By Trevor Bevins

LIKE Dorset many rush on past here to get somewhere else – but it’s an area well worth getting to know.

And as with arguments about whether Dorset is ‘South’ or ‘South West’ here the discussion is whether this part of France is Loire Atlantique or Brittany – although judging by the number of black and white flags being flown most locals seem to think the latter.

Maybe it is this ambiguity which means the area does not get the promotion it deserves.

The area is immediately south of the line of the Loire where the river stretches from Nantes to the sea.

It has a diverse culture – from high-tech manufacturing for Airbus and cruise liners to the ultimate in low-tech, Europe’s most northerly salt flats. The countryside and beaches are largely unspoilt and charming.

Walled towns, spectacular churches, long sweeping Atlantic sandy beaches, traditional fishing ports – with part of a national cycle route running parallel to it, all feature here. You will find the freshest local oyster and other delicacies from the sea. You will be spoilt for food and wine choice.

Our accommodation was in Saint Brevin Les Pins at the Le Fief lodge site where the staff really did go out of their way to make sure you were happy and comfortable. The group which run it, Sunelia Vacances have sites throughout France and some in neighbouring countries.

Le Fief has a range of lodges, from newly installed this season to older units. Each comes fully equipped with a well-equipped kitchen, one or two bedrooms, shower, fridge etc. The site shop is competitively-priced and the on-site restaurant produced food of a higher standard than you might expect for similar prices to the UK. And this being France a whole bottle of wine bought in the restaurant, will cost you no more than it would in the supermarket at home.

Le Fief also has an indoor and outdoor pool boasting daily activities and a spa centre which would be the envy of many first rate hotels. The site also has free wifi seemingly available throughout and in the Punta Cana bar and restaurant.

For families there are organised clubs for different age groups and the site offers a range of sports, including paddle tennis, football and aquafit.

Bike hire is also available on site, or in the town centre, just 10 minutes walk away –with plenty of routes to choose from. Unlike the UK, there's a respect for cyclist and routes which, if you want, will keep you away from traffic. We cycled, mostly on paths, to the delightfully named St Michel Chef Chef, so good they named it twice! Here you will find the famous biscuit maker, L'Atelier St Michel, whose products supply hotel chains in the UK and groups such as P&O. The factory itself is not open but there is a well-stocked shop and cafe and plenty of information boards which outline the history of this manufacturer.

One of the most interesting visits was to the salt flats, Terre de Sel at Guerande – still run on traditional lines, with areas handed down from generation to generation, along with the skills.

This really is slow and low tech – waiting for the sun to dry the water out and the salt to appear. Guided walks are offered throughout the day, in different languages, with the process explained. A bonus is that the area is also a haven for wildlife with many bird species to be seen here throughout the year – hence its recognition as a RAMSAR site, a wetland of international interest.

A visitor centre, built a few years ago by the co-operative, not only explains the process in video and exhibition boards, but, as you might guess, also has a range of salt-based products for sale, the salt itself coming in a range of different grades.

Many towns in area are well worth visiting – Pornic is a pretty place on the coast with an historic castle dating back to the 10th century, and many individual shops as well as a range of restaurants. La Zagazya on the quayside used to be a casino, one of three the town once had – but you won't be gambling with the food. It was delicious and well presented with the set lunch offering plenty.

Tied up alongside the quay is a boat-restaurant, Fleur des Ondes, offering fresh oyster, shrimp and other local delicacies. I’m no expert of oysters but those who are tell me they were excellent and judging by the number of local people eating here their reputation is good. Our hosts were also pleased to offer a quick guide to opening and cleaning – just don’t try it yourself is my advice, it looks and is dangerous, hence the chain mail gloved hand.

Dotted around the coast you will find huts perched on stilts with poles and nets attached. This technique, bois debout, meaning 'standing wood', was originally a commercial way of fishing, but today is almost exclusively recreational.

At St Nazaire, the biggest town in the area, you can see the former German U-Boat base with its 8metre thick concrete roof and a little way down the water see cruise liners under construction and repair. It was from here, that the French tradition of ocean-going liners began, very much a rival in the earl days, to Southampton and from where the France and Normandy sailed across the Atlantic.

Today one of the former yards has been converted into a display centre dedicated to that history. It is well told with sections which replicate being on deck and a timewalk looking at the way on board accommodation and entertainment has changed over the decades. To depart the displays, most of which are also in English, you will get a surprising trip in a lifeboat.

Also here is an eco centre, the area now also manufacturing wind turbines.

And from on top of the ocean you can also get the chance to go underneath it – in a moored former submarine, Espadon, where you can experience for yourself just how cramped and claustrophobic conditions were. A surprise to glimpse in the chart room and see, laid out on the desk, a navigational map of the Portland area.

This is an area which has much to offer – apart from the industrial side of St Nazaire it also boasts a fine sandy beach, a pier from which traditional netting for fish is still carried today, and in a recent redevelopment a range of fine restaurants, including Le Bar iode overlooking the beach. Another fine example of the French set lunch.

Getting to this part of France was easy – a comfortable overnight trip from Portsmouth to St Malo with Brittany Ferries with a choice of onboard dining, including their table service restaurant with its set price menu giving access to a starter and sweet buffet with the main served by waiters. The cabin, although bijou, are comfortable with an en suite shower and loo, making sure you arrive well rested.

Trevor Bevins was a guest of Sunêlia Vacances Le Fief at Saint Brevin les Pins in France on the Atlantic Coast. The park is open from early April to late September. Book online at sunelia.com/en.

Prices for a well-equipped basic 2-bedroom/1 bathroom chalet with terrace (sleeps 4) start from €462 per week (low season – selected weeks in May/June and September) to €1211 per week (high season – July 27-August 23). Prices for basic camping pitch for 1-2 people are from €22 per night (April or September) to €47 (July 27-August 23) per night. Supplements for electricity/more people and dogs are available.

Brittany Ferries operates daily overnight sailings from Portsmouth to St Malo, with daytime return sailings from St Malo to Portsmouth. Book online at brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000. Prices for return crossings start from £363 return (1 car / 2 people including an en-suite cabin on the outward overnight sailing in April and from £464 on the same basis in July.

Tourist offices

• St Brevin Tourist Office www.en.saint-brevin.com

• Guérande Tourist Office www.en.labaule-guerande.com

• St Nazaire Tourist Office www.visit-saint-nazaire.com

• Pornic Tourist Office www.pornic.com

Details of all the restaurants we visited are:

• Punta Cana www.sunelia.com/en within Sunêlia Le Fief

• Fleur des Ondes (oysters) www.petitfute.com has a review but better on Pornic website

• Restaurant Marius www.marius-pornic.fr

• Le Bar Iode www.facebook.com/Le-Bar-Iod%C3%A9-Saint-Nazaire (only FB)

Details of all the attractions

St Michel Biscuit shop www.stmichel.fr (this is the official website)

• Terre de Sel www.terredesel.com (salt flats)

• Escale’Atlantic www.leportdetouslesvoyages.com (French shipping)

• Submarine Espardon ditto (the submarine)

• Aeolian Centre ditto (the eco/wind museum)