Les Sables-d'Olonne is one of the brighter stars on France’s Coast of Light (Côte de Lumière). Located roughly between Saint-Nazaire and La Rochelle, it’s noted for its busy fish markets, bustling nightlife and superb beach. As with most old French towns, it wears its history with pride, especially around the town centre, but is ringed by modern developments, ensuring that it remains a worthwhile destination.

    The port is the heart and soul of Les Sables-d’Olonne, as you will see in our introductory guide to the town. You’ll find a good array of restaurants, bars, clubs, shops, museums and activity centres here, mostly within a short walk of the quayside.


    The beaches of Les Sables-d'Olonne

    Where to enjoy the sands of Olonne

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    • Goedkoop

    The name of the town translates to “the sands of Olonne”, so the beaches bordering the Atlantic Ocean are naturally an important feature. The main one is either known by the name of the town or as La Grande Plage (Big Beach). The second name is certainly deserved as it’s about 275 metres from the promenade to the sea. Located right in the heart of town, the soft, yellow sand stretches for about 1.2 km from the jetty that borders the town's port entrance to a series of rocky outcrops.

    Further south is Plage du Veillon, which is more popular for birdwatchers than sunbathers, though surfers also like this spot. North of town, you’ll find the very long and straight Plage de Sauveterre, which eventually leads up towards the next town along the coast. While quieter than La Grande Plage, the sand is coarser, the waves stronger and the shoreline much rockier, making it a generally less pleasant alternative to the protected bay of Les Sables-d'Olonne.


    Family things to do in Les Sables-d'Olonne

    How to keep the kids entertained away from the beach

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    While the sandy shoreline is certainly the star attraction in Les Sables-d’Olonne, there are plenty of places you can take the family when you want a break from the beach. Among the most popular is the Zoo des Sables d’Olonne. Home to more than 500 animals from 60 different species, its most noteworthy residents include the extremely rare Amur leopard and the unusual African dwarf crocodile.

    If animals don’t excite your little ones, they may prefer Dunes Park – a 25-minute drive north of Les Sables-d’Olonne, in Brem-sur-Mer. The waterpark only has a few slides, but kids up to about 8 years old enjoy them. Similarly small in scale but closer to town, L'Ile aux Jeux les Sables is a sort of indoor amusement park – great for keeping the family happy on rainy days.


    Museums in Les Sables-d'Olonne

    Where to learn about the town’s long history

    • Geschiedenis

    Despite the relatively quiet history of Les Sables-d'Olonne, the town has a surprising number of museums. Many of these are related to the town’s close association with the sea, whether that’s the time when it was the largest cod-fishing port in the country (during the 17th century) or the various sieges that it endured because of its maritime supply route during the French Revolution.

    Check out the Sea Museum, which is divided into exhibits about the French Navy and about fishing. Don’t forget to go to the top of the tower for a great view across the town. The Museum of Sea Shells, while targeting a very specific area of interest, can be entertaining for all for at least 30 minutes. To get away from the sea for a bit, there’s a modest municipal museum, the Museum of the Holy Cross Abbey, Hospital Blockhouse Museum and an Automobile Museum, all within the town or close by.


    Les Sables-d'Olonne Old Town

    Take a walk around the beautiful narrow lanes of Les Sables-d’Olonne

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    The streets surrounding the Notre Dame de Bon Port are among the oldest in Les Sables-d’Olonne. Construction of the church itself began in 1646 and many of the buildings lining the narrow streets around it showcase the sort of opulence that the fishing boom of the same era brought to the town.

    Directly next to the church is the Marché des Halles Central, the town’s main market and a historical landmark in its own right, having been built in 1810. The town hall and courthouse are both close by and both are housed in beautiful old buildings. However, both pale in comparison to L'île Penotte, a tiny quarter that’s big on public artworks (and recycling old seashells).


    La Chaume

    The oldest part of the town

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    La Chaume is the old fishing quarter, and a fascinating section of Les Sables-d’Olonne. It was originally an entirely separate island named Vertime, but a land bridge to the rocky outcrop formed some time in the Middle Ages, bringing it into the rest of the town.

    Given its fishing heritage, you’ll naturally find a lot of related things to see and do here. The Sea Museum is in this part of town, with the Halles De La Chaume – an indoor produce market specialising in fish – only a short walk away. Near to the entrance of the harbour is the Mémorial des Péris en Mer – a memorial to those who have died at sea. Most of the rest of the neighbourhood consists of housing for the fishing crews, meaning that the few bars in the area are great places to rub elbows with hard-working locals.


    Dining and restaurants in Les Sables-d'Olonne

    Where to eat in Les Sables-d'Olonne?

    • Eten

    As you might expect of a coastal town, most of the food scene in Les Sables-d'Olonne revolves around the fruits of the sea. The southern edge of the port, where it borders the Old Town, is practically lined with first-class seafood restaurants, including L'Estran, Le Poisson Rouge and the Michelin-starred Cabestan. There are plenty more just over the waterway, along Quai George V, too.

    Most of the options around the port are priced towards the upper end of the scale. For more budget-friendly eats, you’ll want to head towards the beach. Just over the road from the shore, you’ll find the likes of Tartines & Co, Les Régates and a wide selection of international cuisines. There are also plenty of ice cream parlours and crêperies here if you need a sweet snack during your beach day.

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    Les Sables-d'Olonne shopping

    Where to shop in Les Sables-d’Olonne?

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    The best shopping in Les Sables-d’Olonne is found in Zone d'Actilonne, to the north of the town centre. Heavily renovated in recent years, it’s basically a series of big malls and shopping centres built around E.Leclerc. Within, you’ll find many of the big international fashion brands.

    If you’re looking for a more boutique experience, the narrow streets of the old town area should be your hunting ground, starting at the historical Marché des Halles Central. The large indoor market is a great place to pick up some keepsakes as well as ingredients for your next meal. Be sure to head to the quayside for the regular fish markets, too – you won’t find a more genuinely local shopping experience in Les Sables-d’Olonne.


    Les Sables-d'Olonne nightlife

    Where to enjoy an evening in Les Sables-d’Olonne for families and groups?

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    The nightlife scene in Les Sables-d’Olonne is dominated by the town’s 2 casinos. At the northern end of the beach is Casino Les Sables d'Olonne while Casino JOA des Sables d'Olonne - Les Pins is towards the southern end, near the zoo. Both offer a fairly standard array of slot machines, game tables and other distractions.

    If gambling isn’t for you, you’ll find an impressive choice of bars and nightclubs. While most are concentrated around the old part of town and the port, some of the best can be found further afield. Le Silver Star is out towards the eastern end of Les Sables-d’Olonne but is one of the most popular clubs around. For something less hedonistic, there are various small theatres and event venues dotted around town, including Centre de Congrès Les Atlantes in the same building as Casino Les Sables d'Olonne.


    Activities around Les Sables-d’Olonne

    What to do when you get bored of the beach

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    The rocky headland formed by La Chaume makes the main beach of Les Sables-d’Olonne a relatively peaceful, family-friendly spot. However, every other stretch of shore around is great for surfing. The Plage de Sauveterre, in particular, is considered a pretty good spot, though more so in winter than summer. There are also plenty of sailing centres in and around the port if you want to enjoy the waves while staying a little drier.

    But what if you’re tired of the sea? Well, you don’t have to go far inland to find some interesting hiking areas. Head north of town and you’ll soon find yourself in among the old salt marshes or in the grounds of elegant country houses like Château de Pierre-Levée. For something a little more exciting, there are 2 nearby go-karting tracks – Circuit Mecamax and Atlantic Kart System.


    How to get to Les Sables-d’Olonne

    Factual travel information

    The nearest airport to Les Sables-d’Olonne is La Rochelle Airport (LRH), which is 57.7 km to the southeast. Nantes Airport (NTE) is 74.7 km north. The former serves mostly domestic flights and a few low-cost carriers from elsewhere in Europe, though mostly only seasonally. Nantes is the larger and more convenient option, with many more flights arriving from more of Europe as well as parts of North Africa.

    Les Sables-d’Olonne has its own train station - Gare des Sables d'Olonne – which serves regular trains from Nantes, St-Nazaire and direct from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). There are also services to and from Paris, Berlin, London, Barcelona and elsewhere in France, though these are less frequent. The train ride from Paris to Les Sables-d’Olonne takes about 3.5 hours. The station is in the middle of the town, so you can easily walk or take a taxi to your accommodation from here.

    foto door patrick janicek (CC BY 2.0) bewerkt

    Ben Reeves | Reisfanaat

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