Looking for Recs in/near [La Baule]

Going for a quick trip (probably only two nights) to La Baule in early September. Never been anywhere in the area. We’ll take the train to Nantes and rent a car. I am interested in great seafood (bien sûre)! But if anyone has been to the area and has suggestions of any kind for a first little taste of Brittany, I am all ears.

Also, salty caramel is a love of mine! I will drive far for this flavor! Merci.

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La Baule has a fantastic beach, an old tradition of middle-class vacationing, and a famous gooey chocolate specialty, Le Fondant Baulois, which is so rich and moist that it’s almost obscene. The same company that makes it also produces Gâteau Nantais, which I like much better (how can you go wrong with ground almonds, butter, rum, a thick layer of rum-flavored royal icing and not a trace of flour?).

I haven’t much to recommend in Nantes, except Pickles, where chef Dominic is English. If I were in the area, I’d head to the island of Noirmoutier (there’s a road, le Gois, leading to it from the continent, it’s overflown at every high tide, so plan ahead). I’d eat not at the local 3-star La Marine, at L’Herbaudière, but at its seafood brasserie, La Table d’Elise, in my opinion much better.

Aside from that, it’s what you’d expect: seafood, oysters, fish, butter, butter, and potatoes (Noirmoutier is proud of its sandy-soil taters). Being the estuary of the Loire, the countryside is very, very flat, and cattle is raised in the marshlands. The gabbro soils produce excellent white wines (gros-plant, muscadet). The area is also famous for natural sea salt (grey salt and fleur de sel). As for salted butter caramel, it was actually developed further North in Morbihan, but it’s now all over Brittany and yes, the Nantes region is Brittany, even though it’s not officially included in it.


Although close, La Baule is not Brittany and has very little of a Breton character. Often called the 21st arrondissement of Paris (a nickname also applied to Deauville in Normandie) because so many affluent Parisians have second homes there. As a favourite “station balnéaire” for principally French visitors, it does empty out pretty quickly once “les vacances” are over on the last weekend of August or, sometimes, the first weekend of September. I have never been out of season so not quite sure what you should expect in September.

I’m a huge fan of La Mare aux Oiseaux in Saint-Joachim in the very atmospheric Brière marshes (also a pocket of Breton speakers or so I am told), about a 30-minute drive from La Baule.

I have an auntie who, like half of Paris 16, summers in La Baule, and a meal at La Mare aux Oiseaux is one of my favourite rituals every time I go to visit her for a long weekend. Excellent modern Breton/ “locavore” cuisine. Setting with lots of personality. I haven’t been yet this year but usually a very welcoming young team who add significantly to the enjoyment. And because of the location and cuisine, a rather unique experience. https://mareauxoiseaux.fr/fr/restaurant-eric-guerin.html

For seafood, I’ve always had very enjoyable meals at L’Océan on the Atlantic side of Le Croisic…. fab terrace overlooking, surprise surprise, the ocean, and very good fish-based cuisine. In La Baule itself, Le Billot on place du Marché/ avenue des Petrels across from the “marché central”/ daily covered market is a great place for oysters even if the rest of the menu is not particularly fish-y—and a more down-to-earth vibe and clientele compared to many other restaurants in La Baule.

And speaking of the marché central it’s a great place to find local specialties like fondant baulois, craquant guérandais, gâteau nantais, wonderfully affordable fleur de sel de Guérande, and caramel salé as well as the original pie-size version of kouign amann. I also like the covered market in neighbouring Le Pouliguen and the little shops (touristy but surprisingly good quality) in the nearby walled town of Guérande.

Beach life is obviously well developed. There are a lot of beach front restaurants, some rather chic and obscenely overpriced. I usually end up at Gulf Stream Club because my auntie is a member. Typical of beach restos, a rather one-size-fits-all menu but good enough for a very enjoyable lunch on the beach and a better price/quality than most other beach restos.

For an immersion in Breton life (and history), I always make time for a side trip to Vannes, an hour’s drive north of La Baule. Ultra-picturesque, photogenic, historic town notable for its cluster of very good restaurants. I had an excellent lunch last year at L’Empreinte (which I found thanks to lefooding.com) in the very atmospheric and historic old town (largely medieval and très breton) of Vannes… very short menu but everything of excellent quality and the service was outstandingly personable. My auntie also suggests La Chaumière de Pomper, a rather upmarket crêperie in a rural setting between Vannes and Baden, for a sample of something more folklorique (hint: “chaumière” means thatched house/ cottage).


It is indeed arguable that La Baule is not very Breton by style, but it is historically part of Brittany, as is the Nantais region North of the estuary. Even the Pays de Retz (where La Mare aux Oiseaux is), immediately south of the estuary, is part of historic Brittany. Immediately South of Retz we fall into Vendée territory, so not in Brittany anymore.

I am not a fan of La Mare aux Oiseaux, despite its enchanting location, which is why I didn’t recommend it. Something seems kind of ‘off’ and has-been in the cuisine. Desserts are weird.

However, if one aims to a good gastro or 3-star (which is rarely my case), La Marine in Noirmoutier (not just the Maison d’Elise brasserie) will be far more consistent, talented and fresh than La Mare aux Oiseaux.

I concur with @ParnParis re La Mare aux Oiseaux. The hotel is uniquely situated and designed to maximize its location on a marshland island. Many places to relax outdoors, the garden or your personal balcony, The restaurant is quite good, service excellent. The fact that I can recommend this place although I had just come down with shingles before arriving speaks to its level of comfort and cosseting,

It certainly is comfortable and the surroundings, the marais de Brière, are enchanting. In terms of food I’m not so enthusiastic. If one dreams of oversleeping under a thatched roof (done that), it’s perfect.

@Carmenere I wonder when you had your experience at La Mare aux Oiseaux. I have been going at least once a year and for the last decade and agree that years ago the cuisine was rather “experimental” and some hits and misses but now much more consistently enjoyable and evolved.

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Thanks to all of you, geography not my strong suit, and I am looking forward to driving around the area and seeing and eating what I can in a couple of days. My friend whose family owns a house there that provided safe haven for her and her mother when they fled Vietnam, and is her special place in the world, is eager for me to enjoy the couple of days and assures me that being mid-September will not be a problem for me, especially so since crowds are not my thing. Ditto fancy, starred restos. More than enough recommendations for me to poke around a bit. Merci mille fois!

Well, as we all know, things evolve, restaurants get better, and maybe our judgement gets kinder too. I confess my last experience is rather ancient. I know Eric is a good chef. It just didn’t really make it for me, but a new experience may prove different results.