It's French holiday time, 1951. Monsieur Hulot clatters into the seaside village of St Marc-sur-Mer in his apparently homemade car, a canvas-hooded one-seater on spindly wheels. A dog reclining on the main street is so unfazed by this flimsy excuse for a vehicle that it refuses to budge. Children scoff and jeer. But at least he has a car; hardly anybody else has. Tall, gawky, not so much walking as pirouetting, Hulot negotiates the groaning swing door of the Hotel de la Plage, where the waiters greet him with sniffs and scowls. This bare-boarded hostelry is St Marc's only hotel and houses its sole restaurant, which is unlikely to attract gourmets. Gentlemanly and good natured, Hulot nevertheless sets off disasters wherever he goes, remaining oblivious to all the havoc. He ends up as persona very non grata with his fellow holidaymakers, to his utter bemusement. French holiday time, 2007. I roll into St Marc in a brash rented saloon and squeeze into the packed car park. Cafes and restaurants dot the little street leading down to the beach. The Hotel de la Plage is still here, with an extra wing, a posh picture-window restaurant and a long terrace overlooking the beach. The door neither swings nor groans. The food is good, the waitresses smile. Things have changed since the great comic filmmaker Jacques Tati made his breakthrough movie in the early 1950s, introducing the hilarious Monsieur Hulot, played by himself, to a grateful world. Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot - Mr Hulot's holiday - won the Critics' Prize at Cannes in 1953 and was lapped up around the world by audiences who related to the simple pleasures the movie portrayed. But they haven't changed much. St Marc-sur-Mer is still a quiet family resort and has only two restaurants and one hotel on the seafront. As for the beach, it is even simpler than it was in the movie: no beach huts for peeping toms to peer into while inviting kicks to the backside, no donkeys to carry snotty children, no collapsible kayaks that look like snapping sharks, not even a few fishing boats. The beach is almost wild; below the pine-topped cliffs its swathes of golden sand are broken by rocky outcrops and pounded by Atlantic waves. The contrast of cosy village and dramatic seashore is what gives St Marc its special flavour. And the spirit of Monsieur Hulot, naturellement. An official sign indicates it is now called Monsieur Hulot's Beach; there is a painting of him on the car park wall and, best of all, a statue of him on the promenade above the beach, arms awkwardly akimbo, trousers too short, staring at the sand. The first thing I do, irresistibly drawn, is rush up, slap him on the back and say a heartfelt, 'Bonjour, mon ami.' Later, another fan, a woman in her 60s, skips up and kisses him. We can't help it. And anyway, this is the Cote d'Amour - the coast of love - so affection is de rigueur, though I had no idea about that when I started my Tati pilgrimage, commencing at the location of his first feature film, Jour de Fete (1948), in the village of Sainte-Severe-sur-Indre, deep in la France profonde, and ending here in the west, on the Atlantic coast, just above the mouth of the River Loire. The title Cote d'Amour - an astute choice chiming with Cote d'Azur - was the result of a newspaper readers' poll in 1911. It designates the coast from St Nazaire up to Le Croisic, which was becoming fashionable at the time. You soon see why, because this 30km littoral has so many beaches of distinct character, reigned over by one of France's most renowned and refined resorts, La Baule. St Nazaire is a place of seafaring legend. In this Loire estuary port were built the iconic ocean liners Normandie and France, queens of the Atlantic in the great steamship days. Here in the second world war the Germans built a colossal concrete U-boat bunker, some of which has been turned into a museum - evoking the great ocean-liner days - called Escal'Atlantic. And its storied past apart, St Nazaire's shipyard recently built the liner Queen Mary 2, the latest, greatest thing on water. Grassy headlands pocked with second world war artillery pillboxes begin at the coast, leading to St Marc-sur-Mer, the first resort. From St Marc's promenade, a path leads upwards and runs along the cliff tops, which are covered with aromatic pines, trees that adorn the whole coast. From the path, steep stairs lead down to hidden coves, where you may well find yourself alone on the foam-dashed sand. Suddenly, the cliffs end, some leafy suburbia intervenes then a magnificent vista appears: a 9km crescent of golden beach curves to the horizon, backed by an endless white wall of holiday apartments and hotels. This is La Baule, a Copacabana minus the Sugarloaf Mountain, touted as 'the most beautiful bay in Europe'. It is an extraordinary sight, phenomenal when you learn the history. Little more than a century ago, La Baule was shifting windswept dunes backed by foul-smelling marshes. A railway line completed in 1879 started the transformation: savvy entrepreneurs planted pine groves, built holiday villas and hotels, laid out a seafront promenade and marketed La Baule's healthy charms and spectacular beach to the Parisian bourgeoisie. Once it had acquired a casino and a gigantic hotel, L'Hermitage, and top entertainers such as Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier and Sacha Guitry began to perform there, its success was ensured. By the 1930s La Baule was one of France's premier beach resorts, mentionable in the same breath as Deauville, Biarritz and Cannes. Today, the resort has two contrasting faces. The seafront is all multistorey blocks built since the 50s; but they are like a modernist stage set, for behind this spread pine groves dotted with century-old villas in a wide array of styles - from elegant to kooky. A favourite of the French middle class, La Baule exudes healthiness and sportiness. Kite-surfing, sailing, jogging and horse-riding animate the beach and the bay while France's largest golf club lies on the outskirts. I take the other course: a good lie-down at the Hotel Royal's thalassotherapy spa. After soothing baths in seawater pools, a seaweed bath-pack slimily wrapped in heated plastic proves - despite the initial horror - heavenly. Beyond La Baule things become simpler and wilder again. Le Croisic is an old fishing port, recommended for seafood savouring - the prawns are renowned - on a peninsula with rocky, salt-sprayed headlands dubbed the Cote Sauvage (wild coast). Monsieur Hulot never came up here. Consequently, it remains undamaged. Getting there: Air France ( www.airfrance.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Paris. TGV high-speed trains reach La Baule from Paris in about three hours ( www.raileurope.com ). For places to stay visit www.hotel-de-la-plage-44.com and www.lucienbarriere.com . As for Monsieur Hulot, you can read all about him and his holiday at rogerebert.suntimes.com.