A nature reserve with marshes, rivers and little islands, Briere Regional Natural Park is the second largest marsh in France after the Camargue.
The wet meadows and reedy marshes are a safe haven for many rare species of animals, plants and birds such as merlins in winter and red kites in summer.
Visitors should look for the typical thatched roofed houses in Brieron villages. The watery landscape is best seen from the many walking and cycling routes, or in an open carriage.
Take a trip in a traditional flat-bottomed barge from Saint-Andre-des-Eaux or Saint-Lyphard. For more information, contact the Tourist Information Centre, tel (00 33) 2 40 24 96 71
The Guerande (from the Breton for ‘white land’) Peninsula, bordered by the Briere Marshes to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, is an 80m² area of salt flats and home to a magnificent array of fauna and flora. Migratory birds abound, including the rare barnacle goose.
In spring, the marshes are covered in the yellow flowers of black mustard and later, purple sea lavender and wild fennel. The beautifully preserved medieval town of Guerande is well worth a visit. Tour the ramparts for fine views of the square salt pans where seawater is collected and evaporated, providing the town with its livelihood.
Salt was farmed here by the Celts over 1,000 years ago and the process has changed very little. In ancient times, salt was so precious it was used as a currency and the relatively dry, warm breezy micro-climate of Guerande makes it ideal for salt production.
Salt rakers work from June to September harvesting the white surface crystals know as fleur de sel (they give off a scent of violets as they dry) and the coarse sel gris from the bottom of the pans.
This stretch of coastline south of the Loire Estuary to Bourgneuf Bay takes its name from the vibrant green colour of the waves which play along the shores of its fine sandy beaches at popular resorts such as Saint Brevin-les-Pins and Pornic.
A favourite with French holidaymakers, this coast is warm and sunny thanks to the Gulf Stream and is understandably busy during the main holiday season. The wilder coastline to the south, around Les Moutiers-en-Retz, gives way to smaller picturesque coves and beaches separated by rocky hillsides. Ask at Pornic tourist office for details about walking the 15km custom officers’ pathway and coastal boat trips.