In the western French region of Pays de la Loire – branded as the Atlantic Loire Valley – the year ahead is all about living life in the slow lane while championing sustainability. Home to the famous green cities of Nantes and Angers, a stunning stretch of the Atlantic coast and half of the Loire Valley itself, the region is encouraging visitors to experience slow tourism through the lens of four major themes: cycling, water activities, agritourism and wine.
The Atlantic Loire Valley is made for exploring on two wheels at your own pace, with 3,000km of marked trails and five cycle routes: the Vélodyssée and Vélocéan on the coast, the river-hugging Loire à Vélo and Vallée du Loir à Vélo, and the Vélo Francette diagonally down from Normandy towards La Rochelle. The year 2020 also saw the addition of the Vélobuissonnière, a route meandering south through the Sarthe and Anjou countryside and ending in Saumur. If you’re cycling for several days, the 690 ‘Accueil Vélo’ bike-friendly accommodation venues offer ideal places to pitstop.
What’s new for cyclists in 2022?
The three-day French Road Cycling Championships (23-26 June 2022) are due to be held in Cholet, involving time trials and road races for elite professional and amateur riders, with around 600 riders and 110 teams competing.
Two new circuits on the 320-km Vallée du Loir à Vélo route opened in July last year. The first leads cyclists around the famous La Flèche zoo and the Château du Lude (48km), while the second takes in twisted steeples and marshland along a converted former railway track (36km). Meanwhile, on the nearby Wine Route starting from Chartre-sur-le-Loir or Ruillé-sur-Loir, the Vignoble de Jasnières à Vélo wine discovery circuit takes cyclists along a 16km route through the vineyards of Chenin, to learn more about this AOC white wine.
Finally, the brand new Sarthe Bike Tour (14-15 May 2022) kicks off this year, combining fun cycling challenges of 30, 80 and 160km with local heritage in and around Le Mans.
The Atlantic Loire Valley is blessed with both 450km of coastline, two islands and 375km of navigable rivers (250km on the River Loire itself), making sailing, boating and other watersports plentiful and satisfying. Thanks to the regional Vogue & Vague initiative, as many as 160 different water activities are available to all ages and abilities, including more unusual ones such as sandyachting, giant SUP and e-foiling.
You can explore the region’s towns and cities from the water too: discover Angers by canoe, gain a fresh insight into the heritage of Saumur on a guided cruise along the Loire, cross Laval on an electric boat or stay on a barge on the River Erdre in Nantes.
What’s new on the water for 2022?
New river tourism brand Rivières de l’Ouest is France’s largest network of navigable waterways, offering 283km across four rivers in Anjou, Mayenne and Sarthe. Rent a houseboat for a few days – electric models available – and admire the lockkeepers’ cottages and pretty villages, stopping at the bars and cafés lining the banks.
Out on the coast in Brétignolles-sur-Mer, you can now hire eco-friendly surfboards made by combining two technical foams sourced from recycled plastic bottles and biomass. A world first, Squid Surfboards’ high-performance boards have been awarded the ‘Initiatives Remarquables’ label and have half the carbon footprint of conventional boards – there’s also a deposit service for guaranteed end-of-life board recycling. The company plans to develop a paddleboard using the same technologies.
In Saint-Nazaire, the Espadon submarine reopened in July last year following a long restoration. A former French Navy vessel, the Espadon is the first submersible to have dived under the sea ice and the only submarine presented afloat that can be visited in France. Now offering a new visitor experience: a dive under the sea ice.
In a post-pandemic context, the concept of meeting local producers, sharing in their knowledge, learning how products are grown and made, and sitting down around a table has never been more important – and that’s where agritourism is the perfect fit. There are some 350 tourist farm-stay properties and farm-to-fork outlets across the Atlantic Loire Valley, united under three leading agritourism networks: Accueil Paysan, Bienvenue à la Ferme and Gites de France. From Guérande salt to rillettes from Le Mans and oysters on the coast, you can enjoy the region’s specialities direct from the farm in the enthusiastic company of its friendly producers. ‘Discovery farms’ are great for families – and more unusual examples include farms growing saffron, spirulina, seaweed, edible flowers and making products using donkey milk.
What’s new on the farm for 2022?
Inspired by the island of Noirmoutier and its wild environment, Catherine Michel founded Artemia Cosmétiques at the end of 2021 to produce face and body care treatments free from sulphates, parabens and silicon and made from 98% natural ingredients. The products use simple and local formulas containing sea water and sea fennel, mimosa, maritime pine, fleur de sel and samphire to create an eco-friendly and authentic beauty range suitable for all skin types.
The Atlantic Loire Valley is synonymous with wine: it’s the third-largest winegrowing region of France in terms of AOCs, with three areas awarded the ‘Vignobles & Découvertes’ quality wine tourism label and over 350 cellars open to tourists. Organic – ‘bio’ – vineyards are becoming more widespread and interesting touring options are available, from cycling and horse-and-carriage rides to segways and electric scooters. Look out for Muscadet, a bone-dry white typically enjoyed with seafood, the red Saumur-Champigny and the sparkling Crémant de Loire.
What’s new in the vineyards for 2022?
After an apprenticeship under chef Philippe Etchebest and a decade as a sommelier in several Michelin-starred restaurants in the Loire, Nicolas Barbou created Les Flacons in 2021. He shares his insights and passion for wine by organising tasting sessions and wine workshops in an elegant setting in Paimboeuf, where he also sells 250 different French organic and biodynamic wines.
Fancy combining wine with hiking? RandoCabanes have installed eco-friendly hikers’ cabins in the vineyards around Nantes, designed to blend seamlessly into their environment and ideal for a quiet weekend of nature immersion. Owner Franck Pasquier offers bespoke services including guided tours, wine tastings, picnic hampers and breakfast delivered to your cabin door.