The Vendée - When and where to visit
The Vendée and its surroundings are gloriously sunny, particularly on the coast which experiences over 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. Temperatures in high summer can be hot, winters are generally mild, and somewhat humid but colder in the areas away from the ocean. There’s little in the way of snow and even the interior claims only a modest number of frosty days. November to January are the rainiest months, and the coast generally experiences less precipitation than the interior of the département. Wind is often a feature here, a welcome provider of cooling in summer. Occasional storms can brew in autumn or winter, with the islands being particularly susceptible. Only very rarely can these be serious.
The Vendée generally enjoys considerably warmer weather than that of southern England, an oceanic climate with hot summers and mild, damp winters. Wind is a feature much of the time, providing welcome natural cooling in high summer and attracting watersports fanatics. Inland, incidences of extreme weather increase can occur, with occasional intense heatwaves (canicules) in summer and some frosty days in winter.
But weather is not the only factor determining the best time to come to the Vendée. Like many tourist hotspots in Europe, the region shows a huge spike in visitor numbers in July and August, with a peak during the French school holidays – particularly from around 14 July to 15 August. Visiting at this time has some ‘pros’, as all visitor attractions, tourist offices and restaurants will be open on most days. The ‘cons’ are that everywhere will be busy, with heavy traffic, a squeeze on parking (especially on the coast) and the challenge of finding a spot on the beaches. Accommodation prices during this time will also be at the top of the curve and advanced booking becomes essential. Easter, the month of May with its large number of public holidays, and the half-term weeks leading up to Toussaint (at the start of November) are other busy holiday times. Outside the peak periods, it can be surprisingly quiet, even in warm, sunny months such as June and September. Hiring a gîte, or a mobile home on a campsite, during these times can be less than half the cost of peak-time rental. Many accommodation options and visitor attractions will close for up to a month at some period between November and February, as their owners take a well-earned rest or carry out maintenance. These closures may vary from year to year, so visiting during this time requires careful checking or your choices can be limited. Apart from seaside and purely child-orientated activities, there is still plenty to visit between May and October, but if you are coming for a specific attraction, do check the relevant website in advance to ensure that it will be operating: opening hours may change from one year to another. Main museums and cultural sites are open – at weekends at least – almost all year.
Passage du Gois
Pardon the pun, but a ‘rite of passage’ for visitors to the Vendée is to cross this 4.5km-long, part-cobblestone causeway across the seabed to the island of Noirmoutier. If you’re on a day trip, be sure to first check the tide tables for the time of low water, then as you drive, enjoy watching the locals as they take advantage of the sea’s temporary absence to gather shellfish, visit the island itself and then escape via the bridge.
Île d’ Yeu
Take to the seas, and visit this island delight with its unique, peaceful ambience out of high season. Grab a bike on arrival, gently pedal past beautiful beaches at a true holiday pace. A sparkling jewel, not one to be missed.
Puy du Fou
If you like theme parks, you will love the incredible Grand Parc at Puy du Fou. And if you don’t like them, two days here may be the aversion therapy needed to change your mind. A stunning combination of Vendean history, jaw-dropping special effects, extraordinary creativity and innovation. Unmissable: and if you can catch the Cinéscénie evening spectacular, all the better.
Île de Re
Another drop of gold in the ocean, this island offers spick-and-span villages, delightful beaches for all tastes and activity levels, and enough historical sites to satisfy anyone with a thirst for the past.
Away from the coast, but not from the water, a unique landscape whose tree-lined canals are best seen by boat or canoe. Take your time here, and enjoy the verdant scenery.
A vibrant city that deserves a place near the top of every Francophile’s list. Quirky museums, and brimming with restaurants, historical buildings and elegantly arcaded shopping streets.
Nantes and its mechanical animals
On the banks of the Loire, an energising, creative and dynamic city epitomised by an oversized elephant waiting to give you a ride!
Just beyond the Vendée departmental border, a picturesque town with beautiful Italianate architecture.
Don’t be deterred by the ‘militaire’ in the name, because if you want to touch the area’s identity, you need to unlock its history. Visit the Historial, the Refuge de Grasla and the Logis de la Chabotterie … and some dark secrets will be revealed.
A delightful little fortified village, arty and beautiful, drawing in the summer crowds to wander the cobbles, visit the church … and soak up the legend of mythical Mélusine.
The vast majority of summer visitors to the region will stay put for most of their holiday. Being based on a campsite beside a perfect, sandy beach hardly encourages you to tour around. If you want to see a bit more than sun, sea and sand, distances are relatively short and daytrips to most inland points of interest are entirely possible. For dedicated tourers, here are a few suggested itineraries by car.
An introduction to the coastal highlights (seven days)
Assuming you enter the Vendée from the north, first spend some time in the northern marais, visiting the curious Port du Bec, before crossing the Passage du Gois causeway onto Noirmoutier island. After overnighting there, ‘escape’ via the bridge and meander down the coast to delightful St-Gilles for your second night. Les Sables-d’Olonne is your next stop, the daddy of the Vendean resorts. Here, stroll the promenade, do some shopping and don’t miss the quaint fishing quarter of La Chaume. Next day, continue south to La Tranche and then on to L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer and the Pointe de l’Aiguillon. A slightly circuitous route next day takes you to La Rochelle, where you should spend two days soaking up the wonders of this compact, maritime town. To finish your coastal trip, cross the bridge to the Île de Ré where you can idle away time in any of its neat villages – for as many days as you can spare.
History and waterways (seven days)
Again starting from the north, history fans can sate their appetite for knowledge with a couple of days in the Vendée Wars Country, visiting La Chabotterie, the Historial and the Refuge de Grasla. Interesting, though perhaps not the most cheerful start to a holiday! So, now head east and enthral yourself with two days (and a night) at the Puy du Fou. True, there’s more history here, but so much fun to be had: it seems a shame to label its Grand Parc a mere ‘theme park.’ Drive south, through Fontenay-le-Comte, to reach the Venise Verte (‘Green Venice’) to punt around gently on the tree-lined waterways of this inland wonder.
Weekend city breaks (two/three days)
Flying into Nantes or La Rochelle gives you the opportunity to enjoy a city break in either. Whichever you choose, there is plenty to entertain and inform you: Nantes with its astonishing artistic creativity, La Rochelle with its rich maritime history.