ANGELA BIRD'S


HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES

(in alphabetical order)

 


BALLOONING 

A hot-air balloon is known in French as a "montgolfière", after the 18th-century Montgolfier brothers who developed this mode of transport. (Sorry I couldn’t find a picture of one in my clipart!)
You can take a magical trip in one over some of the Vendée's varied countryside at dawn or dusk with experienced pilot Damien Merceron (email: damien@la-montgolfiere.com ). Choose a 90-minute flight either over the hilly "bocage" region around Les Herbiers (departures from a site near the Puy-du-Fou), or towards the "Green Venice" marshes (lift-off at the aerodrome on the south side of Fontenay-le-Comte).
It's quite a hands-on experience, as passengers' help is enlisted to haul the basket into position at the start, or to fold up the balloon at the end. Since you drift at the speed of the wind, you hardly feel its effect at all, so you don't need to wrap up too warmly. As you waft across green fields, sparkling rivers, red-roofed villages and neatly-kept farms you can hear sounds from down below surprisingly clearly (unless Damien is giving the balloon a burst of his gas burners, of course). Passing lorry-drivers sound their horns in appreciation as they thunder along the main roads, and goggle-eyed village children stop to wave on their way to school.
The pilot alerts the support vehicle once he has spotted a suitable landing site, and brings balloon and basket neatly to rest at the end. Once everything is packed away, passengers are conveyed in the van back to the starting point.
Of course, your ultimate landing site depends entirely on the direction of the wind. As Damien wryly says: "In ballooning you always know where you're going to start - but you never know where you'll finish!"

Click here for details of the Montgolfières du Bocage.

 

 

 

 BOATING

Of course, the first place one thinks of boating in this region is around the waterways of the Marais Poitevin, or "Green Venice" area, in the extreme south-east of the Vendée and flowing over into the neighbouring departments of Deux-Sevres and Charente-Maritime. At several villages you can rent flat-bottomed boats and paddle around a delightful maze of tiny canals, lined with willows and poplars.
In the Challans area, look out for the offices of La Route du Sel, 21 rue Gambetta, in Challans (tel: 02 51 68 27 84) and also in the small
village of Sallertaine. They offer canoe outings among the little canals of the Marais Breton (including some magical ones at dawn or at sunset), and a one-hour water-borne tour around Sallertaine itself.
At Apremont lake you can rent windsurfers or sailing dinghies, not to mention pedaloes; just downstream of the dam you can also take out canoes or boats to paddle on the river Vie (I recommend the canoes, as you can haul them out of the water to by-pass the weir by an old mill, and make a longer trip as far as the hamlet of Dolbeau).

 

 

 

 

 

CASINOS

OK, perhaps not the first holiday activity that springs to mind for most of us, but there are casinos at St-Jean-de-Monts, St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, Les Sables d'Olonne (2), and at La Faute-sur-Mer. As well as their rows of one-armed bandits (machines à sous), open to over 18s only, they usually have brasseries attached, and are quite good places to eat, even if you are not going to gamble.

  Blackjack, roulette etc does not usually start till about 10pm, and continues till around 4am. You need to show a passport to be allowed into the gambling rooms.

 

 

 


CYCLING

In most villages of any size you can rent bikes during the summer to explore the byways. A sentier littoral or coastal cycleway is nearing completion - many sections are already in use - which will allow cyclists to ride from one end of the Vendée to another. Good signposted routes around the island of Noirmoutier, or inland from St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, and also around the Green Venice area, near Coulon and Arçais.

  Feeling energetic? Click here for some cyle routes described by Jim Clement.

 

 

 

FISHING

Lake and river fishing should yield tench, roach, chub, perch, bream, carp, pike and zander. A "carte pêche-vacances" (holiday fishing permit) is available for holidaymakers, price around 30 euros (£20) for 15 consecutive days between 1 June and 30 September (2003), and is valid for all non-private waters in the Vendée. Available through tackle shops, or ask local tourist information office. (NB: "Pêche interdite" = "No Fishing"!) The tourist office at Chaillé-les-Marais (tel: 02 51 56 71 17), south-east of Luçon, is particularly informative on everything to do with fishing.
Bait is available in special fridges at large supermarkets, where you will also find fishing tackle. An English fishing friend tells me he seemed to catch nothing but catfish in the lower reaches of the river Vie, and suggests taking a towel as the most essential bit of equipment (apparently you need it to preserve yourself from injury on the horrible spines on their backs!). My informant also advises that bait in
France tends to be very expensive (8F (80p-£1) for 25 maggots in 1998, as against a UK price of £2 for about 5,000 of the creatures!), though I'm not sure what you can do about this!  
Here is the website of the Vendée fishing organisation, the Fédération de Pêche.

I have noticed one or two "pêche à la truite" signs in the Vendean countryside, indicating the presence of trout lakes. There's one near St-Jean-de-Monts, one near Bouin and another in the vicinity of L'Aiguillon-sur-Vie (inland from St-Gilles).
If you're ready to stray over the Vendée's eastern frontier, the giant new "Pescalis" fishing centre at Moncoutant (Deux-Sevres) opened in 2001, though serious French anglers of my acquaintance didn't reckon it very highly...

  Keen on angling? Click here for Rob Busby's first-hand experiences in the Vendée.

 

 


GOLF

With its five 18-hole courses the Vendée is, understandably, described as "très golfique". A "Formule Golf” pass gives deals for several courses.
The golf clubs usually have good restaurants, open to all – non-members as well as members.

Golf des Fontenelles, on D6 near Coëx, 85220 L'Aiguillon-sur-Vie (tel: 02 51 54 13 94/fax: 02 51 55 45 77)
Golf de St-Jean-de-Monts, 85160 St-Jean-de-Monts (tel: 02 51 58 82 73; fax: 02 51 59 90 98)
Golf des Olonnes, Pierre-Levée, 85340 Olonne-sur-Mer (tel: 02 51 33 16 16; fax: 02 51 33 10 45)
Golf de la Domangère, 85310 Nesmy, nr La Roche-sur-Yon (tel: 02 51 07 60 15/ fax: 02 51 07 64 09)
Golf de Port-Bourgenay, 85440 Talmont-St-Hilaire (tel: 02 51 23 35 45; fax: 02 51 23 35 48)

  Forgotten to bring your clubs? You can hire them on the spot at the above courses.

 

 

 

 




GO-KARTING

 

There are several go-karting centres, for adults and children, in and around the Vendée. Try Challans, St Reverend, Olonne-sur-Mer, La Roche-sur-Yon (Belleville-sur-Vie), and just north of the Vendée at Corcoué-sur-Logne.

  Safety norms for children may not be quite what they would be in Britain....

 

 

 

 

 


HORSE RACING

 

Several towns, including Challans, Machecoul, St-Jean-de-Monts and Les Sables-d'Olonne, hold race meetings (courses hippiques) in afternoon or evening. These are pleasantly informal events, and unless otherwise specified usually consist of a mixed programme of trotting, flat and steeplechase races. To find out what's going on, look for someone who is tearing off and giving out free sheets of the programme.
In the 20 minutes before the start of each race you can queue up for the Tote-style betting system, and hand over your bet - minimum of 10F. If it's to win, you say "gagnant" (winner); for a place "gagnant et placé" - when your stake is doubled, as in
Britain for an each-way bet, i.e. you have to hand over 20F. In both cases you are given a ticket to prove your bet was placed. The odds are not fantastic, so you don't get much back if your animal wins, but it does add a bit of spice to the event. Collect your winnings by presenting the ticket at one of the counters 15 minutes or so after the race ends, and the computer calculates what you are due and pays out.

  Admission to the racetrack is usually about 6 euros, but free for women and children.

 

 

 

 

 



NATURISM

 

As well as the various areas of beach where nudism is permitted, from Noirmoutier to La Faute (listed in book), there are also a couple of naturist camping/villa resorts in the Vendée: Le Colombier, at St-Martin-Lars, north of Fontenay-le-Comte (tel: 02 51 27 83 84 / fax: 02 51 27 87 29), and  Cap Natur'. This last used to be at St-Hilaire-de-Riez, on the coast, but is closed for 2008 pending a move to a new site in the Vendée (tel: 02 51 60 11 66).

 

 

 

 

 

 


RIDING

 

Although a competent rider, I have not tried out many Vendean establishments myself. There is an abundance of "poney clubs", which really means riding stables rather than Pony Club in the British sense. A "centre équestre" is more of what we would call a riding school. Instructors have to hold national certificates of competence. Most riding establishments these days do seem to provide hard hats although, ludicrously, most instructors seem to find protective head gear uncool and can often be seen without any.
As a footnote: the word poney usually seems to refer to a fairly small animal, from a Shetland pony to something standing about 12.2 hands high. From that height to 14.2 hands the usual - though slightly bizarre - term seems to be double poney.

 

L'Etoile A well-run place when I rode there a few years ago. Coëx (opposite entrance to Golf des Fontenelles), inland from St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.
Béatrice and Bruno Ripaud I have never ridden here, but it seems to have a solid reputation. St Maurice des Noues (tel: 02 51 00 81 55), some distance north of Fontenay-le-Comte.

 

  Take your own hard hat if you have one - it would be folly to ride without...

 

 

 

 

 

 


RUNNING

 

I was asked by a reader about places to run, and also about running competitions ("courses à pied") in the Vendée. I don't know much about either, but I discovered an interesting French sporting website with details of sports events throughout France.
To find running events in the Vendee, click on “calendrier” on the left of the page.
On the next page, select the country
France in “Pays”; below that, select “85 Vendee” (or any other French département you may want to check out) in the “département” box.. Then select the discipline you want: for running races select “courses a pied”.
Below this, you can select the month you are interested in, or “tous les mois” if you want a list for the year.
Then click on “valider” to be shown a list of events, with links to more details.

If you are thinking of taking part in a running race - or any other competitive sport for that matter - it is essential that you provide the event organisers with a medical certificate of fitness or a licence from some sporting federation. For training, I am told that the forest trails (especially those around St-Jean-de-Monts) are excellent, as of course are quiet areas back from the beaches everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 


SHOPPING

 

One of the pleasures of being on holiday is that of unhurried shopping expeditions. Obvious bargains are in the wine and beer department, but clothes can often be bargains too, as can sports equipment. Hypermarkets are good hunting-grounds for children's clothes - particularly Petit-Bateau underwear. Teenagers of my acquaintance recommend shops like Quaterback and Planet Jean for good-value garments by Quiksilver, Billabong, Banana Moon, Hanes and Miss Sixty.

FACTORY SHOPS
If you're into factory-shopping, you'll be in heaven when you find the clothes emporiums around Les Herbiers and
Cholet (more details in the book). Since 2005 there has also been a branch of the Marques Avenue outlet stores at La Séguinière, near Cholet, with 33 shops offering fashion, sportswear and household goods (open Mon-Sat 10-7).  Visit the Entrepot at La Gaubretière for the wackiest of shoes, made by the Rautureau factory. Mon-Sat10-7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURFING

 

Surfing is big in the Vendée, especially in the south, the area around La Tranche and Longeville. Here is a map drawn up by surfer Francky Trichet showing the best surf "spots" in the Vendée.

And here - with thanks to Thomas, from Jard-sur-Mer -are some shops for surfers (and also skateboarders) to look for the latest equipment:

-Point Break in St Gilles Croix de Vie
-Bahia surf shop in Les Sables-d'Olonne
-Extreme in Les Sables-d'Olonne
-Le Palmier in La Tranche-sur-Mer
-Nova Fun in La Tranche-sur-Mer
-L'Embarcadero in La Roche-sur-Yon

 

 

 

 

 

TREE-TOP TRAILS

 

There are now several places where adults and children can enjoy climbing around high up in the forest on zip wires and scrambling nets. Safety is paramount, and participants are issued with helmets, gloves and harnesses and instructed how to clip on at all times. It is vital to wear tough sports shoes.

These include:
- Arbre et aventure, near the golf club at St Jean de Monts.
- Feeling Forest, near St-Hilaire-de-Riez.
- Indian Forest, near Moutiers-les-Mauxfaits and La Tranche-sur-Mer.
- Accro branches in the
forest of Mervent.

North of the Vendee, there are others:
- Pornic Aventure, near the resort of Pornic.
- Défi Nature, at Frossay, on the south side of the
Loire, between Nantes and St Nazaire.

  In busy periods it is wise to book in advance.  Often there is a height limit for children, so check this before causing disappointed toddlers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


WALKING

Every village seems to have its board with map of waymarked routes. If you plan a considerable amount of walking in an area, it is a good idea to look for an Ordnance Survey-style map - the "blue" series of IGN maps fills the bill.
Begin by asking at the tourist office for "sentiers de randonnée" (footpaths) - sometimes these will be illustrated on free maps, sometimes in a more substantial book for which a charge is made. It's invidious to single out particular areas, but there are quite a lot of routes around Le Poiré-sur-Vie (near Aizenay); also some very enjoyable ones around St-Etienne-du-Bois (near Palluau); others along the cliffs towards the Pointe du Payré at Jard; routes through the forests of Mervent and Longeville-sur-Mer; and some pretty ones in sunken lanes around Apremont. One of my favourites is at Mouilleron-en-Pareds, leading up the "millers' trail" from the "lavoir", or washing place, to a windswept ridge that overlooks the high bocage and is lined with decaying windmills.

 Check out some of the walks that Roland Oziel and his friends have made through different areas of the Vendée (this site is in French only, but has lots of pictures to show the scenery along the way). The introductory page contains a useful checklist of things to take with you when setting out.

 

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