The ocean borders France on three sides: north, west and south. From fishing to commerce and conquest, from tourism to artistic inspiration, France has always benefited from this overture to the seas. I know many welcoming places along the coast where I have often enjoyed my summers. Let me introduce you to the best of them. To start with -- the wide, the great, Atlantic Coast!
Bretagne: Wild, traditional and romantic
Massive rocks, small and secretive beaches of ivory white sand, stiff cliffs assaulted by a raging sea, lunatic weather, and the smell of salted butter and crêpes coming from Old Ma's Kitchen at the corner of a narrow, paved street. Welcome to Bretagne!
La Côte d'Emeraude
“The colour of the sea and the lining of forest reflecting in it, that splendid symphony of green and blue: that is what why I called it The Emerald Coast,” says Eugene Herpin, a French historian from the 19th century. As he tells you, there’s no need to fly over thousands of kilometers to bathe in an transparent emerald-blue sea. Walk along the hills of Northern Bretagne, and climb down the old stone stairs for a moment of peace in one of its wild and lovely coves of white sand. No palm-trees, no sharks, no soothing water warmed by a blazing sun. Expect only freedom, silence, discretion and cold water (rarely warmer than 18°C).
Mont Saint-Michel is a must-see. It’s a fortress built in the middle of the sea, only accessible at low tide.
Saint-Malo, a historic citadel that once stood as a main port for trade between America and Europe, is also worth walking through. Listen to Les Marins d’lroise-Santainom, a famous song to put yourself in a sailing mood. Along the Emerald Coast, stop for lunch in Saint-Lunaire, an adorable village where you might meet Jean Rochefort, one of France's most celebrated actors.
How to get there
by plane: Dinard airport with Ryanair
by train: www.sncf.fr
From Vannes to Douarnenez
Five kilometers farther to the west, take a break in Dinard for the afternoon and enjoy this petit-bourgeois city as Victor Hugo, Picasso and Agatha Christie once did.
The region between Vannes and Douarnenez has a distinctive Breton atmosphere. Many inhabitants in this area consider themselves to be more Breton than French. In fact, in the streets, you’ll find shops and flags celebrating the Breton identity.
A few cities are absolutely worth visiting:
● Quimper, where you can eat the best Crêpes in Bretagne.
● Vannes, a rich little city with a massive fortress circling the historic center.
● Little villages that are very attractive in the summer : la Trinité-sur-mer, Quiberon, Pénestin and Ploemer provide many choices for couples, families and groups of friends to go on holidays.
How to get there :
By train: www.sncf.fr
By plane: Lorient Bretagne Sud airport, with Air France
Deux îles : Belle-île, l'île de Groix
● Beautiful islands surround Bretagne. Belle-île-en-Mer and l'Île de Groix, are my favorites.
● Belle-île-en-Mer is the largest island of Bretagne. It is appreciated by families and groups of friends from France, as well as from Germany and the United Kingdom.
● L'Île de Groix is a more secretive island, great for diving and sailing.
How to get there :
By ship: http://www.compagnie-oceane.fr/
Long flat beaches, big waves and golden sun. It is one of the most sunniest regions in France. That’s the reason we call it La côte de Lumière (the Coast of Light). The coast of Vendée is a big travel destination for the French. I personally have spent every summer of my teenage years in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, a fishing village that transforms into a welcoming tourist destination from May to October. Here’s a view of the region:
Flat land, long beaches.
Vendée is a place to go if you appreciate relaxing by day on a sunny beach while listening to the hum of waves (or your iPod). In July and August, the water temperature varies between 16 and 24°C. Waves are big (Vendee is not far from the region surfing capital Les Landes), so you should watch out for your kids and always bathe at a supervised beach.
The Vendee coast is very developed, with buildings facing the beach and a lot of amusement and water parks around for tourists. Choose between la-Tranche-Sur-Mer, Jard-Sur-Mer, Les Sables d'Olonnes, Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie or Saint-Jean-de-Mont: Each city on the coast has a fishing economy, and you can eat premium-quality fish and seafood for cheap. Most of the French tourists rent apartments or houses for their stay, which I also recommend you to do.
How to get there :
By train: www.sncf.fr
By plane : Nantes-Atlantiques airport, with Air France, Air Corsica, Air Transit, EasyJet, Flybe., HOP! Iberia, Jetairfly, Royal Air Maroc; Ryanair, Tunisair, Volotea, Vueling, XL Airways
Les Landes–Destination Surf
Les Landes is flat land with long beaches and the biggest waves I’ve ever seen. Les Landes is the region of France located south to Bordeaux, between Biscarosse and Biarritz. It is a preserved coast, famous for its big and fragile sand dunes and its pine forest covering 66% of the territory.
Lacanau – the capital of French surf
Could you ever imagine there’s a place in France where surfing is the local sport? Well, there is: Lacanau-Ocean. This is the place where Maxime (one of my best friends) goes surfing every summer and where he meets his surfer friends at the Lacanau Pro Competition, which is a part of the World Qualifying Series for the World Championship Tour. So, if you practise surfing regularly or if you want to start, Lacanau-Ocean is your destination.
Les Landes is also appreciated by families who look for both tranquility and wide open spaces. You can horse-ride on the beach, and I promise that a full gallop along the ocean is a dramatic experience!
La Dune du Pyla
La Dune du Pyla is a natural attraction in the Landes. It is a 115 meter-high dune, the highest in Europe.
For any further information, please surf the following pages :
I’ll write to you next time for a flyover over Normandie and the South coast!
Edited by Ilene Springer