Insider's Guide: Pays de la Loire

 

This week we travel to Pays de la Loire with Virginie Priou, press officer of the region's tourist office.

1. If the weather's good, then get out and about on a bike. The Loire valley is great cycling country with dedicated cycle trails and quiet lanes (cycling-loire.com). This is a fantastic way to see the many famed chateaux and cities, such as Saumur. And the Loire à Vélo scheme ensures cyclists are made welcome at B&Bs, small inns and restaurants all along the route.

2. Find out more about muscadet, the local wine, which is made from a single variety of grape. With 11,500 hectares under vine, this is the biggest certified white-wine growing area in the world. Try a taste at the Maison des Vins de Loire in Nantes (vinsvaldeloire.fr).

3. Discover the local flora and fauna at the Terra Botanica (terrabotanica .fr), which offers a fun insight into the life of plants. The park is handy for Angers, too, which is worth a visit for its magnificent castle alone.

4. Nantes (nantes-tourisme.com) remains largely unknown to British tourists, yet it's one of the most exciting cities in France. The former industrial sites, estuary, and port are now home to year-round art installations and cultural festivals. In 2012, the city will host a huge celebration of international art and culture (levoyageanantes.fr).

5. Visit the salt pans of the Guérande (terredesel.fr). This traditional way of extracting salt from seawater may look like an ancient industry but it still thrives because discerning chefs are creating worldwide demand for the ultra pure Fleur de Sel produced here. Learn more about the process from one of the salt-pan harvesters during a 90-minute guided tour.

6. Everyone knows Le Mans (lemans tourism.fr) for motor sport. However, the old city is a little jewel, with cobbled streets with half-timbered houses, elegant hotels and a near perfect medieval town and a remarkable third-century Roman wall.

7. Arguably the most opulent place to eat in the region is La Cigale (lacigale .com). This famous brasserie – a great example of Art Nouveau – was built in 1895 and has the best breakfasts plus keenly priced daily menus for lunch and dinner. Enjoy fresh oysters surrounded by the atmosphere of the Belle Epoque.

8. Jules Verne was one of the famous sons of Nantes, and a museum (nantes.fr/julesverne) dedicated to his life and works has recently opened. It's a small space but it elegantly presents an insight into his fantastical world.

9. At Escal Atlantic in St Nazaire (saint-nazaire-tourisme.com) you can see re-creations of the transatlantic liners Normandie and France, which, in their time, were the fastest and most luxurious way to travel to and from the United States. The exhibition takes visitors from engine room to bridge. And the 1950s submarine Espadon, here, recreates naval life under the sea. Aviation fans can visit the Airbus factory to see A380s (and others) being assembled.

10. The Pays de la Loire has some of the longest sandy beaches in Europe. There's plenty of space, even on the sunniest days. St Jean de Monts and La Baule are known to many Brits, but try Pont-Mahé, Mesquer and Quimiac as attractive alternatives.

To find out more about holidays in Pays de la Loire and across France, visit the website of Abtof, the Association of British Tour Operators in France (franceyes youcan.com).

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