What to do on the Atlantic coast?


Atlantic CoastCycling TourismNature and Outdoor ActivitiesCoastal

Het landschap tussen Zuid-Bretagne en Baskenland is ongelooflijk divers en er is in elk seizoen van alles te doen.
© Office de tourisme Saint-Brevin-les-Pins / La Vélodyssée (Aurélie Stapf) / A.Lamoureux - Het landschap tussen Zuid-Bretagne en Baskenland is ongelooflijk divers en er is in elk seizoen van alles te doen.

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 6 July 2023, updated on 10 June 2024

From the south of Brittany to the Basque country, from La Baule to Hendaye, via the Bay of Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat, the vineyards of the Médoc and the great lakes of the Landes, the coastline of the Pays de la Loire and New Aquitaine is an incredible kaleidoscope of changing landscapes and vibrant atmospheres, natural and cultural treasures to be discovered at your own pace. Here is a selection of sites not to be missed and experiences to be had.

Must-sees on the Atlantic coast

la Côte Atlantique compte de nombreux spots de surf comme à Biscarosse, dans les Landes.
© Office de tourisme Bisca Grands Lacs - la Côte Atlantique compte de nombreux spots de surf comme à Biscarosse, dans les Landes.

- La Baule In the south of Brittany, just above the Loire estuary, La Baule is the most famous seaside resort in Loire-Atlantique, renowned for its grand hotels and thalassotherapy centres. Part of the very select Club des Plus Belles Baies du Monde, it stretches its long sandy beach with its colourful cabins and watersports clubs over 9 kilometres of perfectly rounded coastline. On the horizon, l'île des Evens beckons swimmers and windsurfers, while behind the seafront, Art Deco and Belle Epoque villas take you back in time under the tall pine trees. Less than 3 hours from Paris by TGV, 45 minutes from Nantes and just a few kilometres from the Brière Regional Nature Park and the Guérande salt marshes, La Baule has something for everyone in every season.

  • Saint-Nazaire Saint-Nazaire is a port city, the birthplace of the prestigious Atlantic shipyards. The former submarine base is home to Escal'Atlantic, the only museum of its kind in Europe dedicated to ocean liners. With multimedia displays, archive films and over 200 collection items on display, you'll feel like you're there! Saint-Nazaire is also a seaside town with many beaches, including Monsieur Hulot's beach at Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, a reminder of the filming of Jacques Tati's movie. Follow the customs path to Pornichet and the charming Pointe du Bé district. Offshore, you'll find Île des Evens, Baguenaud and Pierre Percée, with the 24-metre-high Grand Charpentier lighthouse marking the entrance to the Loire estuary.

  • Nantes Although not directly on the Atlantic Ocean, the city of the Dukes of Brittany, its beautiful castle, its great mechanical elephant and its extraordinary machines worthy of a Jules Verne novel, are not far off! To head west in the most beautiful way, all you have to do is embark on the Loire to reach the estuary at Saint-Nazaire. From April to October, cruises are organised to discover the flora and fauna of the river and the works of art created by le Voyage à Nantes. The Atlantic coast is revealed in all its splendour, and it's magical!

  • Pornic and the Côte de Jade (Jade Coast) From Saint-Brévin-les-Pins to Les Moutiers en Retz via Pornic, the delightful Côte de Jade is a collection of golden beaches and coves on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As you follow the coastal path, you'll come across cute little harbours, beautiful family houses and photogenic stilt fisheries. With its perched castle, that of Gilles de Rais alias Bluebeard, dominating its small marina, Pornic combines the charms of a medieval town with those of a lively family seaside resort all year round.

  • Les Sables d'Olonne Every four years, Les Sables d'Olonne in the Vendée, on the aptly-named Côte de Lumière, is the starting point for the Vendée Globe, a single-handed, non-stop, non-assisted round-the-world yacht race. The next race will take place in 2024, but you can already discover the little Vendée town, with its famous seafront embankment and the picturesque village of La Chaume on the other side of the channel. Also accessible by ferry, this old fishermen's quarter is a real picture postcard, with its narrow streets, colourful houses and local market set in an old wash-house. From the Arundel tower, it offers a breathtaking view over the great bay of Les Sables.

  • La Rochelle A fortified old port, recognisable by its famous medieval towers, lively quaysides, arcaded streets, bell towers, cloisters and a majestic town hall. La Rochelle's heritage is impressive, but that doesn't mean the atmosphere is any less relaxed. Seafood restaurants, terraces with views and, in summer, the famous Francofolies festival give the town a permanent holiday feel. People also come here for its aquarium, the Marais Poitevin just a stone's throw away and, of course, its beautiful island neighbours, the Ile de Ré and the Ile d'Oléron, both accessible by boat and linked to the mainland by a bridge.

  • Fort Boyard From Boyardville on the Ile d'Oléron or Fouras on the coast, take the shuttle (or sail) to visit Fort Boyard, an incredible oblong fortification built in the 19th century on a high seabed and now famous, thanks to the TV game show called Ford Boyard.

  • Royan Facing the Atlantic, between two estuaries, Royan has a double reputation, as much for its beaches and Belle Epoque villas as for the geographical curiosity that places it between the Seudre estuary, the smallest in Europe, and the Gironde estuary, the largest. Between vineyards and oyster marshes, you can enjoy the wild, unspoilt countryside, just a stone's throw from famous seaside resorts such as Saint-Georges-de-Didonne and Saint-Palais-sur-Mer. And for those who prefer to take it easy, the area between the two estuaries is a playground for walking, cycling and horse-riding.

  • The Cordouan lighthouse Seven kilometres off the coast of Aquitaine, accessible only at low tide by boat from Royan and Le Verdon-sur-mer, the Cordouan lighthouse has stood proudly since 1611 at the entrance to the Gironde Estuary. This "Versailles of the seas", with its state rooms and royal chapel, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2021. You can visit this historic monument (the only lighthouse at sea open to the public) from April to November, greeted by the lighthouse keeper himself. At the top of the 6 storeys (and 301 steps!), the breathtaking panorama opens out onto the Atlantic. Further south, in the Landes region, the Contis lighthouse, listed as a Historic Monument, is also well worth a visit.

  • The Arcachon basin Small oyster-farming harbours, fine sandy beaches, pine forests, flat-bottomed and pinnace boats as well as stilt huts, 50 kilometres south of Bordeaux, the Bassin d'Arcachon is like a small inland sea, linked to the Atlantic Ocean by legendary channels. Around this ever-changing blue lagoon, where the Pilat Dune takes pride, is a string of towns and small ports: Arcachon, Cap Ferret, but also La Teste de Buch, Gujan-Mestras (its Maison de l'huitre is well worth a visit and tasting), Le Teich, Biganos, Audenge, Lanton, Andernos-les-Bains, Arès...

  • The beaches and lakes of the Landes region Hossegor, Mimizan, Biscarosse, Cap Breton, Moliets. Welcome to the paradise of sandy beaches stretching for miles as far as the eye can see with famous waves. Close to the coast, the lakes of the Landes - Aureilhan in Mimizan, Léon and Biscarosse - offer a peaceful atmosphere.

  • The courants d'Huchet nature reserve In the west of the Landes département, this magnificent nature reserve lies between the Etang de Léon and the Atlantic Ocean. Here you'll find freshwater and brackish water streams, mangrove swamps, dunes, marshes, ponds and forests, as well as a wealth of plant and animal species. Known as the Little Amazon, it can be visited on foot or by boat.

  • The Bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz From the summit of La Rhune, the highest point in the Basque Country, which can be reached by cogwheel train, the panorama opens up to 360° over the moor and the Atlantic. The Bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is part of this grandiose setting, well protected from the waves by the large Socoa jetty and the Sainte-Barbe and Artha dykes. The walk along the long beach to the Fort via the little port of Ciboure is a must. Combine this with a trip on the Passeur, the bay's promenade boat.

  • Bayonne With its quirky, colourful historic centre, its half-timbered houses, its bastions, its "halles gourmandes" inviting gourmets to discover local specialities (Bayonne ham, Piment d'Espelette, Basque cake...) and its imposing Gothic cathedral, Bayonne is one of the jewels of the Basque Country.

  • Biarritz Ever since crowned heads from all over Europe chose it as their holiday destination in the 1800s, Biarritz has been the most elegant seaside resort in the Basque Country. It is also popular with surfers, with its long beaches (including the highly popular Côte des Basques) and surf schools. The town's landmark, the Rocher de la Vierge, offers a panoramic view of the Bay of Biscay, as does the large lighthouse (248 steps) overlooking the Hôtel du Palais below. The only Palace on the Atlantic coast has recently been renovated. And it's royal!

  • Château d'Abbadia in Hendaye Facing the Atlantic Ocean, this château-observatoire with an uninterrupted view of the Basque coast is a veritable scientific laboratory built by Viollet Le Duc in the 19th century for Antoine d'Abbadie, an extraordinary scientist who was an ethnologist, astronomer, great traveller and ardent defender of Basque culture. Inspired by neo-Gothic and Orientalist styles, the château's facades feature a fantastic bestiary of great beauty.

Must-see experiences on the Atlantic coast

A la découverte de l'île d'Oléron et ses charmantes cabanes ostréicoles colorées.
© Oléron Marennes tourisme - A la découverte de l'île d'Oléron et ses charmantes cabanes ostréicoles colorées.

- Take a thalasso break The Atlantic coast and its many thalassotherapy centres offer a concentrate of well-being and the very best in comfort. La Baule, Pornichet, Pornic on the Jade coast, Saint-Jean-de Monts and Les Sables d'Olonne in the Vendée, the Ile de Ré, the Ile d'Oléron, La Rochelle, Royan, Arcachon or Saint-Jean-de-Luz all combine marine virtues and coastal beauty to perfection. The hardest part will picking a place!

  • Explore the salt marshes on the Guérande peninsula Just a stone's throw from the small medieval town of Guérande, the salt marshes have been awarded the "Remarkable Taste Site" label and are the pride of the Pays de la Loire region. A treasure trove of biodiversity. Access to the salt marshes is controlled by salt workers and associations who organise tours and demonstrations of how to collect salt. It's a great opportunity to learn more about an age-old skill and the famous fleur de sel (the fine layer of crystals on the surface of the water) that top chefs love so much.

  • Going up the Loire between Nantes and Saint-Brevin-les-Pins as far as the estuary With works of art as beacons (Le Pendule, The Settlers, the artists' rooms at Château du Pé, Misconceivable, the Star Garden, etc.) and a finish at the Pointe de Mindin opposite the Serpent d'océan in Saint Brévin, this ride takes you into a fantastic world. This beautiful cycle route (around 50 kilometres) is easy for the whole family to enjoy. The entire route from Nantes to Saint-Brevin-les-Pins is signposted and follows the shared La Loire à Vélo / La Vélodyssée itinerary.

  • Set course for the Charentes islands Ré la blanche, Oléron la verte, Madame la plus sauvage, not forgetting Aix, accessible by ferry from the Fouras peninsula. The islands of Charente-Maritime, just a stone's throw from La Rochelle, are ideal for exploring by bike, along flat cycle paths. You'll be able to cycle through salt marshes, oyster beds, oyster huts, fine sandy beaches, fragrant pine forests, vineyards (for pineau), Vauban fortifications and cute little harbours.

  • Taste the oysters of Bourgneuf. Less well-known than the Cancale oyster in Brittany, the Marennes oyster in Oléron or the Bay of Arcachon oyster, the Bay of Bourgneuf oyster is a firm favourite with connoisseurs. Enjoy them in the heart of the oyster basin, along the Loire-Atlantique and Vendée coasts, for example in the small port of Le Collet or Les Brochets, in Bouin, where the oyster bars invite you to stop off and savour the iodine.

  • Sleeping in a fishery Along the Côte de Jade, from Saint Brévin-Les-Pins to Moutiers-en-Retz, fisheries are part of the Loire-Atlantique landscape. Perched on stilts, with their large "carrelet" (fishing net) as a figurehead, these strange huts are like immobile boats overlooking the ocean at high tide. They can be rented by the day or by the weekend for fishing trips and nights lulled by the lapping of the waves. Gites de France Pays de la Loire lists some of them, as well as a whole host of typical accommodation with ocean views.

  • Dining in a 3* Michelin restaurant in Noirmoutier To reach the island of Noirmoutier in the Vendée, simply cross the bridge. But you can also take the Passage du Gois, a 4.5-kilometre-long submersible causeway, submerged at high tide and passable at low tide for only a few hours a day. It's a real adventure that you can celebrate by treating yourself to a gastronomic meal at La Marine. Chef Alexandre Couillon's restaurant in the port of Herbaudière on the tip of the island has been awarded a 3rd Michelin star in 2023.

  • Cycling along the Vendée coast or in the forests of the Landes The Vendée coastline offers fascinating landscapes between land and sea to discover on two wheels: the Corniche Vendéenne at Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez, wild lagoons and long stretches of golden sand. A pedal along the Vélodyssée, between La Faute-sur-Mer and La Tranche-sur-Mer (also well known to surfers for its famous spots) allows you to melt gently into the shades of blue, yellow and green that the tides constantly reshape. Further south, you can continue to enjoy cycling on the miles of (very flat) cycle paths in the Bay of Arcachon and the beautiful forests of the Landes. The Atlantic coast boasts a total of over 1,000 kilometres of cycle routes, including the Vélodyssée, the Vélocéan, the Vélo Francette, the Flow Vélo, the Tour de Gironde and the Canal des 2 Mers à Vélo cycle path.

  • Celebrating sardines in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie The Croix-de-Vie sardine is the emblem of the Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie region in the Vendée. It can be tasted at the fishing port of the small seaside resort or at the Atelier de la Sardine. Every year, the whole of the Saint-Gilles area celebrates the arrival of the sardines: it's the Printemps de la Sardine (Sardine Spring), a real festival punctuated by sea shanties, workshops, tastings. A good idea: follow the Chemin de la Sardine, a signposted route to take on foot to discover Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in a fun way.

  • Take an interest in underwater fauna. Océarium du Croisic, near La Baule and Guérande in Loire Atlantique, Aquarium La Rochelle in Charente Maritime and Aquarium de Biarritz in the Basque Country... The Atlantic coast is also an opportunity to discover the fabulous underwater world and better understand the fragility of the oceans. Clown fish, zebra sharks, green moray eels. Can you recognise them?

  • Climb the masts at Rochefort Climbing up the mast of an old sailing ship like the 18th-century ship's masters. It's a childhood dream that sailors and their parents can fulfil at the Rochefort Arsenal. Set up in the basin where the hull of the Hermione was reconstructed (this magnificent historic three-masted ship, La Fayette's vessel, was rebuilt identically over a period of more than 20 years), the frigate offers a 'mast-climbing' adventure with vertiginous zip-lines and tight ropes. A stone's throw away, the adventure continues at the Corderie Royale, the giant Periscope and the Musée national de la Marine.

  • Climb the Dune du Pilat 109 metres high, 2,700 metres long, 500 metres wide, 60 million cubic metres of sand: facing the passes of the Bay of Arcachon, the Dune du Pilat is a natural wonder! You have no choice but to climb it on foot, but the reward at the top is a 360° panoramic view over the Bay of Arcachon, the Atlantic Ocean, the Banc d'Arguin nature reserve, the tip of Cap Ferret and the vast pine forest. At sunset, the view is guaranteed to thrill!

  • Birdwatching The entire Atlantic coast is a birdwatcher's paradise. In the Bassin d'Arcachon, you can leave the cabanes tchanquées behind and walk the dykes of the Leyre Delta. In some years, more than 300,000 birds pass through the Le Teich ornithological reserve, where 260 species have been recorded, from the small gravelot to the great white stork. Between marshes, reed beds, meadows and lagoons, birdwatching will enthrall young and old alike along the beautiful landscaped trails.

  • Fishing with plaice in the Médoc A star of the Gironde estuary, a carrelet is a fishing installation well known to the inhabitants of the Médoc: a hut built on stilts and linked to the shore by a pontoon. A square fishing net is stretched across its end. At high tide, it is alternately lowered and raised to catch prawns and small fish. If you can't catch the best fish, you can always visit the small oyster ports and taverns of the Médoc, a paradise for gourmets and lovers of fresh seafood.

  • Fill up on water sports and activities on the Atlantic coast Ride the waves on the beaches of the Atlantic coast... why not give it a try? More than 50 surf spots dot the coastline of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in Gironde, Landes and the Basque Country, including Hossegor, Lacanau, Biscarosse, Capbreton, Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz. For sports enthusiasts (and everyone else), the Landes campsites are a good accommodation option, so you can always keep an eye on the waves.... The coastline of the Pays de la Loire and Nouvelle-Aquitaine regions is also ideal for other water sports: kayaking, canoeing, paddling, sailing, sand yachting.

  • Follow the coastal path in the Basque Country From Bidart to Hendaye via Saint-Jean-de-Luz and Ciboure, the coastal path offers breathtaking views. The Pyrenees on one side, beaches, shores and cliffs on the Atlantic side.

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