The sea front at les Sables d'Olonne

Les Sables d'Olonne 

A popular west coast resort - the thematic guide to France

 Les Sables d'Olonne - port of the Vendée

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In the area Where to stay 

Map of les Sables d'Olonne
Les Sables d'Olonne.
Les Sables d'Olonne is the main fishing and yachting port of the Vendée area on France's Atlantic coast, south of the Loire.
  It is a town that makes the headlines every four years, when the world's media swoop in for the start and finish of the gruelling Vendée Globe Challenge. This is the world's toughest solo yacht race, where competitors chase each other round the world single handed, and with no assistance.
   The race starts and finishes in Les Sables d'Olonne, and the starting gun for the next  Vendée Globe Challenge will be fired on 8th November 2020. 
  Between the Challenges, Les Sables returns to being a relatively quiet seaside town, popular with yachtsmen in all seasons, with windsurfers for a good part of the year, and with holidaymakers in the summer months, when its long golden sandy beaches offer plenty of space for everyone.

A short History of Les Sables d'Olonne

Harbour at Sables d'Olonne
The old port and old town, les Sables d'Olonne 
   The area of "Olonne" as been inhabited since before Roman times. The parts occupied evolved in the course of time, due to the changing coastline, the silting up of old inlets, and the creation in the 13th century of a new harbour.  This has since expanded into the larger port and harbour area of Les Sables d'Olonne – protected from the ocean by a barrier of former sand dunes, and open to it through a narrow navigable channel.  channel.
   In the early Middle Ages, Olonne exported wine and salt to ports in northern Europe; in the late 15th century, the settlement on the north of the harbour entrance - now the Les Chaumes quarter, was fortified. In the 16th century, when the fishermen of western France began to follow the explorers towards the new fishing grounds of the north Atlantic, Les Sables developed into France's leading cod fishing port; but the industry declined in the 18th century. Les Sables d'Olonne was too far from the main centres of population.
   Tourism came to the rescue of the town's fortunes at the start of the 19th century, thanks to its long expanses of sandy beaches. Even before the railway arrived in 1866, the town was a reputed bathing resort, and in 1825 acquired its first casinos. Casinos had been banned in France until the year 1806, when a law was passed to allow them to open in spa and seaside resorts only.
   Since the arrival of the railway, les Sables d'Olonne has developed mainly as a seaside resort, and more recently thanks to its yachting marina. It is also a small but active commercial port, mainly used by small bulk carriers for grain and sand.

Attractions and monuments in les Sables d'Olonne

  • The beaches . Les Sables d'Olonnes is best renowned for its long expanses of sandy beaches. Even close to the middle of the town, the beaches are rarely packed, except in the height of the  summer season, as there is so much space for everyone along the coast
  • The old port . Sheltered from the sea, the old port of  Les Sables d'Olonne is now home to fishing boats and  a marina
  • The Chateau St Clair and Arundel tower  in La Chaume. The 14th century castle guarding the entrance to the harbour is now home to a museum of the sea, open April to September. Climb to the top of the Arundel tower for magnificent views up and down the coast.
  • Notre Dame de Grand Port. A fine late gothic church built in the seventeenth century, when Les Sables was at the height of its prosperity as a fishing port..
  • Rue de l'Enfer. In the old part of les Sables d'Olonne, Rue de l'Enfer is officially listed in the Guinness book of Records as the narrowest street in the world..
  • Sea-shell art.  In the old Quartier de la Penotte, many houses are decorated with mosaics made from sea-shells and coloured pebbles.
  • The Vendée Globe yacht race. Les Sables is the start and finish of the Vendée Globe round-the-world single-handed yacht race - the world's most gruelling solo yachting event. This takes place every four years. The next race begins on 8th November 2020
► For more on Les Sables d'Olonne and its area, visit the les Sables d'Olonne tourist information office

In the area of  les Sables d'Olonne

Puy du Fou

France's most popular theme park, reputedly the best historic theme park in the world, famous for its historic reenactments and evening son-et-lumières (daily in summer). More details on Puy du Fou .

La Rochelle

One of the most attractive coastal cities in western France,  with historic city, Maritime museum and very attractive harbour area.. See La Rochelle .

Salt marshes

The Atlantic coast of France in the area of the mouth of the Loire is famous for its salt marshes. North of Les Sables there are a number of active salt marshes where visitors can see how salt is extracted, and buy locally produced salt.
Botanical gardens Court d' Aron
The sub tropical gardens at Court d'Aron 


A popular island off the Vendée coast, with lots of beaches. The island is reached over a bridge which was originally a toll bridge, but is now free..

Parc Floral de la Court d'Aron

South of Les Sables, this botanical garden, covering 25 acres,  has a unique lotus lake among its lush and copious collection of sub-tropical vegetation. One of the most interesting botanical gardens in France. Open April to September.

How to reach Les Sables d'Olonne

  • By air   Les Sables d'Olonne is half way between the airports of Nantes and La Rochelle, both served by low cost flights from the UK and northern Europe. for details of who flies where, check out UK-France flights.
  • By train  les Sables can be reached by direct TGV from Paris Montparnasse in under 3½. hours. Tickets can be bought online at
  • By car  les Sables is 4½ hours from Paris.via the A11 and Angers. 

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Photo top of page : Les Sables d'Olonne and the Grande Plage - the big beach.

Key tourist information for Les Sables d'Olonne:

Pays de la Loire - western France.
Nearby cities: Nantes, Poitiers
Nearest airports: Nantes, La Rochelle.
Distance from Paris: 530 km (330 miles)
Population:  13,900
Main sites:  The beaches, the old town, the castle.
Nearby attractions and sites: The Puy du Fou theme park..
Location of Sables d'Olonne

Where to stay

The selection
Hotels for all budgets and all needs

Historic centre


Gites and holiday cottages in Vendée
see Gitelink - western France

Seashell mosaic on a wall in the old town - one of many

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Copyright texts and photos  © 2007 - 2023
Except photo Old Port, by Uwe Koch - creative commons licence.

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