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The Vendée - Health and safety
With Dr Felicity Nicholson
Obviously, it is best to take out comprehensive travel insurance for your annual holiday. Visitors from the UK should always take their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). With this, you can claim some reimbursement of medical expenses under the reciprocal arrangement between Britain and France. Keep an eye on the expiry date of your EHIC; again, post-Brexit arrangements may affect UK residents’ entitlements from this scheme in the future.
After consulting and paying the doctor or dentist take the feuille de soins (medical treatment form) that you are given and hand it to the chemist with your ordonnance (prescription) form. The chemist dispenses the drugs (it is most important to keep any sticky labels from the boxes), and add their details to the form. Gather together the form and sticky labels, your EHIC and passport (or a photocopy of its important pages, if you are posting it). Take or send these to the nearest Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM), which are located at La Roche-sur-Yon, Challans, Fontenay-le-Comte, Luçon, Les Herbiers and Les Sables-d’Olonne. You should get quite a large percentage of your costs reimbursed.
The offices at La Roche and Les Sables can arrange to hand over the cash, or at least a cheque you can cash locally; otherwise the system operates by sending a cheque to your home address in around six weeks.
Chemists are often consulted about minor ailments and discuss them with doctor-like gravity, binding up sprained ankles and dishing out reasonably strong medicines without the need for getting into the intricacies of the French health system. You do not, however, get reimbursed for this treatment. For a minor beach injury, seek out the lifeguard post, where personnel should be trained in first-aid. For a serious accident or illness, call 15 from a fixed phone for the SAMU (paramedics), or 18 for the pompiers (fire brigade). The pompiers have ambulances too, and are trained in medical emergency treatment; they are often likely to be quickest on the scene if you are a long way from a town. From a mobile phone, dial 112 to reach any of the emergency services, and the operator will be able to pinpoint your position. Main hospitals are signposted with a red cross logo, either as (in ascending order of importance): CH (centre hospitalier); CHD (centre hospitalier départemental); CHR (centre hospitalier régional); or CHU (centre hospitalier universitaire).
There are Accident & Emergency departments (urgences) at: Challans (CH, Boulevard de l’Est, on the northeast corner of the inner ring road); Les Sables-d’Olonne (CH, on the D160, 4km northeast of Les Sables); La Roche-sur-Yon (CHD, on the Cholet road at Les Oudairies, on the northeast side of town), which has satellite establishments in Luçon and Montaigu. Outside the Vendée, you will find urgencies at Nantes (CHU Hôtel-Dieu, Place Alexis-Ricordeau, in the city centre); St-Nazaire (CH, Boulevard Georges Charpak, west of the centre); Cholet (CH, Rue Marengo, southwest of town); Niort (CH, 40 Avenue de Gaulle, south of the city); and La Rochelle (CH, Boulevard Joffre, east of the centre).
Travel clinics and health information
A full list of current travel clinic websites worldwide is available on ISTM. For other journey preparation information, consult NaTHNac (UK) or CDC (US). Information about various medications may be found on NetDoctor. All advice found online should be used in conjunction with expert advice received prior to or during travel.
In respect of activities, safety rules and regulations are not always as stringently adhered to as they are in the United Kingdom. You are now usually routinely issued with lifejackets or hard-hats before canoeing, horseriding or karting jaunts, and bike helmets must be worn by the under 12s. Where given the choice of wearing bike helmets or not, French adults seem to choose not to, but tougher laws may follow soon. Safety arrangements at zoos, wildlife parks, lofty viewpoints and some amusement parks can still occasionally seem a bit casual.
As regards personal safety, street-crime rates are mercifully low. Nevertheless, upgrade your vigilance in crowded markets and lock valuables in the boot of your car. Seaside towns have their share of unruly summer visitors, but if you avoid dodgy nightspots and dark back streets you should be unaffected by them. As in major cities anywhere, it pays to be streetwise about money or valuables when visiting larger places such as Nantes or St-Nazaire.
Most people will be aware of the terrorist attacks which have struck France in recent years. Although these initially targeted Paris, the awful Bastille Day strike on Nice in 2016 showed that other towns are not immune, and it is now common to see armed police at airports or patrolling the promenades of seaside resorts. Visitors can play their part by looking after their belongings and staying vigilant. For the latest advice, do check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. If you have a
Smartphone, you can also download a recently created App known as SAIP (système d’alerte et d’information des populations) which gives alerts to any major incidents of a natural, terrorist or technological nature. Road safety is an issue for everyone, residents and visitors alike, with road deaths nearly twice the level experienced in the UK.
There should be no particular concerns for women visitors travelling alone in France. Take the same precautions as you do at home
Seniors travelling to France on holiday need have no particular concerns. One slightly disappointing aspect is that comparatively few visitor attractions offer discounts to senior citizens, though it’s always worth enquiring when buying a ticket. Local train services offer a ‘découverte sénior’ rate for over 60s (just ask when booking), with a reduction of 25% on off-peak fares. If you are going to do alot of rail travel, it could be worth investing in a ‘carte sénior+’ (€60 for a year at the time of writing) to obtain even greater reductions over the entire national rail network.
Travellers with disabilities
Parking spaces for disabled-badge holders are provided at tourist attractions and supermarkets. A blue ‘Tourisme et Handicap’ logo indicates hotels, restaurants or attractions accessible to wheelchairs, or with arrangements in place to help those with other disabilities.
Most beaches now have ramps leading down to them, and sometimes mats continuing a little way onto the sand. During July and August, several seaside resorts provide at their lifeguard stations free loan of beach-buggy-style wheelchairs called ‘Tiralo’ or ‘Hippocampe’) to those visitors with limited mobility (à mobilité réduite, or handicapé). These allow bathers to be assisted right into the water.
Wheelchair-bound fishing enthusiasts are well catered for: many riverbanks and lakesides have specially designed pontoons jutting out over the water.
The traditional single-storey construction of many Vendée buildings means that museums are often on ground level only. Newer establishments are, of course, designed with accessibility in mind, often furnished with lifts and featuring such facilities as toilets for the disabled. Older hotels and museums can still have daunting flights of steps. If in doubt, contact the venue for up-to-date information. ‘Est-ce que c’est accessible aux fauteuils roulants?’ or ‘Y a-t-il des toilettes pour handicapés?’ are useful phrases if you need to check wheelchair access or the existence of toilets for the disabled, and ‘Avezvous des chambres au rez-de-chaussée?’ to ask about ground-floor bedrooms.
Ethnic minority travellers
Compared with many parts of the United Kingdom, the USA or indeed French cities such as Paris, Marseille, Toulouse or Montpellier, the rural expanses and small towns and villages of the Vendée can hardly be described as ethnically mixed. Having said that, France as a whole is a veritable hotchpotch of races, and visitors from abroad with non-white skins should not attract any undue or unwanted attention. Nantes is a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic city.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Same-sex marriage is legal in France. While there is no reason why gay and lesbian travellers should have concerns visiting this region, the Vendée is a fairly conservative place, particularly away from the coastal resorts. Discretion is always advisable in displaying public affection, whatever your sexuality. Although the actual content is fairly limited, the Adheos website purports to list gay-friendly establishments in the Vendée and Charente-Maritime, while GayViking gives details of the same for Nantes.
Travelling with kids
If ever a visitor destination was set up beautifully for children, then surely it is the Vendée and its surroundings. This is particularly so on the coast, with dozens of child-orientated campsites and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, many of them Blue Flag and many of which are supervised in July and August. But it’s not all about building sandcastles: families can take advantage of waterparks, theme parks and endless kid-focused distractions by the sea. Inland, a pronounced feature of many historic sites is the effort that has been put in to make them user-friendly for younger visitors. Hence, as well as the stunning spectacles of Le Puy du Fou, you will find castles with costumed actors, treasure hunts and medieval games for the little ones while parents soak up the history of the surroundings. The ages at which discounts for youngsters apply vary from site to site and family tickets are often available if you have two children or more. When it comes to food, many restaurants offer children’s menus, while there is usually a child-friendly pizzeria or crêperie in most towns.