A Nature-Lover’s Paradise: Lac de Grand-Lieu - Al Fresco Holidays
Few people outside of France have heard of the Lac de Grand-Lieu. This is surprising, given that in winter, the lake is the largest in France. However, it is precisely this relative anonymity that makes the area so special.
For travellers who are actively seeking to avoid the crowds of the more touristy areas, the Lac de Grand-Lieu, which is located 14 kilometres to the South West of the city of Nantes, is a perfect location to explore. It provides an opportunity for visitors to relax, unwind and escape the noise of the cities and towns.
Keen bird-watchers will particularly enjoy a visit to this lake. Approximately 270 species of bird make the Lac de Grand-Lieu their home, albeit for just a short period of time before continuing on their journey!
Highlights of the Lac de Grand-Lieu
Learn about fishing during the August fishing festival. Throughout history, the locals have traditionally relied on the lake to provide them with plentiful fish. Each year, on the 15th August, there is a celebration of all things fishing-related, called the Fete of Fishermen (Fȇte des Pȇcheurs), where visitors can jump on board a boat (normally prohibited throughout the year without a licence) and learn more about the techniques of the local professional fishermen. There are also plenty of tasty grilled crayfish and eels to sample.
Visit St Philbert de Grand Lieu. Keen hikers will really appreciate the area around St Philbert de Grand Lieu, a small, pretty town only a few kilometres from the lake. The marshy land and surrounding woodlands provide plenty of pleasant walks. Another big highlight is the Church of St Philbert, a remarkable large church which looms large over the town, and dates back to the 9th century. The cloister garden is particularly tranquil and well worth a visit.
Spring-time flowers. One of the lake’s most striking features is how different it appears at various times of the year. In the winter, the waters extend dramatically, forming a huge lake covering 6,000 hectares, and in the summer they retreat substantially. Spring is a particularly popular time to visit, as the water lilies open on the surface of the lake, creating a picturesque scene of white and yellow floral displays across the water.
Spend the day at the Planete Sauvage. If you’re travelling with the kids, then hop in the car and visit the Planete Sauvage (Wild Planet), which is within easy reach of the lake (a few kilometres to the north). The animal park consists of four different zones: Safari, Jungle, Marine and the African bush. Children will enjoy seeing all the different animals, including monkeys, elephants, giraffes and dolphins, and will also enjoy clambering across the suspension bridge.
Get out the binoculars and bird-watch. Lac de Grand-Lieu is a haven for bird-watchers and boasts one of the finest selections of birds in the country, second only to the Camargue. Whatever time of year you choose to visit, you’re sure to see plenty of birdlife on the water. In winter, the lake is taken over by approximately 20,000 ducks. Many other species of bird also pass through the area as a mid-migratory pit-stop. In spring, approximately 2,000 pairs of herons take up residence on the lake, and rarer species include spoonbills and large egrets. For great uninterrupted views, there is a mobile observatory at the Site des Pierres Aiguës, below St-Aignan.
Go mammal-spotting. Although birds are the principle draw when it comes to wildlife, there are plenty of other animals to try to spot. In particular, otters are a fairly common sight in the water and are sure to delight younger members of the family. There are other creatures to spot too, including eels, crayfish and the midwife toad.
Further Afield: A Visit to Nantes
Situated a mere 20 minute drive from the Lac de Grand-Lieu is the bustling city of Nantes. Located on the banks of the Loire, it provides a perfect contrast to the peace and solitude of the lake. There are plenty of museums to explore, including the popular Machines de L’Ile, where visitors can ride on the back of an automated elephant and look at the machines of Da Vinci and Jules Verne, brought to life in wonderful detail. The Cathedral is also a highlight, and there are many chateaux in the near vicinity.
Staying in the Area: Accommodation to Suit All Budgets
Whether you’re looking for the perfect spot from which to explore the Lac de Grand-Lieu, or are seeking somewhere in close proximity to Nantes, there are a few excellent holiday parks to choose from.
Camping Clarys Plage is exceptionally well-suited to those travelling with children, and has a water park, evening entertainment and a beach situated within 300 metres of the site. It’s also conveniently located for Nantes, and is under an hour’s drive away. Alternatively, Camping Sol a Gogo sits directly on the beach and has its own bar, which is always welcome after a day spent hiking and bird-watching at the lake!