Discover the Vendee: an insider’s guide

 

We think the Vendee is a great destination choice for families – there are great beaches, some lovely seaside towns and it’s far enough south for great weather without being an epic ride from the ferry ports.

So we asked expert Martin Holmes, of Vendee Gites, to tell us even more about the region.

Why is the Vendee such a great choice for families?

Vendee beachFor many families, it’s the easy accessibility. At only three hours from the ferry port of St Malo, or four hours from Caen, it avoids a long fraught drive in France. The Vendee is the first point you come to in western France where you get a real change in climate and more reliable weather, so it’s a very good compromise.

The Vendee is renowned for its fabulous coastline, with a total of 140km of sandy beaches, great for family holidays. However, you don’t have to stay right on the coast and there are some lovely authentic villages just inland, offering great value holiday accommodation with the beaches still within easy reach.

In terms of visits and activities, there is a vast choice to suit all family members; surfing and most other water sports, tree-adventure parks, fun pools, historic chateaux to visit, botanical gardens, go-karts, golf and many themed attractions with interactive educational value. We often have guests coming back several years running and they say they still haven’t seen it all.

What events and attractions does the Vendee offer ?

Jard dur mer in the VendeeThe Vendee is renowned for it’s nautical events, so boat lovers will find many occasions to combine their interest with a family holiday :

  • The Vendée Globe race
  • Régates du Bois de la Chaise at Noirmoutier
  • Stages of the Course du Figaro
  • Reef Vendée Pro surfing event at Brétignolles-sur-Mer
  • French kite-surfing championships

The development of tourism in the Vendee is firmly around a ‘green’ theme with extensive work done on providing a huge network of rambling and cycling trails. There are 1000km of cycling trails in the Vendee – the longest network of any French department.

With over 500 different festivals and events every year there is always something to see during your holiday and the local tourist office is always a good source of information for what’s-on nearby. One of our favourites, which is on a national level, is the Fête de la Musique on the 21st of June – an evening of music of all kinds in the streets of most towns.

For great ambiance it’s worth taking a drive down to nearby La Rochelle for this event, just out of the south end of the Vendee.

Where’s your favourite Vendee beach, and why?

Vendee beach dunes

For beaches in the Vendee, our personal favourite is the Pointe de l’Aiguillon, extending south from the main beach at La Faute-sur-mer. If you are prepared to walk along the beach for half an hour it becomes almost deserted and the sea birds make the most of the calm open space. This beach backs onto dunes and pine forest that are part of the nature reserve so you can’t get to it any other way than along the shore. Even in high season you can look both ways and only see two or three people in the distance!

For families with young children the popular beaches are usually La Terriere and Les Conches, near La Tranche-sur-mer, for great sand and lifeguards on hand. St Nicolas at Jard-sur-mer is also a good choice, combining an attractive sandy bay with rocky outcrops each end for rock-pool activities.

If there is one food or drink we should try in the Vendee, what should it be?

By far the best-known Vendee speciality that you will find everywhere is Jambon et Mogettes. Slices of grilled local ham served with white beans, slow cooked with garlic.

Otherwise, at the coast it has to be the traditional Moules-Frites – the local mussels are probably the best in France. There are some good local wines to try and we would recommend either those from Coirier at Pissotte or from Mourat at Mareuil-sur-Lay.

We have three nights in the Vendee – what must we see?

The choice is vast and it obviously depends on the ages of the children. For those with older children, our personal favourite is a day trip to the beautiful island of Yeu. You can take the ferry from St Gilles or near Noirmoutier and hire bicycles when you arrive. It’s easy to do the full tour of the island in the day, taking in the forests and sandy coves on the south side, the moorland and rocky cliffs to the north and stopping off for lunch at the picturesque Port de la Meule. A fabulous day out – your really have the feeling of being ‘away from it all’.

Of course we also have to mention the famous history theme park Le Puy du Fou, near Les Herbiers. Whilst not particularly well-known to the English-speaking traveller, this is one of the finest and biggest theme parks in Europe (voted “best theme park in Europe” in 2013). It takes you through many periods of history with absolutely stunning displays. For example, a full size roman amphitheatre with chariot races and gladiator battles! It’s a full day to see the major attractions, but many people take a two day ticket to make sure that they see it all. If you want to also do the night time Son-et-Lumière spectacle, then you need to book tickets for this around March/April for the summer dates.

Green Venice is good for a relaxing visit to wind down. There are many places where you can hire a punt or canoes to explore the tree-lined canals, (Maillezais, Coulon or Damvix for example). Either with a guide or on your own – it’s a must do.

Is there anything else we should look out for in the Vendee in 2015?

The Vendee has always been a great value family holiday destination but with the excellent exchange rate at the moment, now is the time to try it!

The weather is superb in May and June and over the past few years we have had excellent warm weather right through to September, making the Vendee a great destination for a week’s break outside the main summer holidays.

What’s new for Vendee-Gites in 2015?

Martin Holmes, Vendee GitesThere will be a couple of new properties coming on line later this year and we will be visiting a few other potential candidates that look promising. Being one of the best-known companies in holiday rentals in the Vendee, we are approached by owners all the time to add properties to our range, but we prefer to carefully select what we present and limit it to an exclusive quality range to be able to offer excellent value for money and trouble-free holidays.

Whilst our website is easily navigable on most devices we will have a new mobile and tablet friendly site later this year. Our clients praise us on the quality of the presentation, the detailed property information and the accurate availability calendars, so we won’t be making major changes to the format or content.

Martin Holmes (pictured) owns Vendee-Gites, holiday rentals specialists in the Vendee. Find out more at www.vendee-gites.com.

See our France For Families Vendee highlights here: www.franceforfamilies.com/france/vendee

Summer adventure in the Alps

Alpe d’Huez is best known as one of the Alps’ most popular ski resorts, but Catherine Cooper tells us how it also makes a brilliant family destination in summer too.

Summer holiday in the Alps

The Cooper family in the Alps

Says Catherine: “Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous stages of the Tour de France, and as such it is a big centre for road cyclists setting themselves the challenge of cycling up the iconic road with 21 hairpin bends from the valley floor to the village.

“But as well as that, it’s also very popular mountain bikers who can take one of the selected lifts which are open all summer and roll (or slide, or fall) down various cycle pistes which are graded from green to black like ski pistes.

“As near-complete novices, we joined a 2-hour VTT initiation session in a group of about 15 with two patient instructors who taught us how to squeeze the brakes gently with our finger tips and push our bums back over the seat as the slope got steeper. After that they took us up the main DMC ski lift before guiding us down the mainly grassy but occasionally rocky slope.

“Looking at the rest of the group in near full body armour I began the lesson fairly convinced I was going to break something but thanks largely to the patience of the instructors, actually managed to enjoy the second run down and even gave it a go again another day.

“Another day we took two lifts all the way to the top – there was still snow on the ground up there and we were woefully underdressed – and another day took a lift up to walk alongside some stunning lakes joined by streams.

“Back down in the village we tried out summer luge and X-Fly – a collection of activities including two zip wires, climbing walls and an eight-metre jump into an air bag.

Zipwire in the Alpe d'Huez

Livi tries the zipwire

“On the one rainy day the children tried out the indoor adventure park In’Vertigo, played table tennis and indoor mini golf. The Palais des Sports offers a Premium Pass which gives you unlimited entry to the indoor and outdoor pools, ice rink, tennis courts, minigolf, table tennis and more, so it doesn’t even need to cost a fortune.

“On our last day in the resort Toby and Livi took their first parapente flight and then in the afternoon we went mountain biking. However I was feeling lazy so after one run down I swapped my ordinary bike for an electric one and spent the afternoon cycling up to the lake, down the hill a little so that I could power up past the proper cyclists aided by the little motor. As far as I’m concerned now, that’s the only way to cycle.

Parapente flights in the Alps

Don’t look down! A parapente flight

“We stayed in VIP Ski’s Chalet La Maison, a luxurious and comfortable chalet at 2,000 metres, above the main village of Alpe d’Huez in a quiet location but very close to the main DM1 telecabine and some chairlifts as well as shops, bars and a small supermarket.

The chalet has four en suite rooms with balconies, lovely big living room with a large sunny balcony with deckchairs and fabulous view, Freeview TV, Bose sound systems and fully-equipped kitchen. Best of all, downstairs there’s a sauna and jacuzzi. Summer prices start at £105 per room per night, self-catering. Breakfast can be added for an additional charge of £7.50 per person.

Find out more about VIP Ski’s Chalet La Maison here: www.vip-chalets.com/chalets/le-village,-chalet-la-maison.

Visit the official site of the Alpe d’Huez here: www.alpedhuez.com/.

On yer bike with the Veloscenic bike route

Active families can enjoy France from the bike saddle by following bite size chunks of Veloscenic, a 270-mile cycleway linking Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel.

The route takes on special significance this year, with the final leg arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel, which will complete 10 years of development work to restore the tidal flow which cuts-off the iconic island from the mainland at high tide.

Veloscenic is a long-distance route that is easy to navigate, with 80 miles of traffic-free greenways and 125 miles of shared paths to suit families and amateur cyclists.

Veloscenic Bike Route in France


Picture credit: Joel Damase

Opened in 2012, the cycleway follows an original pilgrimage route through the regions of Ile-de-France, Centre-Val de Loire, Pays de la Loire and Basse-Normandie, passing a staggering five UNESCO World Heritage Sites en route.

The full route takes around one week to complete, but families can limit themselves to short stretches – seven are described as family friendly – and discover spectacular scenery and sample the essence of traditional French life, history and culture.

Veloscenic Bike Route in France


Picture credit: www.sagaphoto.com

To find out more head to www.veloscenic.com, a comprehensive English website with an easy-to-use trip planner and interactive search, plus advice on where to rent a bike, where to eat, places to visit (including local markets) and connecting train stations. There is technical information on each stage with a difficulty rating, elevation and GPS tracks to navigate.

 

Four Veloscenic routes for families

Head towards the light at Chartres – 22 miles

This short stretch leads to Chartres along the royal valley of Eure along tiny roads, stop-off at delightful gardens, passing Maintenon Castle and its impressive aqueduct. Arrive in Chartres by dusk and watch the city bathed in thousands of lights, with creative illuminations that run from 11 April until 10 September 2015.

Amble along in Percheron country – 47 miles

A family-friendly section following a network of green lanes virtually the entire way, through the Perche Regional Park with lush green countryside dotted with villages, mills and mansions. Swap two wheels for four on a carriage tour with Celine Maudet, or walk part of the way with a donkey!

Awaken your senses – 41 miles

Follow a delightful greenway, formerly a railway track, and be seduced by charming villages such as Mortain and Ducey. Stop-off the sample delicious local delicacies direct from the farm.

Cruise to Mont Saint-Michel – 19 miles

Keep the famous silhouette of Mont Saint-Michel in vision, pedalling through the surrounding grasslands with superb sea vistas before reaching the newly-restored, iconic landmark.

 

Travel details

Trains booked through Voyages SNCF (www.voyages-sncf.com; 0844 848 5 848) from London-Paris and back from Pontorson (the nearest station to Mont Saint-Michel) to London (via Paris) start at £89.50 per person. Alternatively, Brittany Ferries (www.brittanyferries.com; 0871 244 1400) offers return channel crossings to Caen, Cherbourg and Saint Malo from £110pp for a car and two passengers.