou is one of the most popular theme parks in France. It takes you through the history of France. There are 26 different shows, played throughout the day in the Grand Parc. These include The Secret of the Lance, which re-enacts a battle from the Middle Ages. There's also Richelieu's Musketeers, which features striking sword fights. Each of them lasts 30 to 40 minutes. 

    The main show - the Cinéscénie - is performed in the evening on one of the largest stages in the world, right in front of a genuine castle ruin. It tells the story of the area through the past 700 years. Featuring over 2,000 actors, hundreds of horses, and impressive pyrotechnic effects, the Cinéscénie is a breathtaking performance, and one of the world’s biggest theatrical evening shows. The Grand Parc and the Cinéscénie shows can be booked separately. 

    Location: In Les Epesses, between Cholet and La Roche sur Yon on D27 Road

    Open: The Grand Parc is open from April to early November. The Cinéscénie is only performed from mid-June to mid-September.

    Phone: +33 (0) 820 09 10 10


    photo by Absinthologue (CC0 1.0) modified


    Zoo de la Flèche

    Visit one of the most popular private zoos in France

    Head to Zoo de la Flèche to see over 1,600 animals representing about 160 species. Settled on 18 hectares of lush land, Zoo de la Flèche ranks among the most popular attractions in Pays de la Loire. It features different areas for each type of animal. This includes a hothouse for the reptiles, and a 2-hectare field named the Asian Plain for rhinoceros and antelopes.

    Zoo de la Flèche has 5 restaurants and 4 snack stalls around the park. It’s famous for its the animals shows, performed throughout the day. The otters show at the Marine World section of the zoo and the free-flight bird show are open every day from April to October and are not to be missed. 

    For an additional fee, you can become a keeper for a day at Zoo de la Flèche. You’ll do what pro zookeepers do on a daily basis, including feeding the animals and cleaning their enclosure.

    Location: Just southeast of La Flèche on D104 Road

    Phone: +33 (0)2 43 48 19 19


    Western Loire Valley Vineyards

    Taste wines and learn about how they’re produced

    Pays de la Loire sits on the western side of the Loire Valley. In this region, you’ll find 2 areas reputed for their wines: The Nantais (around Nantes) and the Anjou-Saumur (between Angers and Saumur). Muscadet and Gros-plant are the 2 wine labels produced near Nantes. These crisp white wines pair perfectly with seafood. Slightly further east, Anjou-Saumur features a broad range of white, red and rosé wines that have varying degrees of sweetness.

    From ‘Le Vignoble Marchais’ in Thouaré sur Loire (near Nantes) to ‘le Domaine du Closel’ in Savennières (near Angers), there are many vineyards that can be visited in Pays de la Loire. Here, you’ll meet passionate producers, learn how they work, and taste their wines in a friendly atmosphere. It’s safer to hire a driver or use public transport if you go for a wine-tasting day in Pays de la Loire.

    Location: Between Nantes and Angers


    Seafood in Les Sables-d’Olonne

    Sample langoustines by the seaside

    Head to Les Sables-d’Olonne to sample fresh langoustines at one of the restaurants located near the marina, particularly along Quai René Guiné. Situated in the southwest part of Pays de la Loire, Les Sables-d’Olonne is a seaside town that belongs to Vendée department. It’s especially renowned for being the departure and arrival point of the Vendée Globe, the famous round-the-world yacht race held every 4 years. It also hosts a zoo, museums, and plenty of other things to see and do.

    The marina is a lively place to wander around. It contains many cool places where you can try a wide variety of seafood, all caught fresh daily. Take a table with a view of the marina and watch people passing by while enjoying some delicious langoustines with mayonnaise, accompanied by a chilled glass of Muscadet. It doesn't get much better.

    Stephan Audiger | Compulsive Traveller

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