Posted on 26 May 2010 by Dan Johnson
In a nutshell
The Vendée, a coastal departement of the Pays de la Loire region, is one of the most fantastic family holiday destinations in France. There are beautiful wild beaches —140kms of big sandy, sunny coastline — and very civilised towns with excellent shopping and restaurants. The Vendée also boasts more 3* and 4* holiday parcs than any other part of France.
The beaches in the Vendée, along the Côte de Lumiere (‘coast of light’) are truly stunning and will ruin you for any others, as you’ll forever be comparing them and finding alternative are ‘just not quite up to the Vendée standard’.
The popular plage at St Jean de Monts is a favourite because of its space, fine soft sand and safe waters. It’s inevitable that your children will head off and play, so there are a series of tall poles topped with shapes along the beach, which kids can use to find their way back to you.
Parking close by can be a trial during the peak season, but the Vendée has miles of easily manageable cycle paths that wind that run through the resort and along the beach
The Vendee is blessed with many great beaches, so if you can drag yourself away from St Jean de Monts, it should be to stand out resorts. Les Sables d’Olonne is the most chic destination in the Vendée and if you want a break from the sunbathing, there are many top-class shops.
If you take the crossing from the mainland to the Ile de Noirmutier, you’ll more picturesque beaches. The best is Bois de La Chaize, which has its own bathing huts that gives the beach an old-world aura.
The area of Sion Sur L’Ocean has a rare thing for a Vendée beach – cliffs. The rocky outcrops create lots of sandy inlets to explore and rock pools where crabs hideout.
- You say
St Jean-de-Monts has a beautiful sandy beach, which locals consider one of the most beautiful in France. It’s immense, really clean and great to swim off [TripAdvisor member, Coventry]. There is a watersports area where you can hire sand yachts, catamarans, canoes and windsurfers. If you are a fan, then St Jean de Monts beach is perfect [TripAdvisor member, England]
- The beaches are amazing — Plage les Salins has really easy parking at any time of day, loads of space and is a really safe beach with dunes at the back [TripAdvisor member, Somerset]
- Les Sables d’Olonne has a marvellous beach [TripAdvisor member, Cambridgeshire]
- Sion Sur L’Ocean beach was very popular with my boys as it had rock pools and so we all went crabbing, which was great. It also has little coves which were very private [TripAdvisor member, Bristol]
Vendee Attractions and Adventure
Puy du Fou is a medieval theme park where you can relive 2,000 years of French history through smoky, live spectaculars. It is made up of ‘villages’ that represent a different era, and there is a 600 seat Roman stadium which hosts Gladiator and Viking shows. Throughout the day there are performances of falconry, jousting, magic and music.
The parc has several main shows, including a battle of the keep, a Viking bombardment from the sea, chariot racing, gladiator parades and combat in a replica amphitheatre, birds of prey and the swashbuckling musketeers.
In the evenings, the park explodes back into life when a thousand local volunteer actors stage a historical sound and music extravaganza called Cinéscénie, which relives the history of the Vendée. Book your tickets in advance, as every show gets sold out in the summer.
Be aware: Puy du Fou is based around its shows, so trying to get round all of them in one day can prove too much. It’s best to pick three that you really want to see, and then fill in any extra time as you can.
There has been lots of recent work to make the Vendée a cycle-friendly destination. Now there are 475 miles of cycle paths along the coast, with many picturesque routes.
Ride around the woods and seaside at St Jean de Monts (you can swap your bikes for a flat boat at one point). If hiring a bike is too much hard work, then hire a Rosalie, a canopy covered pedal car with steering wheel and break lever. It sounds silly, but you see lots in the main town of St Jean de Monts.
While not quite cycling, Velo Rail is a wheeled platform that runs on a 10km disused rail tracks – it’s a unique way to cross through some beautiful countryside and to see the region. Be aware: the Velo rail must be booked in advance, and costs around 11€ per hour.
The Marais-Poitevin, to the south of the region, is a reclaimed marshland criss-crossed by canals and rivers, and so is best explored by bike or by boat, which can include flat-bottomed barques, dinghies and canoes.
- Le Grand Parc du Puy du Fou is an excellent day out for the whole family. If you have children of primary school age (plus early teens) it really is a bit of a must see as it covers the majority of UK Key stage 2 History and delivers it in a fabulous way. Slick, professional and good technology means that Vikings/Romans and Medieval battles come to life in front of you. [TripAdvisor member, Wales]
- Biking around the Vendee was fantastic — fairly flat but miles and miles of cycle paths (once you find them). We cycled almost every day and thoroughly enjoyed it. [TripAdvisor member Carlisle] St Jean de Monts is dotted with small forests with lovely sandy cycle tracks through them, which made for really nice bike rides [TripAdvisor member, England]
- We spent five hours having great fun climbing and sliding down zip wires at Arbre Adventure, a tree adventure parc in St Jean de Monts [TripAdvisor member, England]
Cities and towns
Les Sables d’Olonne is the smartest resort on the coast. The long beach, bustling seafront and chic shops have earned Les Sables d’Olonne the nickname ‘mini Nice’. Though the beach is the main centre of activity you should also take some time to visit the food markets. The central market hall is open seven mornings a week in summer and there’s a fish market on the quay that serves up the day’s catch from 3.30pm. There is also a motor museum, which will keep everyone entertained.
Plush Ile de Noirmutier, which is linked to the coast by a three-mile tidal causeway that is only passable at low tide, offers excellent individual shops, vibrant restaurants, wonderful ancient houses and a 12th century abbey. It’s like visiting a tropical island (which gets especially busy on Sundays).
The small warm island of L’Ile d’Yeu simply exudes charm from its whitewashed villages and welcoming beaches. Bikes are the best way to explore and if you resist the temptation to stop, swim, dive or take photos you could cover the whole island in an afternoon! If you want to admire some of the man- made sights, there is the Grand Phare lighthouse or the ruins of Vieux Chateau fortress.
Apremont is a pretty village with a medieval castle, a large lake and a sandy beach. You can hire pedalos, flat-bottomed boats and canoes to paddle leisurely around the lake. Once you’ve worked up an appetite you can justify trying out the bar and restaurant which have stunning views over the lake.
- St Jean de Monts is nice, with markets and a lovely promenade at the beach [TripAdvisor member, UK]
- Head into St Gilles Croix De Vie for an evening meal and a visit to the famous roundabaout (the kids will love it) [TripAdvisor member, Solihull]. Every evening there is a market until 6pm and the shops stay open until 7:30pm – a great atmosphere [TripAdvisor member, Somerset]
What to eat, where to find it
St Jean-de-Monts, has a market everyday in the town centre, at which you can buy the most wonderful fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables, and there’s even a butcher who smokes his own quail. Close to Le Bois Masson is a vineyard outlet where you can get award winning Muscadet at very low prices.
Les Sables d’Olonne central market hall is open seven mornings a week in summer and there’s a fish market on the quay that serves up the day’s catch from 3.30pm.
St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie is famed for its fresh sardines. The vintage ‘sardines millésimées’ are supposed to be laid down like fine wine! For children with short attention spans, there is a tiny museum called the Maison du Pêcheur, which used to be a fisherman’s cottage.
Travelling to the Vendee
Nantes and La Rochelle airports are both served by a variety of routes from the UK and Ireland, and there is a regular shuttle bus that runs from Nantes to St Jean de Monts.
Driving to the Vendee from most ferry ports is a cinch. From Cherbourg or Caen, take the toll free A84 to Rennes and then finish the journey on the N137 and E03. This is a toll free route and only takes around 4 hours, which should be considered when you are weighing up the costs of the various ferry routes.
Driving from Calais, take the A16 to Rouen and then join the A28, which takes you most of the way, as far as Le Mans. Then join the A11 before picking up the local roads. The Calais route will take around 7 hours, and you’ll pay around 45€ in toll charges.
All of the usual road regulations apply, and in France it is also compulsory to have a warning triangle and high visibility vest. If you don’t have these, you can face on the spot fines.
Climate in the Vendee
Vendee is one of the sunniest places in France and summer temperatures are regularly in the comfortable 20s, and rainfall levels very low. Early autumn can see lots of great weather too, although it’s often less certain than the summer months.
Where to stay
Le Bois Dormant is an ultra relaxing four-star holiday parc which is great for families with small children, who will love the pool and spend their nights playing football until the sun finally sets.
Just over the road is Le Bois Masson, which is a bigger and busier four-star holiday parc, with indoor and outdoor pools, its own health and wellbeing spa and a lively bar and restaurant.