Pays de la Loire: tourism and sightseeing
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From the historic castles and towns of Angers and Saumur to the family-friendly beaches of Vendée, passing perhaps by the vibrant cities of Le Mans and Nantes and enjoying the peaceful countryside and villages along the way, the Pays-de-la-Loire is a region which really does offer 'something for everyone'
The Pays-de-la-Loire region is the region along the western part of the Loire river, with the Atlantic ocean to the west and the Loire Valley (with most of the Loire valley castles) to the east, Brittany and Normandy to the north and Poitou Charentes to the south.
Geographical note: often you will be in this region when you think you are in the Loire Valley or Brittany! For example Nantes, formerly capital of Brittany, is in the Pays-de-la-Loire, and several of the Loire valley castles that we associate with the Centre (Loire valley) region are also in the Pays de la Loire!
Where to visit?
The Pays-de-la-Loire region includes five French departments: Loire-Atlantique, Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe and Vendée. Below you can find a summary of the highlights in each of these departments, then see the individual department guides for lots more places to visit and highlights.
The most visited parts of the region are on the coast in the Vendée and Loire-Atlantique departments with their popular beaches and resorts, and the historic Anjou region (now the Maine-et-Loire department) with its historic towns and important castles.
The eastern and central areas in the Sarthe and Mayenne departments are the least visited part of the Pays-de-la-Loire, having no coast and beaches and less important castles than the other departments, but there is still plenty to interest visitors from the historic centre of Le Mans to the quiet villages and scenery along the Mayenne river
Maine-et-Loire & Anjou: southern Pays-de-la-Loire
The modern Maine-et-Loire department covers approximately the same area as the historic Anjou region. There are several important castles, towns and sights of interest in the department, which is situated to the west of the Loire Valley.
The highlights, because they both combine attractive historic towns with river scenery and imposing castles are Angers with the Château d'Angers, in the town centre, and Saumur with the Château de Saumur.
Yet another interesting castle, this time to the south-west of Saumur, is the Chateau Montreuil-Bellay while the Abbey at Fontevraud to the south-east of the town is one of the most extensive religious complexes of its type to be found anywhere in Europe.
We also recommend a visit to the quiet town of Baugé while in this part of the Pays-de-la-Loire, and the village of Montsoreau which is one of the most attractive in the region and classified among the 'most beautiful villages of France'.
See the Anjou travel guide for more places to visit and highlights in this area
Loire-Atlantique: west Pays-de-la-Loire
In the western Pays-de-la-Loire on the Atlantic coast where the Loire river reaches the sea, the Loire-Atlantique is most visited for its coast and resorts along the Jade Coast and the Cote d'Amour.
The department is centred geographically around Nantes , which is a busy and interesting town with a great deal to explore. Close to Nantes you can also take a detour to visit the towns of Chateaubriant and Clisson.
Another highlight when you are away from the coast is the walled town of Guerande, one of our favourite towns in the region and with an extensive historical centre, surrounded by the salt marshes of the Natural Regional Park of Grande-Brière.
The popular Loire-Atlantique coastline to the west of the department is divided in two by the Loire estuary (which is crossed by a long bridge so it is easy to explore both regions:
(1) to the north of the Loire estuary is the Cote d'Amour, which itself includes part of the Cote Sauvage. Our favourite fishing villages here include Le Croisic and Batz-sur-Mer, while the popular beach resort at La Baule (between Le Pouliguen and Pornichet) has more than eight kilometres of sandy beach. To the east you can visit La Turballe.
See the Loire-Atlantique travel guide for more highlights and attractions
Vendée: south-west Pays-de-la-Loire
The Vendée department to the south-west of the Pays-de-la-Loire region is most visited for its beaches and popular family friendly seaside resorts.
The beaches here are typically sandy and very gently sloping, and without the larger waves that are found further south on the French Atlantic coast, making them ideal for children.
We also recommend you take the time to explore the south-east of the department near Fontenay-le-Comte, itself a traditional town with a castle and some interesting historic arcaded houses.
Close to Fontenay-le-Comte the marshy region called the Marais Poitevin is a peaceful and unique marshland region and best explored by boat, and the imposing ruins of Maillezais abbey stand on the edge of the marshes.
See our travel guide for the Vendee department of France to discover why it is so popular with visitors
Mayenne and central Pays-de-la-Loire
The town and regional centre for the Mayenne department is Mayenne itself, which is an interesting town with lots to admire.
Other highlights include a visit to the small town of Saulges, pleasant to explore and with caves to explore nearby, and the roman ruins at Jublains that are among the most important in north-west France.
Although the main highlights are to the north-east of the department it is in the south of the Sarthe that you can visit two of the most popular attractions:
- the Refuge de l'Arche near Chateau-Gontier (itself a pleasant town that deserves a detour) is an animal refuge centre that looks after animals that have been injured or mistreated, including both domestic and wild animals seized by the police.
- the Robert-Tatin Museum at Cossé-le-Vivien exhibits large and slightly deformed statues of famous people created by the artist between 1962 and 1983 in the grounds of the house where he lived
See the Mayenne travel guide for more information and places to visit
Sarthe and the eastern Pays-de-la-Loire
The highlight of a visit to Sarthe is certainly the town of Le Mans, which is also the largest town in the department.
Although the town is always associated with the famous 24 hour race that takes place here every year, you will find that there is also a very interesting and extensive historical centre in Le Mans which is one of the most interesting in France.
In southern Sarthe, the Chateau du Lude is a lovely castle in a very picturesque setting on the Loir river. To the west of here there is a popular zoo at la Fleche.
Near the western border of Sarthe, Asnieres-sur-Vegre is also a very pretty village on the side of a small river and the nearby Abbey at Solesmes is an attractive Benedictine monastery on the Sarthe river renowned for its gregorian chant.
The northern Sarthe is a region of natural highlights including Perseigne forest, the Alpes Mancelles and part of the Regional Natural Park of Normandie-Maine each of which offers opportunities for exploring the countryside.
See the Sarthe travel guide for more places to visit and highlights in this area
Outdoor activities in Pays-de-la-Loire
Although the Pays de la Loire is best known for its beaches, castles and towns such as Saumur and Nantes there are several rivers that cross the region, providing numerous opportunities to enjoy the water, whether you enjoy walking, cycling, or messing about in boats, and a pleasant way to explore the countryside. See rivers of the western Loire
Six unmissable highlights of a visit to Pays-de-la-Loire
The historical town of Nantes is one of the most interesting and vibrant towns in north-west France
La Baule, one of the most upmarket resorts on the coast of western France, has a long sandy beach.
See La Baule
One of the most extensive abbey complexes in Europe, Fontevraud is also one of the most interesting
See Fontevraud Abbey
Montsoreau is a very pretty village that also features a castle and a troglodyte settlement
The fortified village of Sainte-Suzanne is an attractive village in the Pays de la Loire
With the imposing castle at Saumur dominating the river front there is also a substantial historical centre.
Map of places to visit near Pays de la Loire
French version: Pays de la Loire (Francais)