An industrial city
While it’s not one of France’s most attractive cities, St-Nazaire makes a fascinating destination for boat and plane enthusiasts as well as fans of World War II history. The beaches along its coastline are some of the best in the Loire-Atlantique department; one was immortalised on film.
Ships of all shapes and sizes
St Nazaire is best known for its shipbuilding industry, which began in the 19th century. In 1862 the port became the departure and arrival point for France’s first transatlantic crossings to South America thus, St-Nazaire became a centre for building ocean liners; the Queen Mary II was built here in 2003. To find out more about this fascinating industry, head to Escal’Atlantic, where you can travel around the world in 90 minutes on board a life-size reconstruction of one of these magnificent ships.
Submerged in history
Escal’Atlantic is housed in the impenetrable German submarine base, which was built during the Occupation and became the French HQ for the German navy, the Kriegsmarine. As a result, St-Nazaire became a major target for the Allies who destroyed the shipyards during Operation Chariot in 1942 followed by the rest of the city via a bombing raid in 1943. You can explore a real submarine, L’Espadon, which was used by the French navy from 1960-85; there are audio-guides in English. Guided tours are also available of the shipyards and the port terminals, although English-language tours are only available to groups of 20 or more. Visitors can learn about the history of the city, its port and industries at the Écomusée.
St-Nazaire is home to one of Europe’s Airbus factories; it’s here that the main fuselage sections are assembled and tested for all the company’s planes including the new A380 – the world’s largest civilian aircraft. French-speakers can join a guided visit where they might be lucky enough to see La Beluga, the giant cargo plane.
The coast around St-Nazaire has some lovely beaches – take the old customs officer’s path, lined with Mediterranean flora, to Les Jaunais. The resort of St-Marc-sur-Mer is where Jacques Tati filmed Mr Hulot’s Holiday in 1951.
Did you know?
Of the 611 British soldiers who took part in Operation Chariot, only 224 made it back to Britain.
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