place, loads of 'easy to get to' places to visit."
Parc de Pierre Brune and zoo at Mervant."
"Recommend...restaurants: La Mirabelle [at] Luçon, excellent food,
quick-ish service and good for kids. Aux Chouans Gourmets - Fontenay,
excellent all round and good value; Les Flots in La Rochelle - really
good food and patient with the kids."
"Recommend the Grand Parc de Puy du
Fou. I didn't really look forward to it on our first visit but it was so
good we went again!"
"There are so many things to do close by and the information in the
property just about covers it all."
"One week here is just not long enough! So luch to see and do - but
our highlights certainly included cycling round the area, especially the
Ile de Ré, and Mervant Forest, with the chidren being towed in the "bug"
Boat trips in Green Venice from Coulon
are recommended and the day out at Puy du Fou definately not to be
missed...beaches at La Faute and La Tranche well worth the visit."
array of attractions to tempt all ages, the Vendée
makes an ideal family holiday destination. For many years
relatively little known outside of France, the charms of the Vendée are now being
discovered by visitors from further afield.
its 140km of beaches to the tranquillity of the rolling countryside of
the bocage Vendéen, from the wild beauty of the marais
wetlands to the breathtaking spectacle of the shows at Le Grand Parc
de Puy du Fou, the Vendée can amuse, relax, stimulate and enchant in
Although the region has
many attractions, the beaches of the Vendée are the primary
source of its fame and the reason why the coast has long been a
popular destination with French
families. Mainly sandy and only gently
sloping, the beaches are a particular hit with children of all ages.
The beaches and sea are kept scrupulously clean and many stretches
are patrolled by lifeguards during the summer.
The South of the Vendée benefits from the same microclimate as the
Northern part of the Charente Maritime, giving the region a level of
summer sunshine bettered in France only by the Côte d’Azur. The
sandy beaches of this part of the Vendée are considered amongst the
best in Europe and are far less crowded than those in the north
A cooling contrast to
the coast, the peaceful forests and countryside (the "bocage") of the
Vendée provide ideal venues for picnics and leisurely rambles, more
serious walks and cycling
The Vendée and the surrounding region offer a wide selection of days out and places to visit to cover the interests of the entire family. The following is just a small selection to provide a taste and
more details can be found on the website of the Vendée
Tourism Board (opens in
Grand Parc de Puy du Fou
- Arguably the best family day out in France!
This extraordinary theme park displays the history of France from the
standpoint of events in the Vendée via the medium of spectacular re-enactment.
Set in a huge landscaped park, the shows of the Puy du Fou combine the
skills of actors, horsemen, falconers and stuntmen with stunning
sets to portray history in a way that could not be less stuffy. Open April
The Puy du Fou also stages evening shows (the "Cinescene") on some dates during the
summer. This outside spectacular is performed on a "stage" of several
acres (the largest in the World), features over a thousand actors and
some of the most ingenious special effects seen anywhere on Earth.
Visit the Website at:
Forêt de Mervent -
a series of forested granite hills (or massif forestiers)
that border the marais. Only
15 minutes drive away from your
holiday gite, the forest of Mervent provides over 12000 acres of mixed woodland,
with over thirty varieties of tree, including holm oaks (a
Mediterranean species that does very well in the warm climate of the
Vendée), penduculate oaks, ash, hornbeam, beech and chestnut.
for walking, riding, cycling and picnics, the forest is also home to
a water sports complex (canoes, sailing, etc), an
amusement park (Parc de Pierre Brune - see "Adventure
& Fun Parks" below)
and a small zoo. On a hot day a picnic in the cool of the woods
followed by a gentle stroll is a delight.
Natur'zoo de Mervent is open every day
April - September and features an excellent selection of animals,
some of them (like the white tigar) rather rare in a pleasent forest
The forest is home to a wide variety of
mammals and birds, including roe deer, badger, pine marten and wild boar.
Rare short-toed eagles are often to be seen. In Autumn, the forest floor
provides a bounty in the form of edible mushrooms to anyone wishing to
collect them: local pharmacists will be happy to sort through and remove
anything dangerous or unpalatable, a service they provide free of
the North of the Forest of Mervent is the charming village of
Vouvant. Dating from Medieval times, Vouvant boasts some
exceptionally pretty buildings and interesting architecture. The village
is ideal for an afternoon strolling and has a couple of nice cafés.
Vouvant is known as an artists' village and there are a number of
galleries there that welcome visitors. The beauty of Vouvant is
recognised at a national level and it is classed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
Marais Poitevin- Covering a large
the South Vendée and extending into the neighbouring départements
of Deux Sèrves and Charente Maritime, the marais is a vast area of wetlands.
Reclaimed from the sea a thousand years ago by the great monasteries,
and once a source of their immense wealth, this extraordinary
landscape is home to a staggering variety of flora and fauna.
In many places, the tranquillity of
the marais can be enjoyed by boat (for example from Coulon,
Damvix - our favourite -
and Maillezais) on the network of limpid canals that criss-cross it. These are the origin of the name by it
which is known locally - venise vert: Green Venice. More
information about boat trips on the marais can be found on marais-poiteven.com (in French only).
Fontenay-le-Comte - The small Renaissance city of
Fontenay-le-Comte lies between the marais poitevin and the forest
of Mervent and is only 10 minutes drive away from your gite. Noted
for its architectural heritage and particularly relaxed way of life,
the town has nonetheless borne witness to both the brutality of
civil war and to the heights of science & culture.
During the Renaissance,
the city was home to the great Rabelais and the mathematician Viète,
amongst others. Later, in 1793 (after the revolution in 1789),
Fontenay was one of the seats of rebellion that led to the bloody
Vendéen wars. The slaughter that followed marks the collective
consciousness of the Vendée even two centuries later.
So troublesome was
Fontenay-le-Comte as the capital of the Vendée that Napoléon decreed a
new capital be built at La Roche-sur-Yon, with wide, straight
thoroughfares to give troops clear fields of fire should the people of
the Vendée take up arms again.
Today, Fontenay offers
a wide range of cultural activities (museums, cinemas, a theatre and
a new arts centre), a wide range of shopping, an excellent selection
of restaurants and a superb Saturday market.
More information can be found on the
website of the:
The fascinating (and
often somewhat lively) history of the Vendée has left the region
with many important abbeys and châteaux. Two of the most important
châteaux are the Château de la Guignardière and Château Tiffaugues,
both of which are well suited to family days out.
Château Tiffaugues was
built over a period ranging from the 12th to the 16th century. It
was home to one Giles de Rias (1404 - 1440), also known as "Blue
Beard" he was made Marshal of France under Charles VII for his
exploits against the English during the Hundred Years War and was
comrade-in-arms of Joan d'Arc. After the death of Joan, he returned
to Tiffauges and developed an unhealthy obsession with alchemy. He
came to believe that the key to transmuting base metals into gold
lay in the blood of innocents and is reputed to have kidnapped &
murdered some 200 local children....The château has an extensive
collection of engines of war, many in complete working order and
whose operation is demonstrated throughout the day.
started far later than Château Tiffaugues in around 1550. Although never
actually completed, it remains one of the finest examples of renaissance
architecture in western France. This is all well and good – and the
Château itself is very much worth a visit – but what really makes the
Château de la Guignardière a great family day out is the “Adventure
Trails” laid out in the grounds.
These take the form of
pirate-themed treasure hunts where children and adults must follow clues, solve
puzzles and complete tasks to gain answers that lead to a trophy. The
trails take about an hour and a half to complete. One is specially laid
out for 3-7 year olds; the other is set up for 3 years to adult. A tour
of the château itself takes about an hour. The grounds are very
attractive and there is a dedicated, shady, picnic area.
There are a number of adventure parks
in the Vendée that are suitable for family days out. Three in
particular - Mervent Adventure, the Indian Forest and Parc de Pierre Brune - are
The Parc de Pierre
Brun is located in the forest of Mervent on a 25 acre site.
Attractions include trampolines, a range of gigantic inflatables in
the "bouncy castle" mould and bumper boats. There is something for
children of all ages (and adults are allowed to play too...) Visit
the website here .
This park is a favourite
many of our guests.
The Indian Forest is a newer
attraction for the Vendée. Spread over two sites, the Indian forest
has facilities for age 2 to adult, including eight courses of "high ropes" (elevated
obstacle courses that are allegedly quite safe), giant inflatables,
maxi-bungee (a trampoline / elastic rope affair that throws people
22m into the air - again, allegedly perfectly safe, though perhaps
not ideal after a heavy lunch) and paint-balling. Our children (7 &
9 at the time) thoroughly enjoyed themselves gadding about 35 feet above the
ground and it must be admitted that the accompanying adults rather
had fun too! Visit their website
Nearer to home, Mervent
Aventure is similar to Indian Forest but concentrates much
more on the tree-based activities and has less in the way of ground-based
games. A major advantage of this site is that there are courses that
can be tackled by very young children (three years and up) which
means they can be included too. The park staff are excellent, some
speak English very well and safety is taken very seriously.
Another good choice for
an hour or 2 is the Parcabout Donjon des Cimes in Fontenay le Comte.
Another tree top adventure, this time without harnesses.
Situated in an park which was once part of a medieval castle this
offers the opportunity for a lovely walk as well as a treetop climb.
Great views of the rooftops of Fontenay can be had from the nearby
terrace and café.
Walking in the Vendée is a real
joy. The département is well served with paths, including two
grandes randonnées (long distance footpaths or GRs)
the GR8 and GR364, four local
long paths (or GRPs) and hundreds of lesser paths. In total, the Vendée
boasts something over 6000 km of well marked path. Our own commune of Le
Langon has about 25km of promenade de randonnée.
Routes range in length from
2.5 km to something over 300 km and can be cunningly arranged to include a
suitable wayside restaurant for lunch. The paths cover a spectacular range
of scenery, and are well maintained,with many being suitable for
buggies, so children can easily be included in the party.
We have put together a selection of routes
suitable for families and details of these are available in our properties,
including laminated cards that can be taken out with you.
Cyclists are equally well catered for in the
Vendée: cycling is regarded by many as being the national sport of France,
and certainly most towns and larger villages have well subscribed cycling
clubs. There are any number of minor roads carrying very little in the way
of motor traffic that open up the countryside to the two-wheeled explorer,
as well as several hundred kilometres of dedicated cycle track. Away from
the roads, many areas (including the forest of Mervent and the marais)
have well-marked routes for vélos tout terrain (VTT or mountain
40 minutes away, La
Rochelle, the capital of Charente Maritime,
is superb; an historic and beautiful city.
From the port, busy with yachts and pleasure
vessels, to the quays replete with excellent restaurants, and the
handsome 17th century city centre with its extensive shopping
facilities, there is plenty to occupy visitors. For children,
the large, modern aquarium (certainly the
largest in France and said to be the largest in Europe)
is not to be missed. Just offshore, the
Ille de Ré (reached by bridge from the mainland) has fantastic
beaches, cycle ways and picnic spots. Visit the La Rochelle
website for more infomation about the city.
The nearest zoo to the gites is in the
Forest of Mervent, Natur'Zoo.
Although realatively small, this is a very well presented zoo with a
good selection of animals to view (including lions, tigers & bears!)
There are a number of larger zoos
and wildlife parks in the Vendée and neighbouring Charente Maritime,
the best of which are
the zoo at Les Sables d'Olonne on the Vendée coast and the Palmyre zoo
near Royan in the Charente Maritime.
The zoo at
Les Sables d'Olonne is located on the edge of this popular resort town.
Set in verdant
gardens, this beautifully presented zoo is home to 200 animals of more
than 40 species, including big cats, red pandas and primates. Some of
the species kept are rare and the zoo is part of a European breeding
program for many of these. Visit their website at: www.zoodessables.com.
Palmyre zoo is generally held to be the best in France. Visited by
over 800,000 visitors per year, the 35 acre site is home to 1600
animals including polar bears, gorillas and rhinoceros. Visit their
website (in French & English) at:
Although not in the Vendée, futroscope is close enough to provide a good
day out. Located near Poitiers in the
neighbouring département of Vienne (about 1
hour 15 from our gîtes in the Vendée), Futuroscope has been
established for many years as a futuristic theme park featuring
extraordinary cinematic shows and architecture.
The park has received
considerable investment in recent years which has led to the addition of
many new features including 4D cinema experience and the grounds have
been extensively remodelled
and renovated. New shows and attractions are being added at high rate of
knots. An evening show means that Futuroscope stays open until 10pm.
Futuroscope is a particularly good bet on wet or very hot days as most
attractions are under cover. Particular favourites of ours included
"Arthur & the Minimoys" in 4D and "Dances with Robots." Visit their website for a the latest news at: www.futuroscope.com.
The Vendée is famous
throughout France for the quality of its fine, sandy beaches. These
run to 140km along the coast and receive upto 2500 hours of sunshine a
sea is warm, shallow and very clean, particularly good for children.
Some have lifeguard cover during the summer months, and many of the
beaches closest to our gites in the south of the
département (L'Aiguillon / La Faute, La Tranche and Longeville)
regularly receive European Blue Flag accreditation for general cleanliness and
Wind surfing and body
boarding are very popular on the beaches of the Vendée during the summer
season, whilst in spring and autumn, board surfers are well served. The
best area for surfing is reckoned to lie between the beaches of La
Tranche and Longeville). There are plenty of surf shops and surf schools
in the area.
The beach at Les Conches (Longeville-sur-Mer) is
our personal favourite being bordered by woods that are ideal for
picnics and with plentiful parking.
With its long coastline, it
is no surprise that seafood features strongly in the cusine of the
Vendée. Fish is available throughout the département from fishmongers,
supermarkets, markets and directly from fishermen. Amongst wet fish,
Dover and lemon sole, sardines, bass brill and sea bream are particularly
good, though many other varieties are available fresh. The marais
provides a selection of fresh water fish - eels, pike and zander being
and mussels are raised in vast numbers on the coast of the Vendée.
Oysters are available just about everywhere and are astoundingly good
value. Best eaten raw with a twist of lemon juice or a drop of Tabasco
and washed down with crisp white wine such as muscadet or gros
plant from the neighbouring Loire Atlantique. Mussels are also
available ready-for-the-pan at very low cost, and are essential in the
production the iconic dish of the Vendée: mouclade, a happy
marriage of mussels with white wine, eggs and crème fraîche.
Other shell fish from Vendéen waters include cockles, whelks, razor
clams and crabs.
are raised in large numbers in the Vendée. Particularly famous are the
free-range chickens raised around the town of Challans. The breed used
here, the noire de Challans produces a dense meat of particularly
fine flavour that roasts very well. Duck are reared also - it comes as a
surprise to many to learn that the Vendée is the département that
produces the largest quantity of foie gras in France.
available in autumn and winter months, and a traditional pâté made from
wild rabbit is highly esteemed. Venison and boar are available, as are
game birds. A more unusual delicacy is a pâté made from wild coypu that
breed in large numbers on the marais.
raised on the salt marshes in the north of the Vendée are the source of
succulent lamb and mutton with a characteristic and sought-after
flavour. Beef produced from locally reared Parthenaise cattle has and
exceptional taste and texture and is available from many butchers and
markets. Pigs are farmed to produce Vendéen ham. This is served raw or
fried in thick slices with the regions best-known vegetable crop : white
haricot beans known as mogettes.
cheeses include mizotte and halbran made from cows milk
and dozens of types of goat cheese made artisanally by small-scale
producers. Local butter is excellent and is the fat most usually used
for cooking in the Vendée.
include brioche (for which the Vendée is famous and which is very
different from the more usual fluted loaf sold in bakeries elsewhere), and
tourteau au fromage, a curious looking (but very nice) black-topped
cheese cake made from sweetened goat's cheese.
been produced in the southern Vendée since Roman times and the local
appellation controlée "Fiefs Vendéen" goes from strength to strength.
are happy to advise
on vineyard visits and purchasing. Pineau, a drink more often
associated with the Charente Maritime is also produced in the Vendée
from grape juice and local grape spirit, is a traditional apéritif
locally. Troussepiette, however, is a 100% Vendéen apéritif made
from hedgerow fruits, and kamok is a coffee liqueur made in the
Vendée at Luçon for almost 200 years. Finally, although by no means
traditional brewing country, the Vendée is home to a number of
microbreweries that are producing some outstanding (and powerful) beers.
wide selection of excellent markets and small specialist shops, food
shopping and eating n the Vendée can be as much a part of a holiday for
some as the beach. These are usually the source of the ingredients we
ourselves use in our pre-prepared meals. See
Food for more details.
There is a fine selection of
restaurants conveniently close by, ranging from simple family run places
to establishments with two Michelin stars. All tastes and budgets are
catered for. We have produced a guide
for of guests that is available in the gites, and will be very happy to provide recommendations and make
reservations. However, here is a short list of our personal
La Récré at Damvix -
Damvix is a pretty little town in the Venise Verte, but is quieter (and
nicer) than some of the better known towns nearby. The Récré is built in
an old village school and is themed accordingly. The menu comprises
imaginatively made pizzas, galettes, crêpes and salads. The garden is
lovely and there is a play area inside for children.
La Récré on Tripadvisor.
Chateau de la Citardiere
- Located in the forest of Mervent and a convenient lunch venue for
walking, La Citadiere is set in a semi-ruined château. The owners run
the restaurant in part to fund the on-going renovations. The menu
concentrates on crêpes and galettes which are pretty much the best in
the area. The emphasis is very much on outdoor dining during the summer
months and there is a nice little play area in clear view of the
terrace. La Citadiere on Tripadvisor.
Best for Gastronomy
L'Auberge de la Rivière - Not only is this
conveniently located in the neighbouring
village of Velluire, but L'Auberge
represents outstanding quality for the price. That is not to say it is a
cheap night out: this is very much in the fine dining category,
approaching Michelin Star levels, though possibly more traditional than
is the current fashion. There is a strong emphasis on locally
sourced ingredients and menus range from €26 to €55. L'Auberge de la Rivière on Tripadvisor and their website.
Best in La
There are a
great many restaurants in La Rochelle and picking a favourite is no easy
job. However, for dining in small groups Au Gout du Jour takes some
beating. The restaurant is lovely and cosy during the winter, cool in
the summer with some outside seating. The food is very good, the service
welcoming and the menu very firmly French.
Au Gout du Jour on Tripadvisor.
For larger groups,
André - something of a La Rochelle institution - is always a good bet.
The menu is based around fish & seafood, though other options are
available and Bar André caters well for children.
Bar André on Tripadvisor and their website.
Best of All
There were halcyon days when eating out in France - in however humble an
establishment - would almost inevitably be good. Practically everything
was home made, ingredients were local & seasonal, the cooking was good
and value for money excellent. Menus were very limited, changing by the
And then things started to change: restaurants started to cut corners by
ordering from catering catalogues (the desserts were the first to
suffer), menus became immobile, and chefs moved from being cooks to
being food technicians.
Happily, there are signs of a change in direction. The number of
restaurants making a point of doing things in house and using locally
sourced ingredients is very much on the up (practically everywhere we
recommend does this) and menus are consolidating, going back to basics.
Our very favourite restaurant - the Hôtel de Vendée in Fontenay -
for us, everything a French restaurant should
do. It's a lunchtime
place, for the most part, though larger parties might find the evenings
better, and caters best for adults (though children are, of course, very
much made welcome). The food is superb, the service just right and the
value for money exemplary.
Hôtel de Vendée on Tripadvisor and read the entry on our blog here.