24 July 2013 by Jessica Boston
Top 10 Recommendations for a Fun-filled Family Holiday in the Vendee
If you are looking for a family holiday in the Vendee, then take a look at our Top 10 Recommendations to get the most from your stay, and have a fabulous holiday that everyone enjoys!
1. Get thee to a monastery!
The Vendee region has a rich religious history and there are several abbeys and monasteries to explore. The Abbaye de Maillezais is a well preserved Benedictine abbey that dates from 1003. This dramatic site on an island in the Golfe des Pictons offers a fascinating insight to the lives of the monks and you can still clearly see the remains of the cathedral, kitchens and refectory. Throughout the summer there are various events where music, theatre and light shows bring the history of this religious site back to life.
Abbaye de Niel sur l’Autise is another example of a well preserved 10th century monastery. Scenography, lighting and 3D effects are used to create an immersive experience for visitors. There are shows from Wednesdays to Sunday in high season as well as a weekly night-time display and guides in historic costume offer tours for younger children.
Prieure de Grammont founded in 1200 is also worth a visit to explore one of the best preserved monastic sites in France. Go on a Monday evening in July or August to hear haunting evening vigils of ancient music.
2. Explore medieval castles
There are lots of chateaux and castles to discover in the Vendee, many harking back to medieval times. Chateau de Talmont is a great day out with daily shows, guided tours and workshops where you can get a proper taste of life in the Middle Ages by experiencing armour and weaponry, archery, falconry, calligraphy, costumes and games of the era first hand.
Daily shows recount historic tales at Tiffauges le Chateau de Gilles de Rais in a spectacular setting high on a rocky crag. This site is home to one of the biggest collections of medieval war machines in Europe. Chateau de Pouzauges is an imposing fortress with twelve towers. See it at its atmospheric best by joining a torchlit night-time tour of the castle and medieval town, offered on Thursday evenings throughout July and August.
Lovers of mysterious tales of old won’t want to miss seeing the Melusine Tower, a watchtower that is said to have been built in a single night by the fairy Melusine. Climb the tower for spectacular views of the region and discover the magical story behind the legend at the on-site museum.
3. Discover millers tales
All of France is renowned for its delicious bread and the Vendee is the perfect place to get an insight into the history and heritage of the millers and bakers in the region. Visit working watermills such as Maison de la Meuriniure in Niel sur L’Autise. The mill produces wheat and buckwheat flour prized by bakers from Pouligen to La Rochelle. As well as viewing the milling process a museum gives insight into the life of a miller in the 1920s and includes a clog makers workshop, bread oven and washhouse.
Moulin des Gourmands in Saint Reverend offers guided tours of this working mill and bakery by the artisans themselves, while Petit Moulin Chateauneuf combines tours of the 300 year old family run flour mill with a play area, animal park and themed trails to keep the children happy – they even serve freshly made pancakes! Follow up your floury adventures with a trip to La Mie Caline museum in Sallertaine where you can find out everything there is to know about bread making through the ages.
4. Minibeasts galore!
Get close to some of the most beautiful and fascinating insects in the animal kingdom with a trip to one of the regions dedicated wildlife centres. Maison des Libellules at Chaille sous les Ormeaux is a dragonfly discovery centre set on the banks of the River Yon. Nature walks and tranquil gardens offer visitors a chance to see these amazing insects in their natural habitat.
Ile aux Papillons at La Guerniere is a butterfly house showcasing colourful species from all over the world. Walk amongst them flying freely in the indoor tropical garden and see for yourself the magical process of butterflies emerging from their chrysalises.
Folie de Finfarine at Poiroux is an interactive museum featuring a giant beehive. Discover the secret life of bees, find out how honey is made and explore the bee garden. There are stories and treasure hunts for children and don’t miss the honey festivals taking place throughout the summer.
5. Attractions great and small
Experience life as a giant when you visit one of the astonishingly detailed miniature villages in the region. There are three to choose from; Vendee Miniature in Bretignolles sur Mer, a model village that includes a steam locomotive, moving water mill and windmill and around 650 tiny figures to create a typical Vendee village.
Feerie des Santons is in Beaulieu sous la Roche and includes magical villages with over 600 figurines made by some of the best ‘santonniers’ in France. The exhibit is updated with seasonal additions most notably at Christmas when nativity scenes and festive decorations appear.
Mini-Ville at L’Epine showcases rural French living in miniature with representations of traditional country style houses from throughout France. Materials are gathered from the region being depicted for authenticity and each scene takes up to 300 hours to create.
And if you tire of peering into tiny windows and marveling at life in miniature why not get a wild contrast with a visit to Espace des Records in Aubigny? This unique museum showcases around 50 specially made items that hold Guinness world-records for being the biggest of their kind!
6. Railways – with a difference
Step back in time with a steam railway journey aboard the Chemin de Fer de la Vendee. The 2 ½ hour journey winds through the beautiful Vendee countryside on a return trip from Montagne sur Sevre to Les Herbiers. During the excursion you can choose to dine in the restaurant car, an authentic Orient Express carriage complete with its original fittings. There are activities available for children and a chance to learn a bit about the way railwaymen of old lived and worked the line.
Alternatively get a unique look at the Vendee countryside travelling a 10km stretch of railway line under you own steam! The self-pedaled ‘draisines’ from Velorail Vendee come in 2 or 4 man sizes and the route starts and finishes in Commequiers, booking is essential and you can book in advance online.
7. Messing about on the rivers
The marshlands of the Vendee are a unique landscape of wetlands, canals and rivers. Get back to nature as you explore the waterways and spot local wildlife. There are lots of places to hire canoes or rowing boats for free range exploring, less confident navigators can follow a signed route such as the 5km circuit from the Marshland Discovery Centre ‘Maison du Marais’ at Longville sur Mer.
This two hour journey is suitable for all the family with information boards along the way about the flora and fauna you’ll see. Alternatively you can travel with a guide for a safe adventure into this fascinating environment. Guided tours are widely available from villages throughout the region. Why not try a magical night-time canoe trip at La Route du Sel in Sallertaine? Experience the silence and beauty of the marshes as you canoe into the evening. You’ll then moor up for an overnight stay that includes a champagne BBQ supper, camp out and breakfast before canoeing back to base the next morning – a truly unforgettable experience!
And if you think rowing sounds too much like hard work there are a wide range of water craft including pedalos and electric boats on offer at Les P’tits Mousses at Saint Gilles Croix de Vie – the electric boats are designed in different styles including a trawler, a ferry and various emergency service vehicles and are suitable for up to five passengers, perfect for some family fun on the river.
8. Theme park fun
Children of all ages are spoilt for choice with the amazing theme parks in the Vendee. The most impressive is probably Puy de Fou at Les Epresses that has a historical theme including knights, Vikings and Arthurian legend. The park is a full day out with plenty of rides, attractions, shows and spectacular re-enactments to enjoy.
The Indian Forest at Moutiers les Mauxfaits offers an adventurous day out with treetop trails, maxi ziplines and assault courses for all age groups.
The best waterpark is Oceanile on the Ile de Noirmoutier, there are calmer areas for young children to enjoy the water, whilst confident swimmers can try out the huge variety of water slides and rides.
If you fancy a trip to the zoo head to Zoo des Sables in Les Sables d’Olonne to explore the beautiful four hectare site that’s home to around 360 animals from around the world.
9. Fabulous festivals
Festivals and culture are close at hand in the Vendee with historical fetes and arts events held in most towns, chateaux and cities over the summer months.
Contact the Vendee Tourist Office for up to date information about what’s going on whilst you are staying in the area. If you are lucky you could see the Renaissance festival in Fontenay le Comte; it runs for three days in August transforming the town with street shows, concerts, equestrian displays and duels. Or try to catch some of the free street entertainment of ‘Les Ricochets’, an event that runs for a few weeks in July and August bringing dance, circus acts, theatre, art and music to the town on Wednesday and Friday evenings.
If you are staying on the Atlantic coast be sure to check out ‘La Deferante’ festival of art and modern music. Eight towns join together to host this vibrant event made up of over a hundred shows and concerts taking place in July and August.
10. Sun, surf and sand
No holiday in the Vendee is complete without spending time at the beautiful beaches of the Atlantic coast. The fine sandy beaches are perfect for lazing in the sun, or take to the waves to enjoy some wind surfing or sailing. Water sports instruction and board hire is widely available at the main surf beaches between La Tranche and Longeville.
For something different visit Le Passage du Gois and buy or dig for cockles at low tide. Ile d’Yeu is also a great day out, take a boat ride to the island from St Gilles Croix de Vie or Fromentine and spend the day exploring the sandy beaches and rocky coves on foot or by bike.