TOP ROUTES TO WESTERN FRANCE
Tuck into some tasty seafood as you stroll along the sandy beaches in La Rochelle or wander around the cobbled Old Town in Angouleme. Head to Angers to discover its rich history or take a trip to Limoges and explore the lush, green countryside.
There’s magic in the air at La Rochelle. The illuminated towers of the Vieux Port look breathtaking against the evening skies – the stories they could tell! Soldiers have fought and died here since the 12th century. But discerning travellers are the latest invading army; drawn by stunning 17th-century architecture – like the Cathedral St Louis, a national monument of France. Not to mention the sandy beaches and excellent seafood, served all along the harbour front.
It's world famous for its motor race. But there’s so much more to Le Mans than petrol fumes. Like the charming Old Town with its narrow, cobbled streets and the huge 11th-century Cathédrale Saint-Julien – one of the biggest cathedrals in France. But if it’s fast cars you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. Circuit de la Sarthe hosts the prestigious 24-hour race, while the Bugatti Circuit is home to the 24-hour Le Mans motorcycle race.
A major Atlantic seaport at the mouth of the Loire River, Nantes has seen massive investment in recent years. From history buffs to thrill-seekers, from shopaholics to gastronomes, Nantes has something for everyone. There’s a fun but laid-back atmosphere to the place and after a few days here, you’ll begin to understand why ‘Time’ magazine once named it ‘the most liveable city in Europe.’
Capital of Brittany (Bretagne), Rennes artfully combines its 2000-year-old history with a vibrant contemporary culture. The historic centre is notable for its well-preserved 16th and 17th-century buildings, including colourful timber-framed houses. And a large student population helps contribute to a lively arts scene, with nationally famous music, dance and film festivals.
As the medieval capital of the Anjou region, Angers is rich in history. A trip to the city is dominated by the formidable Chateau D’Angers, a 9th-century fortress that towers over the River Maine. While the 11th-century Cathedrale St. Maurice – home to the stained glass window of Saint Julian – is well worth a visit. But for a change of speed, head to the idyllic Botanical Gardens – Angers claims to be ‘the most flowered city in Europe’.
Ile de Re
Just 18 miles (30km) long and 3 miles (5km) wide, Île de Ré sits off France’s Atlantic coast, connected to La Rochelle by a 2-mile (3km) bridge. It’s one of the country’s sunniest areas, with a mild climate and almost Mediterranean plant life. You should really explore it by bike – this completely flat island is criss-crossed by 60 miles of cycle paths, connecting the 10 villages with a varied countryside of vineyards, woods, salt marshes and beaches. Stop and refuel with the famous local oysters and wine. During summer, the population here increases tenfold. Even so, the simplicity of life and the island’s understated style means that you’re very much ‘getting away from it all’.
Limoges was made for walking. Walk out into the beautiful lush, green countryside - some of the prettiest in all of France. Walk over the 13th-century stone bridge Pont St Etienne; past the gothic Cathedrale St. Etienne and its vaulting octagonal bell tower, and through the enchanting Eveche Botanical Gardens… And everywhere, shop after shop sells the exquisite porcelain that makes this France’s china capital.
For a taste of old-world French charm, head to Angouleme. Life moves a little more slowly here. Take a stroll through the cobbled Old Town with its enticing boutiques and galleries. Marvel at stunning Angouleme Cathedral with its wonderfully intricate facade. Or find out why they call this the ‘City of Festivals’. In mid-September Angouleme hosts the Circuit Des Ramparts, where rare pre-war racing cars zoom around the raised city ramparts.
If you love history, you’ll love Caen. In medieval times, the city was base for William the Conqueror. The imposing buildings erected to celebrate his reign dominate any visit here. Check out the magnificent Abbaye aux Hommes – but tread softly, for the ruthless Norman leader was buried here in 1087. Caen also saw fierce fighting during the WWII Battle of Normandy. For a moving tribute to the fallen, pay a visit to the Memorial for Peace.
With its historical treasures and modern wonders, Poitiers is proud of its past and confident about its future. This picturesque capital of the Vienne département sits atop a hill in the Poitou region waiting for you to discover its narrow, cobbled streets, its rich architectural heritage and its sophisticated contemporary culture. The elegant, medieval buildings of Poitiers provide an intriguing contrast to the nearby Futuroscope theme park.
In the heart of châteaux country on the lower reaches of the River Loire lays the ‘garden of France’. Tours, capital of the Indre-et-Loire department, offers so much to the visitor. This UNESCO World Heritage area produces an abundance of fruit, wine and flowers, while the town itself proudly displays a stunning array of Renaissance and neo-classical architecture. Don't miss the Church of St Martin, the Botanic Garden or the Museum of Fine Arts.
Prices based on lowest available Standard Class return fare per person.
© Nicolas Thibaut, Spila Riccardo-Sime, Nicolas Thibaut, Alain Le-Bot, von-Dachsberg-Sime, Kaos02-Sime, Gianluca Santoni-Sime.