Pays de la Loire On a Budget
SightsThe Chateau des ducs de Bretagne is a popular Nantes sight in Pays de la Loire. It is a powerful symbol of Nantes' place in Breton history. The dukes having chosen Nantes for capital made the castle a real town within a town. The contrast between the exterior fortifications and the Renaissance-inspired inner buildings is unique. The castle was the last ducal residence of Brittany before the nation was merged with the Kingdom of France. It was also the birthplace and home of Anne of Brittany, who became twice Queen of France. Here in the heart of the city, you can retrace five centuries of history, admire the finely executed facades and terraces and walk the castle walls. Today the castle also houses the fascinating Nantes History Museum.
Another popular sight, Fontevraud Abbey or The Royal Abbey of Our Lady of Fontevraud, is a complex of religious buildings hosting a cultural center since 1975 called the Centre Culturel de l'Ouest. The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119. The Abbey was then located within what is sometimes referred to as the Angevin Empire. The King of England, Henry II, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and son, King Richard the Lionheart were buried here at the end of the 12th century. Disestablished as a monastery during the French Revolution, it served as a prison from 1804 to 1963.
The Chateau d'Angers, another popular sight, is a castle in the city of Angers in the Loire Valley. Founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou, it was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. It is located overhanging the river Maine. The Chateau d'Angers is home of the Apocalypse Tapestry and is now open to the public.
RegionsThe biggest city in Pays de la Loire is Nantes, which is the sixth most populated city in France with over 290,000 people. Together with Saint-Nazaire, a seaport located on the Loire estuary, Nantes forms the main metropolis of north-western France. Spirited and innovative, this artsy city on the banks of the Loire has a history of reinventing itself. Nantes has something for everyone, from great cultural and historical sites like castles, cathedrals, and museums, to amusement parks and great shopping and dining options. It is a popular tourist destination in the Pays de la Loire region.
Angers is another metropolis of the region. It has a metropolitan population of about 400,000 and is the third biggest job provider in north-western France. Angers enjoys a rich cultural life, made possible by its universities and museums. The old medieval center is still dominated by the massive chateau of the Plantagenets, home of the Apocalypse Tapestry, the biggest medieval tapestry ensemble in the world. Angers is also both at the edge of the Val de Loire, a World Heritage Site, and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine regional natural park. Angers has plenty for tourists to do.
Le Mans is another city in Pays de la Loire. Situated in north-east Pays de la Loire, Le Mans is home to a metropolitan population over 300,000. Le Mans has a well-preserved old town with the Cathedrale St-Julien, dedicated to St Julian of Le Mans, who is honored as the city's first bishop. Remnants of a Roman wall are visible in the old town and Roman baths are located by the river. These walls are highlighted every summer (July and August) evening in a light show that tells the history of the town. Le Mans has several other popular sites and points of interest such as museums, parks, and structures. It also has a great shopping and dining scene.
ActivitiesOne very unique and popular activity is the Puy du Fou historical theme park in Les Epesses. The park brings more than 2 million visitors every year, making it the second most popular theme park in France after Disneyland Paris. The historical theme park allows visitors to choose their favorite historical show to experience. The park is split into 26 main shows, each running for approximately 130 - 140 minutes and including options like, Viking Age, Medieval Age, Roman Amphitheaters, Musketeers, among many other options.
Another unique and original option is the Machines of the Isle of Nantes: an artistic, touristic and cultural project in the old covered buildings of the former shipyards that were at one time used for ship construction and later used as business sites. The projects were created by two artists and aim to promote the city's image and build an identity as a creative metropolis of dream and of fantasy. One of the most popular of the machines is The Great Elephant, which is 12 meters high and 8 meters wide, and made from 45 tons of wood and steel. It can take up to 49 passengers for a 45-minute walk around town. Other machines include The Marine Worlds Carousel, and The Heron Tree.
Food and DiningPays de la Loire is no exception to the great gastronomy options in France. This region is particularly well known for its variety of pork options. A few specific dishes to watch for in the area include: Beurre blanc, a butter sauce made with white wine that originated in the Nantes/Angers area; Rillauds d'Anjou, a pork belly cooked in fat; Rillettes from Le Mans, shredded pork pate; and Vendee Ham.
The region has many wonderful, some even Michelin-starred, restaurants to choose from, but for a few ideas to help you get started, you could try: Le Cigale in Nantes , which is both a monument historique and a fabulous place to eat serving regional cuisine; Le Favre d'Anne, serving fresh, local produce in a 19th century mansion overlooking the Castle in Angers; and L'Epicerie du Pre in a 16th century house, close to the old town of Le Mans , it's the perfect place to enjoy simple dishes such as salads, home-made soups and sandwiches which are mainly made with organic and Fair Trade ingredients.
TransportationPays de la Loire offers a well-developed communication network across its departments so there are many ways to get to the cities in this region. You can either fly, with many low-cost companies now operating to and from the region, in either Nantes or Angers, or use trains and buses operating in, from, and to the region. Or you can also drive on the excellent motorway through the area. There are also good public transit systems within and among the various cities in the region.
Train and Bus Prices
The best prices for buses and trains in France can be found on Omio (formerly GoEuro). They let you search across all train, bus, and plane routes throughout the region.