The Vendée [vã’de], a départment of Pays-de-la-Loire has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. Its name is taken from the Vendée River which runs through the south-eastern part of the department.
Originally known as the Bas-Poitou, a part of the former province of Poitou, it is thought that Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) was born in the village of Nieul-sur-l'Autise and that this area was part of her kingdom. Eleanor's son, Richard I of England (the Lionheart) often based himself in Talmont. The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) turned much of the Vendée into a battleground.
The Vendée coast extends over 160 km, mostly sandy beaches edged with dunes and pine woods. Coupled with an exceptionally mild climate, these have long attracted large numbers of overseas and domestic tourists. Some popular resorts include Les Sables-d'Olonne, La Tranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-de-Monts. The department also boasts many churches and abbeys, museums, and - for nature lovers - there are thousands of marked footpaths, a signposted cycle route running along the coastal mudflats and marshes that attract unusual birds. Fishing is popular in the ocean or in the Vendée’s rivers and lakes.
Inland, the chief attractions include the Marais Poitevin (an area of marshlands famed for wildlife), the forested area around the village of Mervent, the rolling countryside of the Bocage and the historical theme park at the Puy du Fou.
This is an unusual town, built on a plateau overlooking the River Yon and the bocage, being born out of an imperial wish to install — if necessary by force of arms — strategic military stronghold designed to prevent further uprisings in the Vendée. 1804 Napoleon transferred the provincial capital from Fontenay to La Roche-sur-Yon, a modest small town which was subsequently renamed “Napoleon”. Plans for a military transformation were drawn up by the engineer Duvivier but the lack stone in the region constrained him to build in cob: as a consequence, when Napoleon passed through in 1808 to have a look at the new fortifications. Duvivier sacked, being reproached for having created “a mud-walled town’.
It was during the Restoration that La Roche found its definitive shape: a geometric, straight-line plan with a grid of streets crossing each other at right-angles, the wide main arteries converging on a huge esplanade which served as a parade ground or barrack square. This town took the form of an irregular pentagon from which six main routes permitted a rapid rectilinear deployment of troops. This innovation in urban planning reflected precisely the politico-architectural thinking in France in the middle of the 19C.
The name of the town was nevertheless changed several more times: it became Bourbon-Vendee under the Restoration and the July Monarchy, Napoléon-Vendée at the time of the Second Empire and returned to La Roche-sur-Yon in 1870.
Place Napoleon — The great esplanade, designed to accommodate 20000 soldiers is surrounded by neo-Classical buildings: the town hail, the law courts (now concert hall), the lycée (high-school) and the church of St Louis — an imposing monument fronted by heavy Doric columns. In the centre of the square stands ar equestrian statue (1854) of Napoleon I.
Museum — As well as archaeological collections from the prehistoric Gallo-Rornan and medieval periods, the museum offers a panorama of 19C Parisian academic painting and a series of canvases by local artists of the same period - Milcendeau for instance, who recorded the life around the marshes (a museum is devoted to his work in Soullans), and Baudry, who was created the decor in the Paris Opera House.
In the Middle Ages this was no more than the outer port of the Olonne, a small town on the Vertonne estuary. Today, it is an important seaside resort and world renowned sailing centre on the Côte de Ia Lumière (Coast of Light), built on the sands of what was once an off-shore bar. The town stretches between a small port and an immense beach of fine sand running for more than 3km/I.8 miles at the foot of the Remblal (an embankment - promenade)
The only time visitors will see the local girls in their traditional, ancestral costume is during the summer season’s folklore festivals: dark-haired, light on their feet and in short skirts with pleated petticoats, black stockings, sabots with heels, and tall headdresses with quivering “wings’. The local people are said to be the ancestors of Moors expelled from Spain in centuries past. The Vertonne depression, where the immigrants settled, is still known as "Saracens' Corridor."
Le Remblai - This embankment was built during the 18th century to protect the town from the incursions of the sea. Today this beautiful promenade is bordered by shops, hotels, cafés and luxury apartment blocks with amazing views of the beach and bay. In the summer, before luch or in the evening, it is a favourite meeting place, you only have to cross the road for a drink or go shopping. Behind the modern apartment blocks the narrow streets of the old town beckon.
La Corniche - Asoutherly extension to Le Remblei which leads to the new residential district of La Rudelière. After following this cliff-top path for about 3 km you come to Le Puits d’Enfer (Hell’s Well) – a narrow, impressive cleft in the rock where the sea foams and thrashes.
Town Centre & Central Market - The town centre combines an historical heritage with colourful shops, cafés and boutiques. The pedestrian precinct that encircles the Notre Dame de Bon Port church makes it a delightful shopping district all year round. Located on the site of the little old cemetery of les Sabels d'Olonne, the first market place dates from 1810. The 'Baltard pavilion' style as we now know it was conceived by the Les Sables architect, Charles Smolski, in 1890. 'Les Halles' were renovated a century later preserving the original architectural style of the building. It is now a very popular food market, now this a place we like, plenty of tasty morsels to sample before we buy: Savoury delights, locally caught sea-fresh delicacies such as sole, sardines,oysters, salt, samphire, ... not forgetting the other local produce: mogette beans, Vendée ham, sweet new potatoes, and the delicious local wines: white, red and rosé ... Enjoy, but don’t drink too much!!
Le Marais Breton-Vendéen
This coastal marshland stretches from Bourgneuf to St.Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. In bygone times the wetlands were submerged and the towns of Boulin, Beauvoir, Monts and Riez were islands. The islands acted as dams and over time the gulf silted up: This allowed tLa Barre des Monts (a line of dunes) to rise up, allowing the marshes to be drained, firstly by monks in the 17th century and in later years by Dutch engineers. This has made it a haven for wildlife, including Otters, Coypus, river Crayfish, Wagtails, Storks, Owls, Buzzards, even, on rare occasions the Sacred Ibis.
PLACES TO VISIT
Challans- A farming town renowned for raising ducks and black chickens. The market held on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings is extremely good and value for money.
Beauvoir-sur-Mer -This former city with Roman and Gallo-Roman antecedents is one of the oldest settlements along the coast between the Loire and Gironde rivers. Once a port, it is now 4 km inland, however you should remember that the monks from Saint-Philbert arrived here by sea, and established a priory. The magnificent church you see now is built on much older buildings. Its Romanesque tower and apse, beautifully renovated, are well worth visiting. Beauvoir-sur-Mer is also the gateway to the islands: Yeu, with its helicopter landing pad, and Noirmoutier via the Passage du Gois
St-Gilles-Croix-De-Vie – The fishing port of Croix-de-Vie and the town of St-Gilles-sur-Vie on the south bank of the Vie estuary, northwest of Les SabIes-d’Olonne combine to make the single commune of St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. When St-Hilaire de-Riez (northeast) is included, the combined area is also known as Havre-de-Vie The fishing harbour is a hive of activity with the boats unloading their catches of lobsters, crabs, tuna fish and sardines for the local markets and hotels. The Vie estuary is a geographical curiosity. Approaching the sea, the stream first runs up against a line of sand dunes, the Pointe de Ia Garenne, and then against the rocky headland known as the Corniche Vendeenne, looping itself as a result into a number of meanders, It finally emerges into the Atlantic between the beaches of Croix-de-Vie de Boisvinet and St-Gilles (Grand-Plage) via a bottleneck at the harbour mouth.
This long thin island, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel that recedes at low-tide, has a mild climate, luminous skies and numerous beauty spots. It's as if the island is at one with nature, polders, salt marshes, and a canal. Access is possible three ways:
1. The Fromentine Bridge, a 700 metre pre-stressed concrete bridge built in 1971, open 24 hours a day - FREE OF CHARGE
2. Passage de Gois (A SUBMERSIBLE ROAD) - our favourite. Always respect the signs and security notices posted along the side of this road.
a. This road can only be crossed an hour and half before and up to an hour after the official low tide.
b. Never in bad weather
3. The local ferry to L'Herbaudière
Guided tours of the island are available based around various themes, each tour takes around one and half hours.
-“Noirmoutier en l'île: historical and cultural heritage
-“le bois de la Chaise (woods) and its architecture
- “le passage du Gois (the submersible road) and its polders.
Tariffs: adults 5.5 euros
To book your place on one of these tours please contact our good friends:
Tel/fax : 02.51.68.68.81
The small island of just 23 km2 is a diversity of landscapes : long sandy beaches and dunes held with the help of coniferous woods; a wild coast with its proud cliffs, embracing golden sandy coves; barren moors where sea thrifts shiver under the wind; sunken roads crossing anticlinal valleys or skirting cliffs; marsh and “bocage” countryside and its numerous smallholdings where houses with low tiled roofs and colourful shutters are snuggled behind the foliage of willows and sloe trees.