Originally part of the Duchy of Brittany, many similarities with its near neighbour remain to this day, from the golden resort of La Baule and Pornic with its fishing port to the ancient prehistoric remains. At the Presqu’île Guérandaise, the 2000 hectares of salt marshes produce 12,000 tons of sea salt each season. This department is rich in seafood, whether scallops from Croisic or moules and sardines from la Turballe. The latter are still sold in the street where traditionally a dozen is thirteen! Grilled and fresh, accompanied by a cold glass of Muscadet or Gros-Plant, what could be more agreeable.
The vineyards extend to 13,000 hectares and the annual production of Muscadet produces 20,000 hectolitres from the slopes of the Loire, 450,000 hectolitres from Sèvre and Maine and 90,000 hectolitres of Gros Plant. It was the monks in the 16th century who first planted these vines. Many opportunities exist to visit the numerous cellars and dine in style on the wine routes.
Once the capital of Brittany, Nantes is the fourth largest port in France and it was as a trading centre that it acquired its wealth. The magnificent 18th century buildings around the Ile Feydeau and the Théatre Graslin and Passage Pommeraye are examples of this period. Bluebeard is reputed to have murdered hundreds of children in the 15th century Château. Here, too, the famous Edict of Nantes was signed in the 16th century. Nantes was also the birthplace of Jules Verne and a museum commemorates him and his works.
The 13/17th century Château at Clisson, recognised as one of the most beautiful examples of military architecture in France, is strategically placed between the Republican Nantes and the Royalist Vendée, the town gate being an important architectural relic of the period. The sculptor, Francois-Frederic Lemont, inspired by his love of Italy, built the elegant villa Lemont with its elaborate colonnade outside Clisson. The many arched edifices in the Sèvre demonstrate the Italianate influence on local architecture of Lemont and the Cacault brothers. At Châteaubriant, where market day is on Wednesday, the ramparts of the 12th century Château overlook the town, the Chère and a fishing lake. Local specialities include Châteaubriant steak and the Galette de Blé Noire, a pancake of buckwheat, frequently washed down by a bowl of cider. The superb 12th century Château at Blain has had amongst its many owners, the Princess of Greece in 1914. In World War II it was occupied by the Germans, English and the Americans. Now classed as a “Monument Historique’ it boasts a restaurant and also hosts various exhibitions.