The Brittany and Loire-Atlantique border contains a delightful blend of history,chateaux,seaside and salt marshes. With car,campervan or tent you'll be well catered for. Read my guide to find out.
Start with a ferry ride. With Brittany Ferries, LD lines or Norfolk Line, you can amble your way through France in your own car. There are many super places to stop on the way to Brittany and Loire Atlantique, and it's all an adventure!
Find the walled town of Guerande, it dates from medieval times. A stroll around the moat has you thinking knights in shining armour. Find one of the four gates into the city. Now you have cobbled alleys, 16th century buildings and the chance to walk the ramparts.
Saturday is market day, the central square is filled with purveyors of fruit and vegetables, garlic and herbs, and what Guerande is famous for - salt. The area has been built on a good salt trade over the centuries. Fleur due sel is a refined form, much admired by gourmets, but a word of warning - a pinch is wonderful; more could be dramatic! Once, as a dinner guest, I sampled a second helping and nearly threw up. Be aware!
There are plenty of cafés and restaurants, and very browsable shops and picture galleries. La Guerandiere, in Rue Vannes, sells all sorts of things you never knew you needed. I always come away with something. In Guerande you can pick up prints to impress the Jones's, or well presented knick-knacks for the Smiths' and, of course, the ever present salt. The salt emporium in the main street cheerfully gift wrapped our small purchase.
Explore the little lanes, like Rue du Vieux Marche and find the Hotel Roc Maria - 16th century charm, character, and exposed beams. Here you can guide your knight, or lady, to a four poster bed! Rooms start from 53 euro a night for a double with en suite. Or, there's Hotel le Tricot - typically French traditional, stuffed with period style. It has pleasant gardens and English speaking hosts. Rooms start from 100 euro. This hotel is recommended by the Guides de Charme, who regularly check the standards of the private houses, mansions and sometimes chateaux on their books. It is not your ordinary b and b. Check their website for illustrations.
It's good to wander around an ancient town at so little cost. Prices are very reasonable, and so are the restaurants, although they do tend to opt for the French version of fast food, the galette - that's a big wholemeal pancake folded around ham and mushrooms, or smoked salmon and cream cheese, or for the more adventurous, tripe sausage and black pudding! There is plenty of choice, make it up and they'll cook it! We often buy a lemon sugar pancake to take-away from the stall in main square. They are two euro each and we sit on benches outside the church of Notre Dame la Blanche de Guerande, to indulge in people watching. Some of the best savoury galettes can be had in the creperie of the Roc Maria.
Guerande is a great holiday base. There is plenty of free parking two or three minutes walk outside the walls.
If beaches are your bag, then Camping La Falaise, at La Turballe is for you. It has access to a memorable beach, with the sound of softly lapping waves and has hedged campervan plots, compact cabins for hire, and super facilities. La Falaise is around 30 euro a night, and this manicured site is a short stroll from town.
La Turballe is 10 minutes' drive from Guerande, ten minutes from Le Croisic, ten from Piriac sur Mer. It's a fishing village, small, brimming with fish suppers. You, of course, will visit in season, July August and September, but when the rougher weather kicks in, it's rumoured that La Tuballe's local fishermen are inclined to do battle: it's their competitive spirit! However, in the season it's all sweetness and light, and you will be well looked after.
Take a look at Piriac sur Mer. It is on the sea, with lanes to wander in and to wonder at. It has the most fun restaurant in the area, the Lacomere. It's easily found, it's in the main street, the one with far the most customers. The patron plays the bagpipes, Breton pipes, of course. They're not his only attribute. You may be enjoying moules frites, or a plate of mixed sea food - when a window beside you flies open to reveal your host with a saxophone. Cover your ears and accept the serenade!
There is sometimes rivalry with the Bodega Bay, across the road. Place mats sail across like Frisbees, and the insults fly. The owner of that establishment looks remarkably like our host, a family connection, perhaps? Anyway, I promise, you'll laugh all the time.
Get some exercise in the National Park, La Grande Briere. Apart from wonderful walks and carriage rides, it's known for its peat bogs, otters, lush vegetation, and it's on a flight path for migrating birds. Take a conducted boat trip on the marshes, or, if you're fit, hire a canoe for two and set off on your own. I'd like to say the waterways were well signposted, but you have to keep your eyes open. About two hours later you'll complete the circuit. It's something I wouldn't have missed, (and won't do again for a while). It was definitely fun, though, especially as we split into same-sex crews. Competition was fierce, but at the end we were bushed!
How about a spot of shopping to end? Le Croisic is a modern seaside town with plenty of charm. It has free hard standing for campervans for limited periods. There is an aquarium and a nice little park. Wander the quayside into town, there might be an exhibition in the old fish market, photographic or artisan work, the theme changes regularly. Buy a poster print from local artist Michel Guillemot in the High Street, get a beauty for five euros! Le Croisic seems to have cornered the market in pretty postcards - artistic impressions of local scenes. It also has striped Breton jerseys. The selection at l'Impression is hard to resist.
You could combine this holiday with the places in my guide Exploring southern Brittany. They are just a few inlets and bays apart. This whole area is a fantastic introduction to France. You'll come back again, there is still so much to discover!