Peaceful, spacious and charming are a few words that are associated with the Vendée department. It is an ideal place for a holiday by the sea for families. But how much do you really know about the Vendée? The département hides many little-known surprises and is also very active in protecting the environment.
The department owes its name to the river Vendée, a tributary of the Sèvre Niortaise. It administratively (but not historically) belongs to the Pays de la Loire region. In the past, however, it constituted part of the historic province of Poitou, the department corresponding to the former Bas-Poitou.
The Vendée can be easily reached by train – there is a TGV line that stops in the capital, La Roche-sur-Yon (ca. 3hrs 15min from Paris).
The Vendée offers a unique diversity in landscape with a coastline lined with fine sandy beaches. The islands of Yeu and Noirmoutier alone are worth a visit. The captivating hinterland consisting of swamps, bocage and hills are too. A paradise for cyclists and horse lovers, the Vendée is a hidden gem well suited for families and water sports enthusiasts, who are sure to enjoy the pleasures of the sea.
If you think about French beaches, the French Riviera will probably come to your mind. However, the Vendée offers swimmers kilometers of fine sandy beaches. The coastal area, referred to as Côte de Lumière (The Coast of Light), boasts 250km of protected landscape, 150km of which are beaches.
The Côte de Lumière owes its name to its exceptional microclimate, which offers sunshine comparable to that of the Landes and the Basque coast. The Vendée is number two for bathing tourism in France, a tradition going back more than 100 years. In addition, it is lined with a couple of unmissible attractions: Les Sables d'Olonne, Saint-Jean-de-Monts and La Tranche sur Mer, nicknamed “Little California”, to name a few. The seaside resort of La Tranche sur Mer has been awarded the Blue Flag and the “Famille Plus” labels.
The Vendée is of course also a favorite destination for water sports enthusiasts (it offers surfing, kitesurfing, sand sailing and windsurfing or sailing). Ever heard of the famous Sables d'Olonne?
In winter, Noirmoutier's microclimate allows its many mimosas to flower. That's not all. Its 40km of beaches, pine forests, salt marshes, its white houses with blue shutters and its small harbors make it a small unique world in itself – one best discovered by bike.
The capital, Noirmoutier-en-Ile, is a charming, lively town with a fortified castle proudly nestled in the town center worthy of knightly tales. From the town, you can walk or cycle to the Bois de la Chaise and the magnificent beaches of Les Dames and Les Sableaux with their white beach huts.
Speaking of those beach huts, there are about 200 of them on Noirmoutier and are part of its heritage. Being very much sought after, their owners tend to pass them on from one generation to the next, so it is very hard to find one for sale!
Although a bridge has connected the island to the mainland since the early 1970s, nothing beats the thrill of the famous Passage du Gois, a unique 4km-long underwater dam that is unveiled at low tide.
For a long time, the Ile d´Yeu was the first tuna port on the Atlantic coast. Nowadays, fishing still plays an active role on the island, which also offers a wide range of sea activities: sailing, kayaking, diving, surfing… but it also boasts many beaches for swimming or lazing around.
The wild coast in the south of the island is reminiscent of Brittany or Ireland. Classified as a “natural site”, it is a fantastic area for hiking with its steep cliffs overlooking the old castle of Ile d'Yeu. The cliffs hide the fine sandy beaches between the coves.
Beyond the Pointe des Corbeaux, the coast to the north offers a series of beaches characterized by a dune landscape with forests of maritime pines and holm oaks. Nearby, a network of marshes shelters many protected bird species.
The Marais Poitevin Regional Nature Park covers 112,000 hectars of the south of the Vendée. It is known for its unique landscapes, which includes intertwining canals that run along the Sèvre Niortaise, hence the nickname Green Venice.
Marais Poitevin can be explored by either the traditional 'flat' boat, on foot, on horseback or by bicycle, and even in a horse-drawn caravan. Nature lovers will enjoy the ecological richness of the second largest wetland in France.
If you like wetlands, don't miss out on the chance to cycle or walk through the Marais breton vendéen in department's northwest. This enigmatically named area covers 45,000 hectars of canals, wetlands and polders unique to France. It is home to a very rich fauna of otters, genets, coatis, eels, frogs, birds of prey, waders and palm trees.
Bocage Vendéen (the bocaged Vendée), located in the central and eastern parts, takes up most of the region of the Vendée. The historic land of hills and pastures is laced with hiking and cycling trails.
You can stroll along the Sèvre Nantaise river, lined with mills, castles, medieval fortresses such as the castle of Gilles de Rais in Tiffauges, where history meets the legend of the “Bluebeard”!
The Vendée is one of France's leading departments when it comes to coastal protection. Only 20% of its coastline is built-up. In addition, several seaside resorts in the Vendée have been awarded the “Blue Flag” label, which guarantees the purity of the water.
Beaches and biodiversity
Several municipalities have taken steps to maintain clean beaches. At high tide, the sea deposits a string of algae on the beach, interspersed with plants and marine organisms. This natural contribution is an essential environmental asset for the stabilisation of the dunes and their ecosystem. For this reason, mechanical cleaning is only permitted on highly frequented beaches.
A bicycle-friendly destination
The Vendée boasts 1,800km of cycling paths. The Vélodyssée long-distance cycle route, namely the Atlantic coast route, extends over 200km (150km of which are exclusively for cyclists) and links Bouin with L'Aiguillon sur Mer via the islands of Noirmoutier and Yeu. The interior is easily accessible from the coast.