the Pays de la Loire
Pays de la Loire region is a recent creation, not one of France's
historic regions. Indeed, the regional capital, Nantes, was once the
capital of Brittany - to which it no longer belongs. In historic terms,
Pays de la Loire covers parts of the old provinces of
Anjou, Maine and Poitou. This region is almost certain to be broken up
before 2014, when the territorial administration of France is
The Pays de la Loire covers the area
to the south of Brittany and Normandy, along the lower stretches of the
river Loire, the longest river in France.
The region is composed of five departments, two of them coastal
Loire Atlantique (44) and the Vendée (85) – and
three of them inland,
the Mayenne (53), the Sarthe (72) and the Maine et Loire (49).
(44), the regional capital is the sixth largest city in France, with
270,000 inhabitants in the urban borough of Nantes, and an estimated
800,000 inhabitants in the urban area as of 2008. It is located on the
Loire, 50 km inland, and is the largest economic hub in the north west
of France. In the eighteenth century, Nantes (like Bristol) was a
flourishing seaport, indeed the most important seaport in France; the
city acquired great wealth at that time, wealth which is reflected to
this day in its urban heritage. Today, most of the shipping activity
has moved to the mouth of the Loire, to the port of Saint Nazaire,
which is also one of the major ship-building cities in Europe. It was
in the Saint Nazaire dockyards that the new flagship of the Cunard
line, the world's largest passenger ship, the Queen Mary 2,
built. A clear birds-eye view of the shipyards can be had from the Pont
de Saint Nazaire, the high road bridge that spans the Loire estuary.
(Originally a toll bridge, this bridge is now free to cross).
On the coast of the Loire Atlantique
department lie two of France's historic seaside resorts, La Baule and Le Croisic.
The area round Le Croisic is also famous for its salt pans, and "sel de
Guérande" is one of the best-known types of salt
town of Guérande
is a delightful small ancient walled city, just inland from the salt
South of the Loire Atlantique department
lies an area known as Vendée.
The modern department (85) is much smaller than the historic
that once carried this name. Vendée is famous in the history
as one of the old bastions of Protestantism; after the revocation of
the Edict of Nantes in 1685, and the end of religious tolerance, tens
of thousands of Vendéen protestants fled from this part of
went to live in England, or America. Thus many people in England can
trace some of their ancestry back to this part of France.
After the French Revolution,
a centre for the royalist counter-revolution.
The department is largely flat in the
coastal area, low-lying and gently undulating inland. The capital, the
city of La Roche sur Yon,
small rural city in the middle of the department. The coast is built up
round the seaside resorts, notably the fine beaches at les Sables d'Olonne, Saint Gilles
St. Jean de Monts,
but elsewhere there are stretches of empty coastline. In
band of pine forests, planted on land that was once sand dunes,
protects the flat farmland behind from the Atlantic winds and the sand
- and protects it against flooding when Atlantic storms batter the
Further inland, the department of Maine et Loire (49)
covers a territory to the north and south of the Loire. This is the
heart of the region known as Anjou, and its capital Angers
is one of the great historic cities in the Loire valley. Anjou was the
fief of the Angevins, better known as the Plantagenets, who, starting
with Henry II, ruled England for three centuries.
The great castle of the counts of Anjou, in Angers, is one of the
biggest medieval fortresses in Europe. Henry II, his wife Eleanor of
Aquitaine, and their son Richard the Lionheart are buried at the Abbey
of Fontevraud, between Saumur and Chinon.
The two remaining departments of this
(72) and Mayenne
form the rest of the old provinces of Anjou and Maine, and border on
Normandy. Rural departments, and strongly agricultural, they both
have more in common with Normandy than they do with
the population of the department of the Sarthe lives in the urban area
round the capital, Le
famous for its annual motor race. Apart from that, the Sarthe is deeply
rural. La Flèche, an attractive small town on the river Loir
an -e !) boasts one of the best and oldest zoos in France, coverning
some 30 acres. Laval,
of the Mayenne, is a small city with a historic centre. The city is
located on the banks of the river Mayenne, which crosses the department
from north to south, a navigable waterway with opportunities for boat
hire, and 85 km of towpath idel for cyclists and hikers. The department
of the Mayenne also boasts the highest point in the northwest quarter
of France, the summit of the Mont des Avaloirs, at 417 metres, about
Access: how to reach Pays de la
(TGV) from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Nantes, Angers, Le Mans, Les
Access by car
from the UK,
via any of the Channel ports, from Roscoff (Brittany) to Calais
for Pays de la Loire: Nantes, Poitiers and La
tourist attractions in
Pays de la Loire
(44), Regional capital; Nantes is a big city, with a historic centre;
it offers plenty of opportunities for shopping and urban tourism.
attractions include river boats on the Erdre river, a tributary of the
Sables d'Olonne: (85) One of the most famous seaside
resorts on the west coast. the Vendée Globe
round-the-world yacht race starts here.
(44), just inland from the coast, to the north of the Loire,
is a small walled city, with a historic centre.
Baule (44) - One of the more famous French seaside resorts
- famous since the nineteenth century .
(49) National Tank museum - tanks from World War 1 to
today. See industrial
Segré (49) La Mine Bleue. Take the train 126
metres underground for an authentic slate mine visit. See industrial museums.
Puy du Fou theme park (85) One of
the most popular theme parks in France, famous for its historic
reenactments (daily in summer).
Barre des Monts
(85) Ecomuseum of the Vendée fens. Open air museum covering
acres of preserved fenland, a salt marsh, traditional farms and local
- Planete Sauvage,
south west of Nantes. A large wildlife park (over 250 acres) , with
safari tours. Over 2,000 animals in semi liberty.
(44 / 49) The wide slow-moving Loire is one of Europe's great
rivers. The river, excellent for fishing, is bordered by many
attractive small towns, and the flat land is good for cycling.
Maine, Mayenne and Sarthe: (49, 53, 72) riverboat cruising
(cabin cruisers), from several boat hire bases.
Mans (72) - Famous for its annual 24 hour motor endurance
Flèche (72) : Zoo de la Flèche, one
of the five major zoos
(49) Historic city, with one of the biggest and finest mediaeval
castles in France.
(49) Part of the Loire valley UNESCO
world heritage site.
Large 12th century former Benedictine Abbey, with the tombs of
the English kings Richard I (Lionheart), Henry II, and queen
Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Old city with some interesting and unusual monuments, and the
unique Lactopole, a museum of the milk, cheese and dairy industry