The insiders’ guide to Pays de la Loire

Fun for all the family in Nantes
“Spend an hour or so browsing at le passage Pommeraye, a beautiful arcade on two levels with some really cool shops,” suggests Angele Copik, a lamp designer and English teacher who lives close to Nantes in Château-Thébaud. “And don’t miss the giant elephant at Les Machines de L’île – a huge, moving, steampunk structure that sprays water and can carry up to 50 people. The nearby park is like the surface of the moon, with trampolines in the craters – it’s free of charge too.”

Authentic French market
Richelieu, a 17th-century walled and moated town built around two squares with exquisite architecture, really comes to life on Friday mornings, when the food market takes place. “It’s packed with local produce,” says Tommy Barnes, microbrewer and author of A Beer in the Loire, who lives in Braslou, Indre-et-Loire. “There’s the famous St Maure de Touraine goat’s cheese, wines from Chinon, sausages, lush vegetables, and artisan beer made by me. After the market, I’ll go for a quick drink at La Taverne while the kids play in the beer garden – La Taverne is built into the walls of the town and overlooks the magnificent Richelieu park.”

Picnics and punting
“Take a picnic and go punting through the network of canals in the Marais Poitevin, around the ruins of a medieval abbey,” suggests Erin Choa, owner of wedding venue Château de Bourneau in the Vendée. “You might like to stop for an afternoon crepe or ice-cream on the wisteria-covered terrace of L’Auberge de l’Abbaye. And Mervent forest is a beautiful escape to nature – try canoeing on the lake.”

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Pornic harbour.

The giant elephant at Les Machines de L’île.

Most picturesque chateau
“Château de Chenonceau is my favourite,” says Barnes. “Most sit on the banks alongside the rivers, and some are on islands, but this one actually spans the river – it’s like something from Alice in Wonderland.” There’s plenty of room for kids to let off steam in the Renaissance gardens, plus several picnic areas, including a covered one.

The locals’ swimming lake
“One of my favourite places in the Loire is the town where I live, Sillé-le-Guillaume, near Le Mans,” says mum-of-five Gillian Holwill. “It’s a town where you can experience ‘real’ French life but there’s also plenty to see and do. Coco Plage is a brilliant place to cool off in the summer – it’s a manmade sandy beach by a swimming lake set in the forest with a cafe and lifeguards. There’s also a beautiful church to explore, and a castle.”

The family-friendly beach
“Our favourite family-friendly beach is La Grande Plage des Sables-d’Olonne,” says Valérie Gelencser of the family-run Gelencser artisanal chocolate shops. “It’s great for swimming, surfing and sunbathing, with shops and cafes for the whole family right on the boardwalk.” Head to Marché Arago for wonderful fresh produce, and just down the street is a good, casual Italian restaurant called Mama.

A food festival in Richelieu’s main square.

The causeway to Ile de Noirmoutier.

Step back in time
“Families and history buffs will love the Puy du Fou historical theme park,” says Choa. “It has falconry and jousting, and the annual Cinéscénie show in the summer features 2,400 actors and 120 horse riders on the world’s biggest stage!”

The secret seaside spot
“One of our favourite places to go on Ile de Noirmoutier is the Bois des Eloux, around two miles from the centre,” says Diane Lafont, who owns a B&B on the island. “The woodland has paths in every direction, overlooking the ocean, with quiet, family-friendly beaches.”

Ice-cream dreams
“I love Pornic,” says James Larkin, Nantes Today blogger. “It has sandy beaches, fishing and sailing harbours, a very pretty castle and a medieval old town. Don’t miss La Fraiseraie, which serves amazing homemade ice-cream, but be prepared to queue!”

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