When a country is shaped like a hexagon, it’s very hard to define “west”, but for the sake of this story let’s define it as: everything on the left hand side. Incidentally, I’ve just travelled 2,500 kilometres through the left hand side of France on a little red scooter. So, if you’re thinking of doing the same kind of honeymoon as I’m doing – or indeed just looking for some bucket list options, here are my ten top things to try in western France.
1) Walk through the most beautiful covered passage in France
In the city of Nantes, there’s a covered passage from the 1840s that tops anything you’ll find in Paris. It’s called the Passage Pommeraye, contains all kinds of little boutique shops, and is absolutely worth strolling through at least once.
2) Cycle through the salt fields on Ile-de-Ré
Escape the mainland from La Rochelle and head to the charming Ile-de-Ré. While the village life, seafood, and sunset terraces are worth it for the visit alone, be sure to rent a bike and explore the salt fields on the western side of the island. The air is so thick with salt you can taste it and the views are very unusual for France.
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An old French guy took this picture of us on the ledge here. He said to me as he took it: “Don’t fall. But then, you’ve clearly fallen once already. Into the arms of madame.” Ah, the French have a way with things, don’t they? Picture taken in the salt fields of Ile de Ré, an island off France’s west coast.
3) Stay in a chateau
Everyone should stay in a French chateau at least once in their lives – and it doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, you can even organise the Airbnb settings so that it only recommends rooms in chateaux around the country so they can be quite easy to find too.
4) Take in the pink granite coastline
On the north coast of Brittany you can find pink granite rock formations that make up the entire coastline. If you can only visit one of these beaches, do it at Ploumanach which was fairly recently voted as France’s favourite village to boot.
Spent the afternoon at the incredible village of Ploumanac’h in Brittany. Pink granite rocks in every direction. Absolutely worth a visit!!
5) Find the intricate shoe scrapers in Cognac
Sure, most tourist guides would recommend the town of Cognac for the brandy tasting – but not me. I was fascinated by the ornate shoe scrapers that are built into the walls by the front doors of many houses. I’ve never seen anything like it across all of France. See more here.
6) Take the back roads through the vineyards
One of the pleasures of driving a scooter across France is that we can’t take the highways. In fact, we set the GPS to recommend the smallest possible roads, meaning sometimes they’re tiny, ancient roads that curve through the famed grapevines of western France. Why would you ever want to take the autoroute when there’s the smell of ripe grapes to take in?!
7) Visit the aquarium in La Rochelle
As far as aquariums go, the one in La Rochelle is truly something to behold. Take everything you know about typical aquariums and throw it out the window. This place has mammoth shark tanks, tanks with real waves, and the most hypnotising jellyfish I’ve ever seen.
8) Eat a brioche in Verteuil
I bet you’ve not heard of this one before. Inland from La Rochelle you’ll find the tiny village of Verteuil-sur-Charente, where a local watermill-turned-restaurant serves up the best loaf of fresh Brioche in the country. And don’t take my word for it, British chef James Martin said the same thing and put the town on the map for foodies all over the UK. Sit on the terrace, enjoy the brioche, and be sure to see the watermill up close from the bathroom window.
9) Stroll through the old town in Vannes
Often overlooked by its more popular older brother town the road, Nantes, the city of Vannes is absolutely well worth a visit too. Check out Sunday markets, or just take a walk through the city’s impressive old town. Don’t miss the ramparts, the impressive public gardens, and the sun-soaked harbour.
10) Drive into a fortified town
I can’t explain it, but there’s a real thrill to enter a town through the same city gates that have been standing for centuries. There’s a particularly good one in the town of Cadillac and nearby Sauveterre-de-Guyenne (where you can even climb the ancient guard towers) – but you’ll surely find many more if you look for them.