Bois de la Chaize.
One of Noirmoutier Island’s most picturesque beaches complete with bathing huts that gives the beach an old-world aura. Best to arrive on this beach by bike or foot as parking is nearly impossible. Doing so gives you a better chance of appreciating the sophisticated nineteenth-century villas nestling among the trees as well.
Good sandy areas here despite it being just a little set back from the beach. If you’ve got children, the Parc d’Attractions des Dunes is a must-see with its ballponds, bouncy surfaces, slides and pedal cars. Another attraction that one shouldn’t miss is the St. Nicholas de Brem, one of the Vendée’s most famous churches. The church boasts of an ancient façade which has a statue believed to be of St. Nicholas himself as well as different interesting carvings.
Inside, the church is simple and calm with peeling wall paintings visible a bit here and there. On Brem’s south edge, you can find a wine “cave” or shop that also includes a museum of wine. A famous local legend of a barrel that was washed up on the beach long ago and from which locals poured a delicious tasting drink is among the exhibits in the wine museum.
It was believed that after the locals drank all of the wine, they broke open the barrel and out jumped a huge orangutan. A little farther toward the south is the Havre de la Gachere, a wild spot where the river Auzance meets the sea. Not so good for swimming either but it’s a great place if you are looking for an out-of-season solitude.
Lots of beach equipment and toys on sale, waffle (gaufre) and ice cream shops, this cheery little town has been awarded the “pavillon bleu” or Blue Flag for its great water quality—consistently. The huge beach also includes a number of stones that may appeal to anyone who is looking for interesting shapes to paint or turn into jewellery.
Some minicliffs can be found to the south while another beach, La Normandaliere, features serious rock pooling at low tide. La Normandaliere was tarted up just recently, the beach presently boasts a bar and a large inland pool as well where the water is guaranteed to be significantly warmer than that of the sea. It even has a good car park.
At the south, one can find a collapsed dolmen in one of the fields plus an area of beach that remarkably resembles a dune situated just beyond a small housing development. If you look on the opposite side of the D38 coast road, you may be able to see the Labyrinthe, an ingenious maze of maize!
The coast becomes especially rocky here with a few small stretches of sand breaking in every here and there—Cayola being the largest. An interesting motor museum, the Musee de l’Automobile can be found to the north of the main D949, which connects Les Sables and Talmont.
One or a couple of small beaches overlooked by charming nineteenth-century seaside houses are found on the half of town north of the river Vie estuary. Lots of pretty interesting shops also look out on an unusually charming railway line that runs along the side of the fishing port to the end at the buffers. Aside from the tasty fresh sardines that the town is renowned for that you can cook on the barbecue, one can also buy the locally caught and canned kind from the Gendrau shop.
Connoisseurs should look for sardines millesimees or vintage sardines which are designed to be laid down like wine and turned from time to time over the years, provided that is, you can even wait that long. A little ferry also runs across the mouth of the harbor to the dunes next to the Grande Plage located on the south side of the river. If you can, drop by for a visit at the tiny fisherman’s cottage-turned-museum of Maison de Pecheur situated in one of the narrow streets across the tourist office.
This charming sandy beach stretches on the mainland side of the bridge that leads to Noirmoutier.
The town’s center may be a bit inland, but the seaside still has a lovely harbor plus eye-catching houses arranged among the forest of pines. The Abbey of Lieu-Dieu, financed by Richard the Lionheart, is situated out toward the west side of the town, and at occasional times, open to the public. If it’s not open at the time of your visit, you can still stroll into the yard and marvel at the pepperpot towers that escalate among the surrounding farm structures.
Far east along the main road, one can enjoy a leisurely walk passing part cliff-top and part through gnarled holm oak forests to Pointe du Payre from where you can look across to the Le Veillon beach. Farther east at St. Vincent sur Jard, one can find the beachside cottage that was once the great French politician Georges Clemenceau’s retirement haven.
A guided tour is offered here which tells much about the late French politician; but with the items that are just lying about the house, one gets the feeling that the politician has simply headed out for an afternoon walk.
Vendean capital of mussel-growing—even the traffic roundabout here which is carefully decorated to honour the town’s three aspects of marsh, sea, and shellfish reminds you of it. The muddy seabed may not be a perfect spot for bathing, but it does make an ideal spot for sailing or for watching wading birds especially during the rising tide, something bird lovers out there will surely delight in.
It’s a significant staging post for migrating birds as well; thousands of linnets, goldfinches, thrushes, and other species of birds pass this way en route for Spain or Africa between late August and mid-November returning north once again in the coming spring. Guided nature walks in July and August are held twice-weekly; you may want to ask the tourist office about it.
Filled with narrow winding streets that are lined with low whitewashed houses, La Chaume is a quaint and lovely fishing village at the tip of the peninsula across les Sables-d’Olonne. To its north is another great surfing spot, the extensive sandy beach of Paracou while on the point, stands the recently restored old abbey of St. Nicholas which occasionally holds art exhibitions.
Lining the quayside are plenty of great restaurants, while a little ferry boat runs across the harbor mouth to Les Sables. La Chaume is also home to Port Olona, the marina where the notorious single-handed nonstop round-the-world yacht race called the Vendée Globe Challenge sets out every four years. If you are in the area at the time of the race, you can stroll along the pontoons and wish the contestants good luck as they go about their final preparations.
Known for its oyster production, the town has four beaches which succeed one another along 8 km of sea front on an extensive sandy pit, the Pointe d’Arcay, which curves gracefully around to cover Aiguillon Bay. The Plage des Belugas is the province of the sand yachtsmen, while far beyond the Plage de la Barrique, naturists are being catered for.
Great water quality has repeatedly “blue flagged” this resort. A bridge, something akin to a traffic bottleneck in the summer, crosses the river Lay, which provides a perfect spot for fishing folk and which also connects La Faute with neighboring L’Aiguillon.
A pine forest that is 140 years old hold the dunes in place and the same time shelters the parcours de sante provided by the forestry commission, a trail where one can hop, skip, or jump—recommended after a fifteen-minute warm-up.
The long stretch of sand blends unnoticeably into the town of La Tranche, famous for its windsurfing, frequent hosting of European championships in late August, as well as tulips where a parade is held annually in mid-April and a majestic floral park opens in spring and summer.
La Tranche is also known for its seven beaches, which includes the nudist area situated north of the Plage de la Terriere. The town vaguely gives off a California vibe with its array of surf shops and bars. Boat services traverse to the Ile de Re, a low-lying island which can be seen lying out to sea as well as to the Ile d’Aix and to La Rochelle.
Situated near Buorgneuf-en-Retz, just over the edge into Loire-Atlantic and near the northernmost edge of the Vendée; with its muddy seabed, this beach may not be a good spot for bathing or sand castle building but it’s a perfect spot for egret and other wading bird-watching especially when the tide rises.
An extremely busy strip in the summer with its string of campsites and holiday developments yet deserted during the winter months. Peak season attractions include the Atlantic Toboggan, which presents a number of chutes and flumes for those who have the courage for it. (“Toboggan here does not refer to the snow kind. It is taken to mean as a “waterslide” in French.)
Another favorite surfing and sunbathing spot located beyond the far end of Les Sables. If you’ve had enough of the beach and are looking for something else to do, there’s an outstanding zoo near the Casino des Pins. The zoo may be small; but it is finely laid out among terraces lined with shrubs, and it sits very well with children too.
Bags of food can be bought to feed goats and other animals; keep a lookout for your fingers though if you don’t want them nipped. Swinging freely through the trees are the zoo’s small monkeys that also raid garbage bins for leftover food scraps. Don’t miss the chance to see the dramatic wave spouts thrown up at the Puits d’Enfer (Hell’s Well) either.
It’s a fantastic site all right especially if you are looking for a wild day; but fifty years ago, the site was the scene of a grisly discovery—the body of an old man was found in a laundry basket, murdered, and dumped by his own housekeeper.
This is a very beautiful beach with a beachside bar and a much-enlarged parking area. Dinosaur prints have been discovered here at low tide. If you’re visiting for a day, you must drop by at the town of Talmont, which features a massive ruined fortress that was built by Richard Couer de Lion himself.
Richard Couer de Lion used to spend much time hunting in the nearby forests. In summer afternoons, Medieval “animations” are staged, and you might just find yourself learning a thing or two in archery, calligraphy, or an ancient dance. The tourist office also coordinates trips to nearby oyster beds of la Guittiere and the forest of Le Veillon.
Les Sables d’Olonne.
Vendée’s most chic resort by far fully equipped with amazing shops and markets plus a spectacular beach. You may want to avoid this beach during the high tide though as beach tents that are rented privately tend to occupy most of the remaining strip of dry sand.
The central market hall located next to the church is a food haven; just try purchasing farm-fresh butter that’s cut straight off a glossy golden mountain. Or you can also choose from a fine selection of fresh mackerel, mussels, oysters, and langoustines at the fish market situated on the east end of the quay. If you go along the Rue du Marche along westward, you will eventually reach the tiny, very narrow Rue de l’Enfer.
Not quite as sur Mer as one would like to believe. The sands stretch for miles and are backed by a forest of pines that separates them from the flat marshland behind as well as provide shelter to many a campsite. The area offers three main beaches, all of them relatively unrefined: the Le Bouil, Le Rocher, and Les Conches, which is another popular surfing spot.
This is another resort that is to be awarded the 1998 Blue Flag for cleanliness. There are plenty of woodland walks among the trees and just off the coast road of D105, one can find the “parcours sante,” which is a health-giving course of twenty wooden obstacles that one can climb up, jump on or off.
This wide expanse of gently-shelving beach is filled with silky sand that is just fantastic. At low tide, sand-yachting buffs are often seen racing to the north, while to the south, the sandy bank of Point d’Yeu dries out and turns into a shellfish-gathering paradise during extra-low tides.
One of the wilder beaches you will ever come across thanks to the now-protected dunes between St. Gilles and Bretignolles. Requires a bit of trekking over the dunes, but it is a great way to enjoy the sea-holly and other sand-loving plants found along the way. Make sure you stay on the marked trails though to prevent unnecessary erosion.
This is a purpose-laden holiday getaway situated near Talmont St. Hilaire. The area provides a zone that is traffic-free and which overlooks peaceful lakes and emerald lawns. Golf buffs will surely delight in the 18-hole golf course, one of five in the Vendée.
A small marina stands down by the waterside. Connoisseurs should head to the Viviers de la Mine, a shellfish business where one can choose a lobster and have the staff pick it up right before your very eyes. And if you order your lobster a day or so ahead, they’ll cook it for you too.
Port du Bec.
This tiny fishing port at Epoids, northwest of Beauvoir-sur-Mer, is nicknamed as the port chinois or Chinese Port due to the line of colorful fishing boots moored to spindly wooden quays.
May not be a good bathing place either, more of a muddy creek really, but nevertheless, the place remains a picturesque sight to see. Eight giant wind turbines turn idly in the breeze between this beach and Bouin since June 2003.
An attractive beach located in the Forest of Olonne, full of sweet-smelling pine trees and shady picnic sites. Midway between La Gachere and Sauveterre stands a huge menhir or standing stone called La Conche Verte. If you have a good map, you may be able to find this huge menhir among the trees.
This is also one of Vendée’s most popular spots for surfing. If you’d like to have a comprehensive description of the best surfing places, you can check the site created by Francky Trichet, a surf enthusiast. The site though is written in French.
Nestled between Sion and St. Gilles Croix de Vie, the Corniche Vendéenne is one of the few cliffs along this part of the coast. Little sandy inlets offer a feeling of intimacy and seclusion as opposed to those vast beaches. Watch out for the tide though in the event you have to climb back up when the waters come in.
Just off the coast, you may have noticed the five craggy rocks of the Cing Pineaux. On stormy days, it’s best to keep well back from the edge of the rocky cliffs as the sea spray can dash up through the clefts dramatically.
St. Gilles sur Vie.
Restaurants line the quay overlooking the harbor on the south side of the estuary. To find the beach, follow the signs to the Grand Plage across a small canal bridge. Parking may be a problem among the turn-of-the-century houses, but it does make a wonderful sandy spot at low tide.
High tide, on the other hand, is a whole different matter as everybody gets pushed and squeezed closer and closer to the sea wall. You might want to check the tide tables beforehand.
Summer opens the floodgates of people so St. Jean-de-Monts provides the perfect setting for coastal campsites. To help children locate their families, tall poles are stuck in the sand and topped with colorful symbols like a fish or a house. Keep a lookout for little pedal-driven “pony carts” on the sands at low tide.
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