The Vendée, tucked below the outstretched arm of Brittany in the north west of France, straddles the banks of the Loire to the north and the Dordogne to the south. It stretches inland too, but it’s best known for its long coastline and sandy beaches, such as those around Saint-Jean-de-Monts and Les Sables-d’Olonne.
Mile after mile of golden sand slopes into the clear blue sea, making it a perfect place for those who enjoy holidays with more than a side order of watersports and coastal adventures. And if we were to pick our top Vendée attractions, what would they be? Well, these ten for starters!
St. Jean-de-Monts is a popular holiday resort with a glorious stretch of beach close to the Ile-de-Noirmoutier– an isthmus accessed via a causeway at low tides. The town’s promenade boasts all the amenities expected from a modern resort, but hints of St Jean-de-Monts’ history are evident in the 15th century granite church. The beaches here enjoy some of the finest sands in the Vendée and there is a launch area for small boats and dinghies, making the own a great base for watersports and boat trips.
Les Sables d’Olonne
There’s a stunning beach here, with fine sands. It’s great for rock-pooling too. In the town, the aquarium that makes a good hideout when the sun’s too high in the sky! The bustling seaside resort also offers a splendid marina, the stunning 15th century Château St Clair and the unmissable Vendée War Museum. The Oceanile water park has more than 20 aquatic amusements, with slides and wave machines.
There’s a network of more than 1,000km of cycle routes across the region, including a truly spectacular route that stretches along 160km of coastline running from North to South. Another coastal bike track runs from St Gilles to Les Dunes.
There are plenty of festivals in the Vendée region. Our favourite, the Festival of Noirmoutier en l’Ile, is held in August. It’s a theatrical spectacular, involving a dozen or so plays and dramatic shows held over a fortnight in the courtyard of the lovely Noirmoutier Castle and the St Philbert courtyard. Elsewhere, this island is a stylish tourist resort that sits side-by-side with a 7th Century monastery and has lovely beaches.
Le Grand Parc du Puy du Fou
You’ll love this. A living museum where you can see a reconstruction of an 18th century village with villagers in costume, jousting tournaments, gladiator battles (no one gets hurt. It’s all tomato sauce, honestly) and falconry displays. The park contains the ruins of a 13th century château and an evening show with 850 people and 50 horsemen brings to life the area’s history and culture.
The animal kingdom
The Island of Butterflies, Ile de Noirmoutier: kids will love the tropical halls that house thousands of colourful butterflies. The Sealand Aquarium de Noirmoutier has fish from around the world including warm and cold water fish plus a number of tropical aquariums. Larger wildlife can be seen at the Zoo des Sables d’Olonne, which has exotic animals such as jaguars and giraffes, but also provides a sanctuary for more than 40 endangered species. Meanwhile Planéte Sauvage is a safari park that you can watch in the closest thing to the wild from the safety of your car.
Around Les Sables d’Olonne and Noirmoutier there are guided boat trips through the area’s salt marshes. You can see how salt used to be produced here, and the area is also a nature reserve, so you’ve got plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife. On La Route du Sel you can hire canoes and explore waymarked routes through the ancient salt marshes at Sallertaine.
Take the train – sort of. This ‘you pedal and hold the rails’ train is known as the Velo Rail. Traverse the Vendée’s ancient railroad connecting Commequiers with Coëx. The route allows you to explore and enjoy the region’s quiet and green coastline and the typical houses of the coastal plain. It’s great fun trying to chase the carriage in front of you – and a nice way to get a little holiday exercise too!
The Château de Talmont St Hilaire fortress is surrounded by water and played an important part in the defence of Poitou against the invading Normans. It later hosted several kings of France and Richard the Lion Heart during the crusades. It’s now set to rather more peaceful means, but you can enjoy medieval demonstrations during the summer. Saint Hilaire is also home to tree-top courses, paintballing and go-karts. Close by is the Atlantic Toboggan waterpark – with pools and waterslides for all ages, including the thrilling Kamikaze and Boa toboggans for adrenaline junkies.
Reached by ferry from Fromentine or St Gilles Croix-de-Vie, Ile-d’Yeu boasts long sandy beaches, peaceful dunes, impressive granite cliffs and hidden sandy coves. There are many cycle tours and it’s easy to hire bikes on the island. The 14th Century castle and old lighthouse are particularly worth visiting.
There are more reasons to love the Vendee – our terrific parcs there!