About Les Sables d’Olonne beaches
The first yachting harbour in Vendée, as well as one of the most important commercial ports on the Atlantic coast, Les Sables d’Olonne is home to several nautical events every year, including the prestigious Vendée Globe race. Once famed for its salt, now popular for its rich maritime heritage, Les Sables d’Olonne is a lively resort and has plenty to offer in its surrounding areas, making it ideal for those who don’t want to just sit on a beach all day.
There are 20km (12.5 miles) of wild, untamed coastline within easy reach of Les Sables d’Olonne. The main beach is the 3km-long (2 miles) Grande Plage des Sables d’Olonne, a sandy beach that faces south. Well sheltered and supervised, it is ideal for families and is a safe place to relax and swim. Facilities include a dinghy sailing base and sailboards. Plage du Tanchet, at the southern end of the town, is another good option for families. The Dunes of Paracou are very popular. Plage Les Granges and Plage de Sauveterre, both in Olonne sur Mer, are less crowded but not supervised. There is a naturist beach at Olonne sur Mer, at the end of Plage les Granges. There is a good array of watersports on offer, including sea-kayaking, paragliding, sailing, diving, deep-sea fishing and jet-skiing.
Beyond the beach:
In town, check out the Priory St Nicolas, a fort that started life as a chapel. It was built, so the legend goes, in the 11th century by a sailor or a fisherman who survived a shipwreck. Also take a look at the Tower of Arundel, also known as Château de la Chaume, built at the end of the 15th century and at one time the only lighthouse in Vendée, to get a sense of the maritime heritage of Les Sables d’Olonne. Make sure you explore the Ile Penotte district too, with its facades decorated with seashells. There are several museums, the best of which are: the Musée de la Mer et de la Pêche (place Maraud, La Chaume), which is dedicated to the sea and fishing; the Musée de l’Abbaye Ste Croix (rue de Verdun), which is good on modern art; and the Musée du Coquillage, which exhibits stunning seashells.
Several children’s clubs will keep the little ones entertained on the beach. For teenagers, there is also a salt-water swimming pool on Le Remblai. Animal lovers will like the Parc zoologique des Sable d’Olonne (route de Tanchet), which has lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, monkeys, snakes, birds, alpacas, kangaroos and a lot more. Also worth checking out is the bird-watching observatory overlooking the Olonne salt marshes on the Ile d’Olonne. In town the Musée du Coquillage (Shell Museum) (8 rue du Maréchal Leclerc) is the first private collection of its kind in France and well worth a look. There is also a small non-motorized children’s go-karting track, on avenue Rhin et Danube, near the Casino des Pins.
The area surrounding Les Sables d’Olonne is made up of 1,400 hectares (3,460 acres) of salt-water marshes. Framed by forest of maritime pines and evergreen oaks, this is a great playground for nature lovers, who can hike, mountain bike, horseride or even take a trip in a canoe here. Or you could go back in time and visit Le Jardin des Salines to learn about local history and discover how salt, which has been harvested here for centuries, put the area on the global trade map (120 route de l’Aubraie). One of France’s most important ports, La Rochelle, 90km (56 miles) to the south, is an excellent day excursion from Les Sables d’Olonne. Known as the rebel city (Protestant in a Catholic country), it has a fascinating maritime heritage as well as a very pleasant laid-back atmosphere, long sweeping beaches, good architecture and great cuisine.