Introduction to Vendée and areas to French Basque ports

South of the Loire, the smart holiday resort of Pornic is well worth visiting, as are the two lovely islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu. The former is flat and sandy with lots of salt ponds. The latter is rocky with good walking, a modern marina and the best tuna steaks in France.
On the mainland are the attractive fishing port and beach resort of Saint-Gilles and France's premier yachting port, Les Sables d'Olonne. It is at the latter that the Vendée Globe round-the-world race, the pinnacle of single-handed racing, starts and finishes every four years.

The Charente feels like the real south. There are sunflowers everywhere and the crew start complaining about sunburn and heatstroke instead of frostbite and mildew.
The area is centred on the two holiday islands of Île d'Oleron and Île de Ré. Both have north coast harbours that make good bases for biking and walking. On the mainland, the historic city of La Rochelle is a must and a trip up the River Charente to Rochefort is likely to be the high point of a cruise in this area. Both La Rochelle and Rochefort have good marinas.
The more adventurous can take the canal to Marans and visit the marshes of the Marais Poitevin or perhaps visit the River Seudre to see industrial scale oyster farming around Marennes. The oysters themselves can be sampled almost anywhere.

The Gironde
This river is much used by North European yachtsmen with yachts of moderate draft as a short-cut to the Mediterranean via the Canal du Midi but it is an interesting cruising area in its own right. The currents are fast and the water is silt-laden but for connoisseurs of fine wine it could be a mecca.

The Arcachon Basin and The French Basque ports
This is a useful stop-over between North Biscay and the Basque ports of France, always assuming that there is not too much swell to make entry impossible. Oyster culture is a major industry and many of the small harbours are given over to it entirely. The four small French Basque ports are holiday resorts with the main emphasis being on their splendid beaches. But they are all interesting and quite different from one another so that they are all worth a visit.

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