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From Our Visitors Book..

 

"Brilliant place, loads of 'easy to get to' places to visit."
 

 

 

 

"Kids loved 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" behind us."

 

 

 

 

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."

 

 

 

      

Things to Do and

Places to See in the Vendée

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

With an 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.

 From its 140km of beaches to the tranquillity of the rolling countryside of forests & 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 equal measure.

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 Vendée.

 

 

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

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Things to See & Do in the Vendée

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 new window):

 

Le 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 to September.

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 - one of 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.

Ideal 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 setting.

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 charge.

Just to 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 area in 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:

 

 

Châteaux & Abbeys

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.

Château de la Guignardière (website http://www.chateau-aventuriers.com)

was 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.

 

 

Maillezais

Picture Credit: http://www.bienvenue-vendee.com

 

For more details, please visit:

(in French & English)

Adventure & Fun Parks

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 particularly recommended.

 

 

 

  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 with many of our guests.

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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 at www.indian-forest-atlantique.com.

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 and Cycling  in the Vendée

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 bikes).

 

La Rochelle & Ille de Ré

Located about 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 Harbour - La Rochelle St Martin - Ille de Ré

 

Zoos and Wildlife Parks

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.

The 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:

Futuroscope

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.

 

 

 

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Beaches of the Vendée

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 year. The 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 water quality.

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.

 

 

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Food and Drink

 

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 widely available.

 

Oysters 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.

Poultry 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.

Game is 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.

Sheep 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.

Local 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.

Puddings 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.

 

Wine has been produced in the southern Vendée since Roman times and the local appellation controlée "Fiefs Vendéen" goes from strength to strength. We 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.

With a 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 choices:

 

The Best Local Restaurants (in Our Opinion)

 

Best for Eating Out with Children

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.

Creperie 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 Rochelle

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, Le Bar 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 week.

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 - does, 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.

 

Child friendly Gites in the Vendee

Particularly for families with babies, toddlers and young children

 

Les Alouettes

Gite Sleeping up to 8

Plus two infants

Four bedrooms

Les Chardonnerets

Large holiday Rental sleeps up to 24

Twelve Bedrooms

Private Pool

Les Roches

Gite sleeps up to 12

Five bedrooms

Private Pool

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