Road trip along the French Atlantic coast

August, 27 2021

France is and remains the holiday destination ‘par excellence’. A less obvious destination is the Atlantic coast. The coast line is several hundred kilometres long and is ideal for a road trip. Sander from the camping magazine ACSI FreeLife guides you from north to south along the must-sees of the six departments.

1. Loire-Atlantique

Fine sandy beaches and wild coasts

A versatile holiday awaits in the department of Loire-Atlantique, between the Loire and the French Atlantic coast. From Nantes, a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage, to Saint-Nazaire, whose history is closely linked to the ocean, one discovery after another awaits you.

The 133 km long coast of Loire-Atlantique offers a variety of small bays and long sandy beaches. Here, you will also find protected natural areas such as the Brière Natural Park, the salt flats of Guérande and seaside resorts such as Pornic, Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, Pornichet and La Baule.

Roadtrip Zuid-Frankrijk Pornic, Préfailles

A beautiful location for cycling along the French coast.

Buckwheat crepe

The Loire-Atlantique offers entertainment and relaxation for the whole family. Foodies can also spoil their taste buds here with cuisine including delicious seafood varieties. Relax in a quiet spot in a small fishing port like Le Croisic. Try a galette, the famous buckwheat crepe, or a Muscadet wine in Clisson, a town with Italian charm amidst the vineyards.

Campsite tips in Loire Atlantique

Campsite Eléovic in Préfailles is a friendly family campsite with 55 pitches, located immediately adjacent to the beach. The campsite is situated on sloping terrain, so with a bit of luck, you will wake up in the morning with a view onto the Atlantic Ocean.

2. Vendée

Endeavour and relaxation

In the Vendée, you will find the perfect balance of beach holiday, culture and action. This department has 140 kilometres of sandy beaches, 250 kilometres of protected, unspoilt coastline and 18 beautiful seaside resorts with all the necessary flair. The coast is further enriched by two islands, Île d’Yeu and Île de Noirmoutier, small paradises in the Atlantic Ocean.

Some well-known resorts in the Vendée are Saint-Jean-de-Monts, a must for families, with 8 kilometres of beautiful beaches such as La Grande Plage (which has been awarded the Pavillon Bleu label), Saint Gilles Croix de Vie known for its sardine port, Les Sables d’Olonne, the town of the famous Vendée Globe sailing competition and La Tranche sur Mer, also known as ‘little California’ by surfers.

Mooie vuurtoren met prachtig uitzicht

Walk along the coast and enjoy the endless panoramas

Walking along rugged cliffs

The Vendée also has plenty of natural beauty. Follow the scenic coastal route La Corniche Vendéenne, for example. This coastline of more than 3 kilometres is full of rugged, unspoilt rock formations. Families will love the Vendée. You will find climbing setups in the treetops (accrobranche), zoos, aquariums and the famous Puy du Fouamusement park, which has been voted the best amusement park in the world on multiple occasions.

Garlic bread

While you’re there, don’t forget to sample the many culinary specialities that the Vendée has to offer. Don’t miss the sardines of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie for example, the garlic bread Préfou and, of course, the seafood and fresh fish.

Campsite tips for the Vendée

At La Prairie campsite in Saint-Jean-de-Monts, you can have plenty of fun in the water with features including an outdoor pool with slide, a heated indoor pool and a whirlpool. The campsite is also within walking distance of a sandy beach.

3. Charente-Maritime

Islands, nature and maritime heritage

Rest and relax by the sea. Visit cities and historical sites and stroll around charming villages. You can also explore the most beautiful places on the mainland – and on the islands – by bicycle.

The department of Charente-Maritime boasts seaside resorts, vibrant towns and cities with a rich history and enough fun activities for a successful family holiday. From La Rochelle to Royan, there is a wide range of activities, sights and beaches for relaxation and tranquillity, as well as plenty of watersports opportunities. Discover the cultural diversity of La Rochelle and the flair of the old port at your own pace.

Ontdek de Franse dorpjes op je eigen tempo

A relaxed stroll through French villages.

Island hopping

A proud witness to the past is the frigate ‘Hermione in Rochefort’, part of the Arsenal des Mers. Both children and adults alike can experience exciting sea and shipping adventures. Get away from it all on the islands of Île de Ré or Île d’Oléron and relax in hip and chic resorts amidst fascinating natural landscapes.

Mussels, but differently

A visit to Charente-Maritime would not be complete without sampling the regional dish – the oyster. If you would like to learn more about this treasure, the oyster museum La Cîté de l’Huître in Marennes comes highly recommended.
You can taste another seafood speciality, Eclade de Moules, on Île d’Oléron. The cook stacks the mussels on a wooden board and covers them with pine needles that are then lit. It’s a quite a different dish to the familiar boiled mussels.

Campsite tips for Charente-Maritime

Camping La Taillée in the north-western region of the Charente-Maritime is a quiet family campsite in a green oasis, with spacious pitches. It’s ideal for visiting locations such as La Rochelle and Rochefort.

4. Gironde

A cycling paradise rich in nature

The Gironde is best described with superlatives. France’s largest department is home to the finest Bordeaux wines, the highest sand dunes, the largest estuary in Europe and is a safe and beautiful place for cycling.

A holiday in Gironde is also a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. The area at the mouth of the Gironde River is a paradise for wine enthusiasts. The wine route takes you by the most beautiful châteaus in the Médoc, where winegrowers offer guided tours and wine tastings. Bordeaux, as a bustling metropolis and global capital of wine, is also well worth a visit.

De mooiste fietsroutes langs het strand

Enjoy the beautiful cycle paths along the beach.

Cycling through pine forests

Cyclists and nature lovers are well catered for in Gironde, with cycle paths through pine forests connecting the large inland lakes to the coast. For a well-earned pit stop, put your bicycle to one side and relax on a terrace in resorts such as Soulac, Montalivet, Hourtin and Lacanau.

France’s largest freshwater lake

Families might want to head to France’s largest freshwater lake – Lac d’Hourtin et de Carcans – if the surf in the Atlantic Ocean is too strong. Here, even the youngest members of the family can splash around in calmer waters, while parents can relax on the beach or indulge in one of the many watersports.

Oyster cultivation is ever present in the landscape around the Bay of Arcachon. Here, you will see the typical cabanes tchanquées, the stilt houses kept by the oyster farmers, which are surrounded by water on a regular basis.

Taste oysters from this famous bay and accompany them with a glass of Entre-Deux-Mers white wine while you enjoy the view from Le Phare du Cap Ferret lighthouse on the impressive Dune du Pilat and the Arguin sandbank. You can also climb Europe’s highest sand dune. From the top, high above the sea, you will have a spectacular view of the surroundings, and the chance to watch an unforgettable sunset.

Campsite tips for Gironde

For those who prefer, or enjoy, a dip in fresh water, campsite Les Ourmes on Hourtin-Carcans Lake is highly recommended. The ocean beach is easily accessible by bicycle. This family campsite has 300 touring pitches and 200 motorhome pitches.

5. Les Landes

Surfing and cycling destination in green natural surroundings

A holiday in Les Landes is a guarantee of something unforgettable. From the large sandy beaches on the Silver Coast (Côte d’Argent) to Capbreton in the south, the only port on this part of the French Atlantic coast.

What more could you want from a holiday than swimming, surfing, kiting or cycling in the shade of pine trees? The holiday resorts of Seignosse and Capbreton on the French Atlantic coast are known throughout Europe for their unique surfing spots. There are many other beautiful destinations here too, including the seaside resorts of Moliets-et-Maa, Biscarosse and Mimizan.

Genieten van de uitgestrekte stranden van de Atlantische kust

An unforgettable holiday on a French beach

Go back in time

In addition, Les Landes is rich in tradition. You can go back a century in time with your children or grandchildren and travel in an old steam train to the historic world of the Marquèze regional museum. The history and traditions of the region are brought to life throughout the summer with a range of events at the open-air museum.

Water enthusiasts can have fun to their hearts’ content on the 45 beaches along the Atlantic coastline. Families with children can relax in a carefree environment close to the coast on the 11 beaches on the fresh water lakes inland.

A cycling paradise

With 621 kilometres of cycle paths and the ‘voies vertes’ (car-free cycle paths), discovering Les Landes by bicycle is easy. It’s a great way to enjoy nature, the smell of the pine forests and views of the Atlantic Ocean in an environmentally responsible way.

Fond of duck breast, duck confit or duck rillette? They are highly regarded in Les Landes. You can even visit many of the duck and goose farms in the region, so you can see for yourself how the poultry is raised.

Campsite tips for Les Landes

Camping Sylvamar is a LeadingCampings site – a European association of leading campsites. The campsite is situated in the woods, 800 metres from Labenne beach, and has 225 touring pitches. The site boasts a large beauty centre and a water park with slides.

6. Biarritz, the French Basque Country

Tradition and culinary specialities

Biarritz, the French Basque Country is the place to go if you’re really looking for something different. It’s the place to experience a postcard-like holiday: choose from hiking on the GR10, thalassotherapy on the coast, a range of golf courses, festivals and culinary surprises.

Fietsen door de mooiste Franse dorpen

Enough of the beach, let’s tour the city!

Typical Basque sport

Ever heard of the pelota game Cesta Punta? It is just one of the many unique cultural traditions that you will come across on a visit to the Basque Country. You can watch this ball game being played in Biarritz or Saint-Jean-de-Luz, it’s a real spectacle for the whole family!

If you would like to get to know the culture, language and customs of the Basque Country up close, a visit to the Basque museum in Bayonne is highly recommended. Cultural highlights can be found throughout the Basque Country – in cities such as Biarritz and Bayonne as well as in Basque villages such as Sare and Ainhoa.

Time to unwind on the beach? With 35 kilometres of sandy beaches and bays, you will certainly find what you’re looking for in this department. For more sporty-minded campers, there are unique surfing spots, 8 golf courses and a variety of other activities.

Jambon de Bayonne

The Basque Country also offers famous culinary specialities such as Jambon de Bayonne IGP, Piment d’Espelette AOC, chocolate from Bayonne, the famous gâteau basque, wines from Irouléguy and Basque ciders and beers.

For a completely different perspective, head away from the coast: from Sare, about half an hour from Saint-Jean-de-Luz, you can take the rack railway up the 1,700 metre high mountain La Rhune. On a clear day, you’ll have a fantastic vista of the entire Bay of Biscay from the summit.

Campsite tips for Biarritz, the French Basque Country

Campsite Ciela Atlantica is a small campsite (51 touring pitches) at the foot of the Pyrenees and within walking distance of the beaches. The campsite is also close to the town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz and the fantastic surfing spots for which this region is so famous.

  • Author: Sander Cox
  • Mijn ideale vakantiedag? ’s Ochtends fietsend of hardlopend de omgeving ontdekken en daarna met de benen omhoog tot rust komen met een boek of tijdschrift in de hand én de telefoon in de vliegtuigmodus. Als redacteur van ACSI FreeLife typ ik door de vingerkrampbarrière en verken ik nieuwe regio’s waar je verrassend goed kan kamperen en fietsen.

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