Photos: © Gitelink France network except where otherwise stated.
Top of page: Les Sables d'Olonne.
Below: scenes along the west coast
Photo of the Dune du Pilat by Uli Kutting - licence GNU.
Holiday homes in France
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, offshore fishing, oyster beds, and a broad band of low-lying or flat land, some of it marshy.
Vendée" lies south of the Loire estuary area, and covers almost half the coast between the Loire and the Gironde. Today, Vendée is a French department, capital la Roche sur Yon; but in the past the name covered a larger area. In several parts, notably around Saint Jean de Monts or Les Sables d'Olonne, the Vendée coastline is quite heavily built up with 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 most popular resort, still has an old town, with its narrow streets and whitewashed walls. And in other parts of Vendée, away from the towns, there are long sections of unspoiled coastline.
Inland, one of Vendées most popular attractions is the Puy du Fou 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.
Charente maritime department, the ports of La Rochelle and Rochefort 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.
Inland from the coast, this whole area is very pleasant; part of the Deux-Sèvres department, the "Marais Poitevin" area, is often called the "green Venice", on account of its extensive network of drainage canals and waterways. This is a region where the pace of life is slow, like the water in the rivers 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, the home of Cognac and the aperitif wine "Pineau". Several Cognac houses offer cellar visits. This generally flat agricultural and wine-growing region is famous for its historic churches, many of which have exquisite mediaeval carvings. There is a popular steam tourist railway, the Seagull line, at Saujon.
Landes" (meaning the heaths in English) , the largest 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 Aquitaine region, lie miles and miles of famous vineyards, producing a wide range of Bordeaux wines 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, between Bordeaux 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 clouds often pass over the coastal region, before breaking over the hills further inland.
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