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452km (281 miles) W of Paris; 79km (49 miles) NW of Nantes

Founded during the Victorian seaside craze, La Baule remains as inviting as the Gulf Stream that warms the waters of its 8km (5-mile) crescent of white-sand beach. Occupying the Côte d'Amour (Coast of Love), it competes with Biarritz as the Atlantic coast's most fashionable resort. La Baule is essentially French, drawing only a small number of foreigners.

Gambler François André founded the casino and major resort hotels here. Pines grow on the dunes, and villas on the outskirts draw a chic crowd from late June to mid-September; if you arrive at any other time, you may have La Baule all to yourself. While the movie stars and flashy rich go to Deauville or Cannes, La Baule draws a more middle-class crowd, but the more reserved wealthy also come here -- as the yachts in the harbor testify.

The town is north of a popular stretch of beachfront. The two main boulevards run parallel through the long, narrow town; the one closer to the ocean changes its name six times -- at its most famous point, it's called boulevard de l'Océan.

Other than a rock outcropping much weathered by Atlantic storms, the beaches here are clean and sandy-bottomed, providing safe swimming and lots of options for admiring flesh in all states of fitness.

Avenue du Général-de-Gaulle and avenue Louis-Lajarrige have the best shops and boutiques. Next to the casino on esplanade de François-André, you'll find a minimall with 40 or so French chain stores and boutiques.