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Loire-Atlantique

Travel Guide Europe France Pays de la Loire Loire-Atlantique

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Introduction

Fountain of Place Royale, Nantes

Fountain of Place Royale, Nantes

© All Rights Reserved lil_lil

Loire-Atlantique (formerly Loire-Inférieure) is a department on the north-western coast of France named after both the River Loire and the Atlantic Ocean. It was originally part of the Duchy of Brittany, and therefore is still culturally linked in many ways to the Breton heritage. The capital of Loire-Atlantique is Nantes.

Loire-Atlantique is made up of a mosaic of areas with distinctive characters. Nantes is the centre of arts, history, culture and trade. The seaside resorts of La Baule and Pornichet are popular among the French. Presqu'île Guérandaise produces tens of thousand tons of fine sea salt each year. From Le Croisic and La Turballe fresh seafood including oysters and scallops are brought in. Of course, not forgetting the wineyards that produce all the bottles of Muscadet and Gros Plant.

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Geography

Loire-Atlantique is part of the administrative region of Pays de la Loire. It shares borders with the departments of Morbihan and Ille-et-Vilaine (both in the region of Brittany) to the north, Maine-et-Loire to the east, Vendée to the south, and opens to the Atlantic on the west.

The main river crossing Loire-Atlantique is, obvious, River Loire. Its tributaries, the Erdre and the Sèvre, also flow through the department. It also boasts a natural park - Parc Naturel Régional de la Grand Brière - and a major lake in Loire-Atlantique is Lac de Grande-Lieu.

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Cities

The main cities and towns in Loire-Atlantique include:

  • Prefecture: Nantes
  • Sub-prefectures: Ancenis, Châteaubriant, Saint-Nazaire
  • Other towns: Clisson, Guérande , La Baule, Le Croisic, Pornic

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Sights and Activities

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

The Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany), dated back to 13th century, was both a residential palace and a military fortress. The grounds and the ramparts of the castles are open for free visit daily, except 1 January, 1 May, 1 November and 25 December. The castle also houses the Musée d'Histoire de Nantes (Nantes History Museum).

Les Machines de l'Île

Les Machines de l'Ile

Les Machines de l'Ile

© All Rights Reserved lil_lil

Les Machines de l'Île (Machines of the Isle of Nantes) hosts a number of mechanical animals including the Great Elephant which a ride can be taken, offering a vintage point of view from this part of Nantes.

Salt Marshes of Guérande

The area of Guérande is famous for its fine salt known as fleur de sel and a trip to the village of Saillé nearby brings visitors to the famous salt marshes. The Maison des Paludiers documents the history of salt-panning in the area.

Seaside Resort of La Baule

La Baule boasts a long sandy beach that stretches about 8 kilometres in length and it is a seaside resort popular among the French. A stroll a couple of streets inland from the coast reveals fine examples of architecture of seaside villas of the area.

Le Croisic

The fishing village of Le Croisic lies on a peninsula reaching 5 kilometres into the Atlantic, to the west of La Baule. The largest private aquarium in France, Océarium du Croisic, can be found here.

Château de Clisson

The ruins of the Château de Clisson perches dominantly on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Sèvre.

Parc Naturel Régional de la Grand Brière

The Parc Naturel Régional de la Grand Brière consists of a landscape of reed beds crossed by canals, and is best explored by boat, accompanied by local guides.

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Events and Festivals

  • La Folle Journée (The Follies of a Day), end of January/early February: annual classical music festival in Nantes, and the largest of its kind in France, each year focuses on particular theme/composer.
  • Fête Médiévale, May: medieval festival in Guérande, complete with costumes and jousting matches.
  • Printemps des Arts, May-June: annual European Baroque festival in Nantes with music and dance performances.
  • Fête de la Musique, 21 June: a musical celebration, all over the department, of the summer solstice.
  • Estuaire, June to August: biennial contemporary art exhibition between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire (along the Loire estuary).
  • Pardon de La Baule, third Sunday of August: paying homage to traditional Breton folklore, celebrated with traditional Breton instruments such as the bagpipes and shawm, held in La Baule.
  • Festival Les Rendez-vous de l'Erdre, late August: a celebration of Jazz along River Erdre.
  • Festival Les Celtomania, October: a festival that celebrates all things culturally Breton, from music to art.
  • Festival des 3 Continents (Festival of the Three Continents), end of November: annual film festival in Nantes devoted to the cinematography from Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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Weather

Loire-Atlantique has temperate oceanic climate, which means generally mild weather all year round. It's not too warm in the summer months, with temperature hovering around 22 °C to 26 °C, whereas the winter months remain cool at around 7 °C to 10 °C. It can be very wet in the winter too, with occasional frosts.

Seaside villa of La Baule

Seaside villa of La Baule

© All Rights Reserved lil_lil

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Getting There

By Plane

The main airport is the Aéroport Nantes Atlantique (NTE), formerly Aéroport Château Bougon, which is located about 12 kilometres from Nantes. Air France operates several direct domestic and European flights daily, connecting to cities including Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nice, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, London and Amsterdam. Ryanair flies direct to Dublin, Shannon, Milan (Bergamo), Barcelona, Leeds and East Midlands. Iberia serves both Madrid and Barcelona in Spain. Other destinations (some services may be limited to certain months/ seasons) served include Casablanca, Agadir, Québec, Pointe-à-Pitre, Fort-de-France, Saint-Denis de la Réunion and Port Louis.

By Train

Rail travel most likely involves connections via Nantes, where main services use the TGV and Corail and the connection within the region via TER (Train Express Regional). Nantes is linked by TGV to major French cities, including Paris (2 hours), Lille (4 hours), Lyon (4.5 hours) and Marseille (6.5 hours). It is also linked to other cities by Corail including Bordeaux (4 hours) and Toulouse (6.5 hours), whereas rail travel by TER connects Nantes to regional cities including Rennes (1.5 hours), Tours (2 hours) and Orléans (2.5 hours).

By Car

Major roads crisscrossing into Loire-Atlantique commonly link via Nantes, including A11 to Paris via Angers and Le Mans, by E62 to Poitiers, by E60/N165 to Brest, by A83 to Niort, by E03 to La Rochelle, and by E03/N137 to Rennes.

By Bus

Nantes is served by Eurolines buses, connecting it to other major European cities.

By Boat

While both Nantes and Saint-Nazaire are port cities, they're used for commercial traffic only. There are, however, ferries from UK and Ireland that arrive at various ports in Brittany and Normandy, including Caen, Cherbourg and Saint-Malo. From there, a train or a car journey is required to get to Loire-Atlantique.

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Getting Around

By Train

TER trains connect the main cities/towns within Loire-Atlantique, often involving a stopover to change trains in Nantes. Train journey times from Nantes to the following cities/towns are: Ancenis - 15 minutes, Châteaubriant - 3.5 hours (via Rennes), Saint-Nazaire - 35 minutes, Clisson - 15 minutes, La Baule - 1 hour, Le Croisic - 1.5 hours, Pornic - 1 hour. There are no train options to Guérande.

By Car

Getting around by car, with Nantes as the point of departure, uses N165 follows by N171 to Saint-Nazaire, La Baule and Guérande. N171 also links these aforementioned to Châteaubriant. D178 directly links Nantes to Châteaubriant. To get to Ancenis from Nantes, take N23. Clisson can be accessed from Nantes via N249, followed by D763. Pornic is linked to Saint-Nazaire by D213 and to Nantes by D751, followed by N137.

By Bus

Lila bus network extensively connects the various cities and towns in the Loire-Atlantique.

By Boat

Boat cruises are in operation between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. The best way to explore Parc Naturel Régional de la Grand Brière is also by boat.

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Eat

Seasoned fleur de sel of Guérande

Seasoned fleur de sel of Guérande

© All Rights Reserved lil_lil

Food and drink in Loire-Atlantique is very much influenced by its Breton heritage. The following are some of the more traditional dishes that visitors to Loire-Atlantique should try.

Savoury

  • Galette de sarrasin (buckwheat pancake) which originated from the Upper Brittany region is a savoury crêpe made from buckwheat flour (blé noir or sarrasin in French), water and egg, forming a dark and thicker pancake. Often filled with egg, cheese, meat and even vegetables, it is very filing and make a meal on its own.
  • Kig ha Farz (Breton for "meat and flour") is not exactly a dish you'll see listed in restaurant menus but it is distinct and unusual that if you do see it, try it. Crumbly dumplings made from buckwheat (hence the farz) in a sack/linen bag are left to stew in a broth together with meat (usually fatty belly bacon, the kig) and vegetables, seasoned with bouquet garni.
  • Andouille de Guémené is a pork-based specialty, normally made from pork meat, chitterlings, pepper, onions, wine and seasonings.
  • Moules marinières are giant bowls of succulent mussels steamed open in white wine, shallots and parsley.
  • Assiette de fruits de mer (seafood platter) is usually served as a mountainous heap of langoustines, crabs, oysters, mussels, clams, whelks and cockles. They are usually served fresh and raw.
  • Soupe de poissons (fish soup) is traditionally served with rouille (a type of garlicky mayonnaise), some grated cheese and sprinkles of croutons. Poissonneries in the area also sell freshly made soup in glass jars/cans to be purchased and brought home.
  • Fromage du Curé Nantais is a cows milk cheese developed by a priest near Nantes, best served with Muscadet or Gros Plant (a very dry white wine).
  • Fleur du sel refers to the fine salt produced in the salt marshes of villages by Guérande and a variety of spiced fleur de sel is available, making them great as seasonings for cooking and eating (e.g. mix with some olive oil as dip for breads).

Sweet

  • Crêpe (wheatflour pancake) is usually served as a sweet course (perfect to follow a galette de sarrasin), which can be filled simply with just butter and sugar (beurre et sucre), or with jams or chocolate spread, or even flambéed with orange liqueur to make a crêpe Suzette.
  • Caramel au beurre salé (salted butter caramel), regardless if it's in the liquid caramel form (great as sauce for crêpe) or the more solid candies or as fillings inside ice cream/ chocolate/ macarons, is one of the best treats one can get. Nowadays, they can be purchased all over France but remember, its origin is in the regions of Normandy and Brittany where dairy produce and fine salt are abundant.
  • Far Breton is a prune flan, somewhat like a dense custard tart but without the pastry crust. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the batter use to make the far is quite similar to that use to make the crêpe. The prunes used may be as they come (destoned, of course), or the rum or Armagnac-soaked variety.
  • Kouign Amann makes the perfect treat for lovers of butter and sugar cakes. Make that lots of butter. Or even better, those made using best quality salted butter. Caramelised sugar and butter cakes have never tasted so good. You can worry about the diet after the trip is over.
  • Petit beurre (little butter) are cookies originally made by LU and simple as these butter cookies may be, they're great with a cup of hot beverage. Petit écolier are petit beurre topped with a layer of chocolate.

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Drink

The cidre Breton (Breton cider) is available either as brut (dry), demi-sec (medium) or doux (sweet), and these ciders are naturally a little fizzy. A variation of the cocktail Kir (white wine with crème de cassis) is Kir Breton, where the white wine is substituted with the Breton cider and it is normally served as an apéritif.

Chouchen is a popular alcoholic beverage that was traditionally made of cider and honey but in modern days it is a form of mead, fermented from honey and water. Buckwheat honey is used, imparting its dark colour and distinct flavour to the chouchen. It is usually served cool as an apéritif.

Pommeau is made by mixing unfermented cider to one-year-old Calvados (a type of apple Brandy), and left to age in oak barrels for about 30 months. It is smooth to taste, with notes of vanilla, caramel and butterscotch. Pommeau from Brittany is known as Pommeau de Bretagne.

The Loire Valley regions near Nantes is also renowned for the production of Muscadet (not to be confused with the similar sounding Muscat, usually used to make sweet dessert wine), a white wine produced from Melon de Bourgogne grape variety. Muscadet wines are generally light-bodied and relatively dry, making it quite fresh, particularly when properly chilled. Those that have been left to age sur lie (i.e. wine left to remain in contact with dead yeast left over after fermentation) tend to have fuller body with fruity note. Muscadet is perfect for pairing with oyster, as well as with the other seafood and shellfish that are available in abundance.

An alternative to Muscadet, for those who prefers very dry white wine, is Gros Plant.

Quick Facts

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Department number
44
Population
1,234,085 (2006)
Land area
6,815 km²
Prefecture
Nantes

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This is version 5. Last edited at 19:06 on Oct 23, 10 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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