If you love pristine beaches of fine yellow sand, gourmet food, fine wine and world-class spas then the Western Loire is a perfect destination if you want to splash out on a romantic weekend. Its also great for budget family holidays – eating out doesn’t need to be expensive – the area is also known for its crêpes and local cidre.
And its quick and easy to get to, particularly from the UK as the low-cost airlines fly to Nante.
The Western Loire is just below Brittany and includes unspolit coastline with ancient fishing ports such as Piriac-sur-Mer, Le Croisic and the mediaeval fortified town of Guérande, in the heart of ancient salt marshes. A unique local landmark of this area are the carrelets the huts on stilts in the seabed which are dotted along the coast and still used for fishing.
The local climate is mild year-round so its possible to walk on the beach under blue skies even in January.
One of the most popular spots is the upmarket seaside resort of La Baule, which has one of the best beaches in Europe – it’s huge and crescent-shaped and stretches for miles. It is also one of the cleanest – smoking is banned and after sundown every day the beach is cleaned. The town has a population of affluent retirees which is reflected in the quality of the shopping, the property market and restaurants where you can get the best local seafood and the finest Loire wines such as Muscadet
Fortunately the region is not yet on the radar of the holiday hoards and you can listen to the sound of the ocean and breathe in the fresh salty air in relative tranquility.
The salt marshes and wetlands around Guérand, for example, are protected and of great ornithalogical interest as they provide a refuge for many migrating species flying between Europe and Africa. There are guides at the Salt Museum who can take you through the marshes and point out the wildlife which you might otherwise miss.
The superior quality of the local salt which has unique minerals is why it is known as ‘white gold’ and also the reason this region is has world-class thalassotherapy treatments – where seawater is the main rejuvenating ingredient.
One of the other delightful aspects is that they actively encourage family participation in spa rituals. Many have dedicated babycare to give parents a break, programmes for new fathers to interact with babies and special programmes for young mothers.
This is all in addition to fitness programmes, weight loss, smoking cessation, physiotherapy, beauty, and cosmetic treatments which can be tailored to individual requirements with all the benefits of the latest techniques combined with the special properties of seawater. And there are always other activities such as golf and horse-riding nearby.
At the traditional fishing village of Pornic is the Alliance Pornic Resort Hotel & Thalassotherapy Centre. This is in a quiet and intimate setting next to the beach on the edge of a small village. The rooms are bright and light – designed for relaxing and most have sea views and balconies. You can also walk from your room to the thalassotherapy area. The restaurant, La Source, is designed like a ship and overlooks the large bay.
The spa is state-of-the art with a seawater indoor pool that is heated to 30oC. There is an aquatic trail with Jacuzzi, jet streams, cascade showers, bubble baths and bubble beds, a steam room, men and womens saunas, a fitness and gym room.
The spa has an exceptional menu of treatments that span European, Asian and Oriental traditions. As well as slimming and cellulite programmes. Surprisingly the resort only has three stars but it more like a five star.
The food here is excellent and you can walk off any excess by rambling along the nearby cliffs and beaches.
In La Baule, the Royal-Thalasso is a very different kind of hotel and spa experience. It is one of those really grande 19th century resort hotels, with red carpets, cabinets of glamorous clothes and jewellery and a top-hatted doorman.
Here you are in the centre of town, minutes from the beach and right next to the casino if you want to indulge.
The Spa again is impressive catering for parents who want to destress – they have male and female nannies for children. The area and care dedicated to the younger ones is phenomenal.
This is a great luxury hotel but it doesn’t stint on the family stuff.
From the moment of arrival, younger guests are given special attention with their very own welcome gift. In the room, they will find specially created bathroom amenities and, they also have their own menus at the restaurant and with room service. The hotel also has a Baby Club for smaller guests of 10 weeks to 5 years which is open daily
Other activities such as horse-riding, watersports, tennis and hiking are also available. And if you fancy a quick spin round the town – you can always hire a ‘Segway’ from the local tourist office. You can ride the pavements and terrorize the locals on this two wheeled electric transport device.
Dont miss: Restaurant Le Beau Rivage, Pornic – local fish specialities. www.restaurant-beaurivage.com
The mediaeval town of Guérande which overlooks the ancient salt marshes – the Pays Blanc and the Pays Noir are where peat can be found. For more than 1000 years the salt-panners have fashioned the mosaic of clay and water into a unique ecological site.
Visit the Salt Museum at Terre de Sel Pradel and buy the Guérande Gros Sel and Fleur de Sel – the salts prized by top chefs.
Crêperie La Salorge, Saille T +33 (0)2 4014 4419 – traditional creperie serving the local cidre;
Restaurant Le Gulf Stream, Plage Le Baule T: 33 (0)2 40 24 48 07 www.legulfstream.com
France Information Line: 09068 244 123 www.franceguide.com
Easyjet flies from London Stansted/Luton to Nantes. Bookings at www.easyjet.com
Pornic Resort Hotel Thalasso, Pornic T: 33 (0)2 40 64 01 80 www.thalassopornic.com
Royal-Thalasso Barrière, La Baule Reservations: + 33 (0)825 826 016 www.lucienbarriere.com
La Baule Tourist Office T + 33 (0)2 40243499