My interest in historic events, nature and wildlife is reflected in our choice of destinations when planning our holidays and day trips.
Exploring the Vendee and Southern France
Great Holiday Destinations
For the past 20 years France has been our great summer holiday destination. In the early years we explored Northern France, Brittany, Paris and Disneyland Paris.
Gradually, over the years we moved further and further south until after fifteen years of exploring this great country we end up in the southern depths of France right down in the Bordeaux Region.
This article explores a few of these more southerly regions from the Vendee cost down to near Bordeaux, so read on and enjoy the journey.
Location of Places in the Vendee Reviewed in This Article
Location of Places in Southern France Reviewed in This Article
The Vendee Coast
After a few summers exploring Northern France, which we often found to be overcast and windy and almost as wet as Britain, we started venturing south; a little further south year by year first starting with Quiberon, a southern tip of Brittany stuck right out into 'The Savage Coast', very aptly named as the western side of this peninsular is fully exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and the whole time we were there the sea was 'savage'. In contrast the eastern side of the peninsular being protected from the westerly winds and savage seas, looking inland towards mainland France was much calmer and warmer; but nevertheless was still a little too cool for our liking and just a wee bit too overcast too often.
So the following year we travelled just a little further south, past Nantes and onto the Vendee Coast, about halfway down France. Jackpot; still northern France but just far enough south to pick up the start of the Mediterranean type weather; hot glorious sun and blue sky's almost guaranteed with temperatures in the low 30's (30C or 86F) sometimes reaching 35C (95F).
As it's such a wonderful place we returned to the Vendee Coast for many years, lapping up the gorgeous long sandy beaches with warm seas and exploring the area; visiting chateaus (castles) local attractions, displays, shows and the local markets in the towns and villages such as Saint-Jean-de-Mont and Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez. Every year we made a point of visiting the various evening open-air shows and displays (usually held from 8pm until midnight) after the heat of the day; entertainment such as 'fireworks to music' and the Parade of the boats' in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie; and most commonly, medieval festivals.
The only down-side if you're from England and use to shops being open all day, every day, is that (apart from tourist's shops) shops are closed on Sundays and during the week in the afternoons from midday until 4pm e.g. their siesta; but a small price to pay for such a glorious holiday spot.
Puy du Fou (a Theme Park that outshines all other Theme Parks) is without doubt the highlight of any holiday to the Vendee. We stumbled across it by accident on our first visit to the region, we seen it advertised in a local 'Tourist Information' shop one lunch time just as they were closing so had to wait until 4pm (when they re-opened) to buy the tickets; which at that time was just 20 each for a full days entertainment; good value for money.
We'd been to Disneyland Paris years previously but in comparison Puy du Fou was far more entertaining, so much so that a few years later we made a special point of returning the Vendee specifically so that we could spend a full two days at the Theme Park. If you want to also see the evening show at Puy du Fou you need to book on their website at the beginning of the year because these tickets sell quickly.
Le Grand Parc du Puy du Fou
Fantastic Theme Park in the Vendee
On our first visit to the Vendee cost Le Grand Parc du Puy du Fou was a 'must do' and spending a day at this great theme park was the highlight of our holiday; so much so that we made appoint of returning a couple of years later so that we could spend two whole days at this fantastic theme park.This short video clip I made shows some of the beautiful paths leading from one great event to another at the Puy du Fou.
Puy du Fou Roman Theme
Puy du Fou Viking Theme
Puy du Fou Medieval Theme
Puy du Fou Website for Further Information
- Puy du Fou, French theme park for family holidays in France.
Travel through time with the Puy du Fou medieval park in France. Best French park for children and shorts breaks in France.
Brouage Fortress and Village (Founded 1555)
Medieval Fortress Village in the Salt Marshes South of Rochefort, France
Having made a quick visit to Rochefort in the morning we decided to explore further afield and on consulting our road atlas noted a number of ‘points of interest’ marked along the D3 just south of Rochefort; so with the Sat Nav programed we set out for what was to become a most exciting afternoon.
Rather than taking us down south on the main roads to Marennes and then bringing us back up on the D3, about 15 miles, our Sat Nav (TomTom) took us by the quickest route (across the salt marshes) which was hair raising in that the road (a single track lane) was not really suitable for vehicles, and quite perilous; but we made it to the first village on the D3 (which was not that inspiring). However, from here, once on the D3 which is mostly a single track road we decided to head north to see what all these ‘points of interest’ symbols in the road atlas really were. Just a few miles further and we came across Brouage, a most wonderful village in the middle of nowhere (in the middle of one of the largest salt marshes in Europe). In spite of being so isolated Brouage is a thriving fortified village, dating back to 1555, built inside a fortress. Our visit happened to coincide with their medieval festival celebrating Napoleon’s occupation of the fortified village and using it as a military garrison.
The village itself is idyllic with thriving tourist shops and restaurants, but for the life of us it’s hard to imagine how such an isolated village can be thriving (as the photos below show); it’s a reminder to us that life in Southern France is often at a much more leisurely pace than we’re used to in Britain. Nevertheless, the medieval festival was worthy a visit, making for a very enjoyable afternoon. Made all the more enjoyable with their much more relaxed attitude to Health and Safety, enabling us to get much closer to the action than would otherwise be allowed in Britain; a relaxed attitude to Health and Safety that we’ve so often seen in southern France when visiting zoos and other public events; a refreshing contrast to Britain where barriers are set up keeping you at a considerable distance from the action. At this event there were no barriers which gave the public (including us) a real opportunity to get really close to the action; and with the right camera get good action shots.
Two of the main events we watched at this medieval festival were the firing of the canon and the falconry. The canon was fired several times and the only safely precaution was that the crowed was asked not to stand in the direct line of fire of the burning paper ball as it shot out of the canon and travelled a good 100 yards. In contrast to Britain (where the birds of prey are often flown high so at best you only see a dot in the sky, and the public are often kept behind barriers far away from the action) this falconry show was spectacular in that the public were politely asked to line up on either side creating a narrow corridor along which the falcons could fly low and close to you; as shown in the photos below.
Brouage Village Fort and Medieval Fete
Falconry Display at Medieval Fete in Fortified Village of Brouage
Saint Jean de Monts
Fantastic Beaches on the Vendee Coast
We visited the Vendee Coast for many years because their beaches are so fantastic, as is the weather and one of our popular haunts was spending the day on the beach at Saint Jean de Mont; which has a great beach and great facilities in the town for shopping and food; which makes this one of the many great coastal towns worth visiting for any tourist visiting the region. This is the video I made on one of the days we spent on the beach at Saint-Jean-de-Mont,
St Hilaire de Riez and Other Locations in the Vendee
Great Tourist Attractions on the Vendee Coast
While on holiday in the Vendee Coast these places highlighted in this short video are just some of the great places we visited. This is an old video I made on one of our early holiday trips to the Vendee Coast, which starts with St Hilaire de Riez but also includes a couple of French chateaux (castles) we visited, one in ruin and one fully restored.
Bygone Years Challans, Vendee, France 1910
A French Town Proud of its History
We stumbled across Challans by accident while travelling down to the Vendee and made a point to return a few days later when they closed all roads off to traffic and held their Challans 1910; where all local residents dressed up in Edwardian costume and put on a show of a lifetime of what the city would have been like one hundred years earlier. Befitting of the occasion I made this film, in post-production, in the style of early films.
Another Great Beach in Southern France
While on holiday in southern France we made a point of spending a couple of days in La Palmyre, one day to visit their fantastic zoo, which knocks spots off of British zoos and a day to lap up the gorgeous sun on this fantastic beach. This video which I filmed on our holiday to La Palmyre includes our time spent on the beaches and towards the end includes a rather unusual wedding on the rocks.
Zoo de la Palmyre (A Great Zoo in Southern France)
Great Wildlife and Nature Parks and Zoos
In more recent years we've been going further south, into the Bordeaux Region; not quite as good as the Vendee, villages are more spread-out and the population more dispersed so you have to travel further to see anything, but nevertheless still good and still lots to see. In particular Dune Pyla (at 100m high) being the largest sand dune in Europe; Parc Ornithologique du Teich, a wetlands for wildlife birds; and of course Bordeaux city itself, just to mention a few hot spots. And talking about hot, temperatures here are often in the high 30Cs, 35C (95F) to 40C (104F) being quite normal.
Sunset on La Dune du Pyla
Largest Dune in Europe in the Bordeaux Region of France
The first time we visited southern France in the Bordeaux region our first nigh time 'must do' was to walk to the top of la Dune du Pyla an hour before sunset so that (as shown in this video I made) we could make ourselves comfortable on the top of this magnificent Dune and watch the most wonderful sunset.
Biscarrosse Sunny Beaches, Southern France
More Great French Beaches
Wherever you travel on the Vendee Coast or in southern France the beaches are just great, hot sunny weather with soft fine sand, as shown in this video of Biscarrosse, which I filmed; Biscarrosse being typical of French beaches right down from the Vendee Coast to Bordeaux.
Wildlife and Nature in France
Wherever you travel in France there is always plenty of wildlife and Nature to see, either in the natural habitat, zoos or wildlife parks such as Parc Floral et Tropical in the Vendee, Parc Ornithologique du Teich in the Bordeaux Region and their fabulous zoos including de la Palmyre in southern France and zoo des Sables d Olonne, Vendee, France.
Parc Ornithologique du Teich (Bird Park)
Fantastic Natural Habitat Wildlife Bird Park, Near Bordeaux
Parc Ornithologique du Teich, natural wetlands wildlife for birds in the Bordeaux Region of France is just fantastic and for anyone who has visited Slimbridge Gloucestershire, England Parc Ornithologique du Teich is on a par with Slimbridge; and makes for a great afternoon, as shown in this video which I made on the day we visited Parc Ornithologique du Teich.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Arthur Russ
Your Views on France
Arthur Russ (author) from England on November 17, 2018:
I hope you’re right, but although my maternal and paternal ancestors emigrated from France via Normandy to South West England c1066 (my paternal side settling in Somerset and my maternal side settling in Gloucestershire for between 700 and 800 years before migrating to Bristol between c1750s and c1850s) I have always felt more European than British e.g. European 1st, Bristolain 2nd and British 3rd.
Ironically, when I and my family had our DNA done via Ancestry earlier this year, my DNA result was 58% Western European, 18% Celtic and only 6% British.
My wife’s (whose half Irish) DNA result was 40% Celtic, 37% Western European and only 7% British. Consequently, our son’s DNA was 61% Western European and 31% Celtic, with less than 1% British.
So unless the current deadlock in Parliament leads to a 2nd Referendum (People’s Vote) I shall always mourn the loss of Britain being part of the EU.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 16, 2018:
Nor me. It's looking pretty shambolic at the moment. Hopefully in a few years we'll be able to look back upon the whole experience in a more positive light. Sadly my parents were British born and bred so no option of dual nationality. I have heard of someone from Northern Ireland though, who voted Leave, but has now got themselves an Irish passport!
Arthur Russ (author) from England on November 15, 2018:
I wouldn't blame them if they didn't; but yes travel from the UK to mainland Europe could become less easy and more restricted in the future e.g. the introduction of visa's and the return of the old pre EU 'Duty Free' restrictions etc. So no more nipping over to Belgium for a pre-Christmas shop, as we've have done years.
I'm just glad my wife and son now have their dual nationality with the Republic of Ireland (EU citizenship), all thanks to my wife's father being born in Northern Ireland. As you might know, it was one of the conditions of the Northern Ireland Peace Treaty (Good Friday Agreement) of 1998 e.g. that children and grandchildren of citizens born in Northern Ireland have a right to apply for dual citizenship in the Republic of Ireland.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 14, 2018:
Hopefully retirement will give us more time to explore at a leisurely pace in Europe (if they will still let us in!).
Arthur Russ (author) from England on November 14, 2018:
I agree, southern France is a long way to drive. So what we do is make the journey part of the holiday e.g. make it a 10 day holiday rather than just 7 days, and take a leisurely drive down stopping off for mini-breaks in any quant villages we drive through; and stay overnight in a hotel half-way down so we can spend a few hours exploring that town or city.
We don't plan a specific destination for the halfway point, we just use the satnav to get so far, and when we feel its time to stop somewhere overnight we head for then next large city or town and start looking for a hotel.
What we like about our satnav is that the first question it asks is whether we want to use the toll roads or not, and we always say no, so that we travel the whole length without paying any tolls, and in the process drive through all the villages, towns and cities, which is far more interesting than just sticking to the motorways; albeit all the main route free roads run parallel to the toll roads and are themselves predominantly motorways anyway, so it doesn't add a great deal of travel time to the journey, while at the same time making it more of a tour rather than trying to just get from A to B.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 27, 2018:
We have done both. My parents used to take a camper van plus trailer tent loaded up with tinned food to the South of France in my childhood/teens. We prefer not to drive that distance, but in the past have taken our car as far as the Vendee with our family. We used to have a people carrier so you can imagine how much shopping from France got crammed in there. It has been over 2 years since our last car trip to Strasbourg, but we are still finding the odd bottle from this trip in our store. Time is an issue. We have wondered about longer road trips when we retire.
Arthur Russ (author) from England on October 27, 2018:
Taking a plane is something we’ve never done, part of the reason being we just take too much stuff with us; and of course, on the return journey we always come back via Belgium to load the car up with loads of shopping, food and drinks we like that’s cheaper than in the UK plus luxury food and drinks that’s not available in Britain e.g. cheese, wine, spirits, beer