You’ve no doubt heard of France’s Loire Valley, famed for its vineyards and stunning chateaus. But how familiar are you with the region that spans much of it, Pays de la Loire, and all that it has to offer?
For one thing, the regional capital of Nantes was the birthplace of writer Jules Vernes. His legacy inspires the Nantes of today as you can visit the Galerie des Machines and take a ride on the ‘Grand Éléphant’. In 2018 the 40ft mechanical elephant had its engine replaced to become a hybrid, a world first for mechanical elephants.
Personally, I’m already sold on the idea of robot elephants and a trip to the ocean with plenty of good wine, but let’s look a bit further at why the Atlantic Loire Valley is a great destination for some slow tourism this summer.
What are the Loire Valley’s local specialties?
Following the pandemic, many of us have realized the importance of supporting small or independent businesses. This is no hardship in the Loire Valley. The region has a diverse landscape and with it comes a variety of wonderful makers, artisans and producers.
There are over 350 tourist farm-stay properties or farm-to-fork outlets across the Atlantic Loire Valley. Stay in unique accommodation, meet local producers, learn more about how the products are made and most importantly: sit down and enjoy them!
And it’s not just the classics you’d expect like wine and cheese – though there is plenty of that too – try oysters on the coast, rillettes (a bit like a chunky version of pâté) at a farm, season your food with Guérande sea salt, visit farms that grow saffron or taste products made with donkey milk.
And if the food doesn’t entice you, there’s also businesses popping up who make beauty and skincare products using local natural ingredients.
Explore the Loire Valley by bicycle
The Atlantic Loire Valley has over 3,000 km of marked trails and 6 major cycle routes so if you fancy exploring the region on two wheels, there’s plenty of ways to do so.
The major cycling routes include the Vélodyssée and Vélocéan on the coast, the river-hugging Loire à Vélo and Vallée du Loir à Vélo, the Vélo Francette diagonally down from Normandy towards La Rochelle and the Vélobuissonnière which meanders south through the Sarthe and Anjou countryside before ending in Saumur.
In July 2021, two new circuits on the 320-km Loir Valley Bicycle Route were opened. The first leads cyclists around the famous La Flèche zoo and the Château du Lude (48km), while the second takes in twisted steeples and marshland along a converted former railway track (36km).
If you fancy a more casual ride and were sold on the earlier mentions of wine then the Vignoble de Jasnières à Vélo might tickle your fancy. Starting from Chartre-sur-le-Loir or Ruillé-sur-Loir, this 16km route takes you through the vineyards of Chenin, to learn more about this AOC white wine.
And if you’re planning a whole cycling holiday, rather than just a day exploring, there’s 690 ‘Accueil Vélo’ bike-friendly accommodation options for you to choose from.
For the super keen cyclists among you, Cholet in the Atlantic Loire Valley will also play host to the French Road Cycling Championships from 23 – 26 June 2022.
Hit the water in Loire
If you’re looking for liquid other than wine, the Atlantic Loire Valley has 450km of coastline and 375km of rivers suitable for boats and two islands.
Sail, boat and paddle board throughout this region where there are around 160 different water activities available for all ages and abilities. You can even explore the city of Angers by canoe, or – if you’re feeling less athletic – take a guided cruise around Saumur or check into a barge for your stay in Nantes.
Out on the coast in Brétignolles-sur-Mer, you can now hire eco-friendly surfboards made using materials sourced from recycled plastic bottles. These pioneering, high-performance boards have been awarded the ‘Remarkable Initiatives’ label and have half the carbon footprint of conventional surf boards.
There’s a deposit service for guaranteed end-of-life board recycling and the company also plans to develop a paddleboard using the same technologies.
Drink up the French culture
The Atlantic Loire Valley’s reputation for fine wine precedes it. It’s the third largest wine growing region of France in terms of AOC (controlled designation of origin) wines and has over 350 cellars which are open to visitors.
Organic and bio vineyards are becoming increasingly popular and many offer tours around their extensive grounds on segways, bicycles, electric scooters or horse and carriage.
I don’t know about anyone else but a horse and carriage ride around a sunny vineyard whilst sipping a glass of Crémant de Loire sounds absolutely delightful to me.
But for those who want a more active wine experience, RandoCabanes have installed eco-friendly hikers’ cabins in the vineyards around Nantes. These cabins are designed to blend seamlessly into their environment and there you can enjoy guided tours, wine tastings, picnic hampers or breakfast delivered to your cabin door.