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La France de Jacques Tati

Jacques Tati's France

Happy vacances: Jacques Tati's France

St Marc sur Mer, on France's Atlantic coast, has scarcely changed since Monsieur Hulot immortalised the charming little town over half a century ago

The spur for my first-ever trip round France was Jacques Tati's classic comedy Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, filmed in 1953 on the beach in St Marc sur Mer in the Loire-Atlantique.

I'd seen the film as a child and the other-worldliness of this little resort and its fictional inhabitants made a deep impression on me. The world conjured up by Tati was so very different from Britain: hot, elegant, timeless and languid. Now, 40 years on, I was determined to see the place.

This region of western France is often overlooked, and I was unsure what I might find. In any case, visiting iconic film locations can often prove a disappointing experience. It was late and pitch black by the time I arrived at Hulot's holiday base, the Hôtel de la Plage, via a train from Paris to Nantes and a 15km taxi ride; and I went to bed full of trepidation for what daylight might reveal.

I needn't have worried. When I threw open the curtains the next morning it was like stepping into the movie. There was that gusty little beach: there was the sleepy promenade framed by the distant cliffs on which Hulot set off the fireworks in one of the film's most memorable scenes; and there was the tiny spit jutting out into the ocean along which the elderly couple strolled each night after dinner.

Apart from a commemorative bronze sculpture of Hulot himself on the esplanade, placed there in 1999, everything looked just as Tati had captured it over 50 years before.

Jacques's back ... the bronze statue of Monsieur Hulot on the beach in St Marc sur Mer. Photograph: Alamy

With its rocky coves, fabulous swimming, relaxing cliff-top walks and cosy restaurants, my three days in and around St Marc were a delight. On my second evening I even visited a travelling circus, and was rewarded by a memorable evening of flying acrobats, prancing horses, and a troupe of performing heifers, the whole evening suffused with the nostalgic aromas of damp canvas, sawdust and trodden grass.

The German submarine base at nearby Saint-Nazaire offers a tour round a second-world-war U-Boat. The submarine pens and the base itself were so strongly fortified that they can never be eradicated – any attempt to blow them up would take half of the town with it. Near the base there's also a fabulous ocean liner exhibition, with son et lumiere effects, including an entire section ripped out of the luxury liner Le France, which was built here. Kids will love it.

But in essence it's the off-the-beaten-track feel of this area that makes it so attractive. Less brooding than nearby Brittany, yet unspoilt, picturesque and with bags of charm. During my summer of discovery I travelled all round la belle France, but for me this region beat the lot.

Michael Simkins is an actor and author. His latest book is Detour de France (Ebury Press, £7.99)

To see clips of the film "Les Vacances de monsieur Hulot", go to these You tube sites.

Clip de Jacques Tati www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCavnyLx8nc&feature=player_embedded#at=11

Clip de Jacques Tati www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaDPRYehe2w&feature=related

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