to scientists, pirates to conductors,
many great names have been associated with the Vendée.
ANIMALS AND BIRDS
(or PBGV for short)
Rough-haired, short-legged dog, originally bred for chasing rabbits
and now popular with customers as far away as the US, Japan and Australia..
Baudet du Poitou
A long-legged, amazingly shaggy breed of donkey, once prevalent in the
Marais Poitevin. The breed almost faded out, but has been rescued in the nick
mulassière and Mule
The tall Vendean mule, highly valued up to World War I, has all but
It resulted from the cross between a male baudet du Poitou (see above), and the female
of a sturdy black breed of horse called the jument mulassière.
Beautiful breed of cow, formerly much used in the marshes of the
Vendee and Poitou.
In colour it resembles a Jersey cow, but with an elegant pair of horns,
and with the capacity to pull a wagon as well as to produce milk.
With its origins as an ancient breed of sheep, believed to date from
the time of the Spanish Armada, today’s hardy and prolific mouton vendéen,
developed in the late 1950s, has a dash of Southdown in it.
Beautiful chickens in an astonishingly wide range of colouring, that
originated from the marshes around Marans, just beyond the south borders of
Their eggs are usually a rich brown in colour.
(roughly in chronological order)
Bloodthirsty pirate born at Les Sables d’Olonne,
later the scourge of the Caribbean.
early 17th century
Philippe Guilleri, a French bandit, is said to have been born in the
of Les Landes, near La Merlatière, and to have frequented
the dense woodland that once existed to the west of Les Essarts.
He was immortalised as a jolly partridge-hunter in a well-known French
rhyme: listen to it here (with
helpful French subtitles).
Ferchault de Réaumur
Scientist, born in La Rochelle, who was fascinated by the world of
insects. Spending holidays at the family property in the Vendée, he
into all sorts of things: coal, coach springs, the invention of a
thermometer, and the crossing of different species of animal.
Physician and inventor, Archereau - born in the
Vendee village of St-Hilaire-le-Vouhis, near Chantonnay - created the
electric battery that was credited to Volta,
and was the first person to illuminate the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Archereau was educated at Chavagnes-en-Paillers and at first felt a
religious vocation, but switched to science and developed an early arc
lamp. He died in Paris
in poverty, before his work on the tungsten lightbulb had caught on. A
bronze bust in his native village, sculpted by his nephew Louis
melted down by the Germans during the Occcupation; a new stone one now
commemorate St-Hilaire's most famous son.
GASTON CHAISSAC (1910-1964)
Modern artist, born in Avallon,
near the south of France, who painted flamboyantly
jokey works on anything
that came to hand - doors, shutters etc. Struggling to survive, in true
artist fashion, he lived for many years in the Vendée in the village of
Vix, and also in Sainte-Florence, near Chantonnay, where his wife was a
teacher. If you ask in the Mairie of Sainte-Florence you may be permitted
to peep into the old school lavatories out at the back - Chaissac enlivened
their walls with some small paintings, and the ramshackle buildings are now
listed. He died in Vix in 1964. A
large collection of his work can be seen in the Abbaye-Ste-Croix Museum,
GILBERT PROUTEAU (b 1918)
Writer and film-maker - born in Nesmy, a village south of La Roche-sur-Yon. As well as being an athlete
in his youth, and the author of more than 40 detective stories,
biographies, poetry and film scripts (and director of Dieu a choisi Paris, with Jean-Paul Belmondo), Prouteau is also
founder of an organisation that awards an annual prize for "L'Art de
Vivre" (pleasant lifesyle) to a French town, village, or region. The accolade for 2000 went to the town
of Rambouillet, south-west of Paris, whose château is the official country
residence of the French prime minister.
ROBERT SEXÉ (1890-1986)
Born in La Roche-sur-Yon, this motorcycling adventurer and journalist is widely
accepted as having been the model for Tintin, Hergé's famous boy
journalist, right down to his famous quiff of blonde hair. In summer 2000, until 30 September, an
exhibition on the life of Robert Sexé is being held at 1 rue du Stade,
Beaulieu-sous-La-Roche (south of Aizenay).
One of Napoleon’s generals, born in Fontenay-le-Comte, who was
Governor of Cairo and of Madrid, and became French ambassador in Brussels.
Belliard did much to improve agriculture after the Vendée Wars.
Born in Mouilleron-en-Pareds, into a Protestant family, Clemenceau
outspoken politician and journalist. As prime minister, he negotiated
the terms of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI, which imposed
terms on the defeated Germany.
Cartoonist, creator of Gédéon–a duck detective–and, most
of the cheery logo for Vache
Qui Rit cheese.
Lattre de Tassigny
Distinguished World War II French leader, born at Mouilleron-en-Pareds.
the Vendée Giant (1890-1927) – at 8ft 6in,
only 5in shorter
than the world’s tallest man, Robert Wadlow
Born in La Roche-sur-Yon, this motorcycling adventurer and
journalist is widely
accepted as having been the model for Tintin,
Hergé's famous boy journalist, right down to his famous quiff of blonde
A pioneer of French aeronautical engineering, born at St Martin-des-Noyers,
near Les Essarts. Famous for this three-engined Couzinet 70, the Arc en
Ciel III, which carried the French postal service across the Atlantic.
The Belgian writer, creator of Inspector Maigret, lived for several
various parts of the Vendée and of Charente-Maritime before and during
World War II, using the places as backdrops to many stories. A website here
talks about them in detail.
World-famous biologist, born in Hanoi, whose roots are in Nesmy,
south of La Roche-sur-Yon. In
the 1950s Laborit developed tranquillisers, and
improved anaesthetics - making several breakthrough discoveries.
Such was Laborit's fame - not only as a man of science, but also as
writer and philosopher - that Alain Resnais cast him in a 1980 movie Mon Oncle d'Amérique to
play himself - a scientist helping the film’s three main protagonists to
understand their own behaviour. The film won the Special Jury Prize in
Cannnes that year.
Writer and film-maker - born in Nesmy, a village south of La
and a good friend of Henri Laborit (see above).
As well as being an athlete in his youth, and author of more than 40
detective stories, biographies, poetry and film scripts (and director of
the 1969 film Dieu a choisi Paris,
with Jean-Paul Belmondo), Prouteau is founder of an organisation that
annual prize for "L'Art de Vivre" (pleasant lifesyle) to a French
town, village, or region.
UP TO THE PRESENT-DAY
Head of the world-famous
Bénéteau boat-building company,
and a former French businesswoman of the year.
American-born conductor and
harpsichordist, now a French citizen and based in the Vendée. With his
Arts Florissants, Christie has revived the interest in baroque music,
taking it regularly to the capitals of the world.
World-famous pyrotechnician, Couturier creates some of the world’s
most dazzling firework displays, brightening the sky from Nice to Beijing,
Monaco to Macau.
If you see his name attached to a firework show–whether for a special
event such as the quadrennial Vendee-Globe prize giving ceremonies or the
annual show over the ocean at Sion, make sure you get along. Click here for a
list of forthcoming shows.
Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday)
ST-MARC-SUR-MER, near St-Nazaire
Yes, this is north of the Loire, but so recognisable that it must not
Jacques Tati's scouts spent months
scouring Brittany for a south-facing sandy beach, with just the right amount
of rocks each side, which the film-maker had decreed was the only possible
setting for his now-classic 1953 comedy. The beachside hotel that featured so strongly in the film
is still in action – though now a Best Western establishment.
You can order the DVD from Amazon here.
LE GRAND CHEMIN, Rouans, near Le Pellerin,
Jean-Loup Hubert’s charming 1987 film Le Grand Chemin was shot near Rouans,
8km west of Le Pellerin in the Pays de Retz. The plot concerns a 9-year-old boy from Paris, sent to
stay with relatives in the countryside, and the freedom and friendship he
APREMONT, near Challans
Vieux de la Vieille
Ealing meets Last of the Summer Wine for this black-and-white comedy based on Les Vieux de la Vieille, a 1958 novel
by René Fallet. The film of the same name, dating from 1960, features Jean
Gabin, Pierre Fresnay and Noel-Noel as three old codgers who set out on a
raucous romp through the countryside prior to moving into an old-folks’ home.
Today a restaurant in Apremont, the
village where the film is set, goes by the same name.
Ferme du Pendu
French comedian Bourvil made his debut
in this now forgotten 1945 comedy, shot in the Vendée around Pouzauges and
Montournais. The story concerns a farmer who prevents his brothers and
sisters marrying so as not to be obliged to divide up the family farm.
LEGÉ, near Rocheservière
Tonnerre de Dieu
In this successful 1965 film, Jean Gabin
is a grumpy veterinary surgeon, living on a country estate (the lovely
chateau of Bois-Chevalier, outside Legé) with his wife. He brings home a
young prostitute (Michèle Mercier), and instals her in the marital home; when
her pimp arrives, Gabin protects the girl.
SALLERTAINE, near Challans
La Terre qui
meurt by René Bazin
Novel written in 1899 about the
drift from the land, as young people deserted the countryside to find work in
factories and on the railways. The book is set around the pretty marshland
village of Sallertaine, where today signposted walks encourage you to find
the locations. Bazin’s book was made into a film first in 1926 (a silent
movie), and again in 1936 (one of the first French films in colour). The
novel can be purchased
from Amazon (in French), or here is a
ma mère by Michel Ragon
Reminiscences by one of France’s
best-known present-day authors about growing up in the rural Vendée before
World War II.
On the first of May, villagers often awake to find their central
with strange objects. These have
been gathered in the night by
mischievous folk, among items left in front gardens and other too-accessible
Feux de la
The Fest of St John the Baptist, on 24 June, is the occasion for the
lighting of bonfires.
In olden days, unmarried girls were supposed to jump over nine bonfires
on this night, and would then see the face of the man they were to marry.
As popular a game among the older generation of Vendeans as pétanque is in the Mediterranean, palets required heavy metal discs to
be tossed at a
flat lead square measuring 45cmx45cm, marked off as a target. Points are
scored according to how near the middle the palet lands. It can also be played on a square made of wood.
of “la grenouille”
A riotous game, in which heavy metal discs are thrown at a sort of sloping
with holes in it. Each one
carries a score for the disc that should land in it.
The most difficult is one with a metal frog (grenouille) guarding it; the disc must be tossed into the mouth
of the frog to win the maximum points.
Almost like Bridge for farmers and fishermen, the card game Aluette is
four people – as two pairs – who communicate the strength of
their hands to their
partners with precisely coded signals. These involve pouting; casting the
eyes to heaven; pretending to write; raising the thumb; twitching the top lip; etc.
The game, using the old suits of swords, clubs, coins and chalices, is
thought to have originated with Spanish sailors in the 14th
century, and is still played along the Vendée coast and up the Loire river,
as well as around the coastal fringes of Brittany and Normandy.
In the open marshland around Challans and Sallertaine, young couples
found it hard to do their courting in privacy. A practical solution was to
disport themselves behind a large black umbrella, to shield their activities
from public gaze.
Founded in Croix-de-Vie,
on the Vendée coast, in 1884, this company
has grown to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of yachts and
Attractive open sailing craft, devised as fishing day-boats in 1960
by boat-builder and marine artist Clément Dubernet, from La Chaume.
They can be seen at regattas of classic boats, and on their way out of
Port Olona, along Les Sables’ harbour channel, to sail in the open sea
– including for the annual Henry Vallée Trophy, off Les Sables-d’Olonne
The next edition of this thrilling single-handed, non-stop round-the-world
yacht race for 60ft monohulls starts from
Les Sables-d-Olonne on 11 November 2012, at 3pm.
This cycle-manufacturing company, based on the south side of La
makes robust machines under the Arcade name, that are popular with
A large cycle factory at Machecoul, north of Challans, turns out masses of
Micmo-brand bikes, often on sale in supermarkets.
There is a factory shop on the Machecoul site for bargain buys.
Mogettes de Vendée
The famous white haricot bean of the Vendée was awarded “IGF” status
in October 2010. This indication
géographique protégée limits its production to the
Vendée (around Les Brouzils, and Le Poiré-sur-Vie) and certain parts of the
Pays de Retz (the area between the river Loire and the Vendée).
One mogette farmer, from Chavagnes-en-Paillers, tells you about his crop here,
in English, and gives his grandmother’s recipe for
simmering them slowly to produce maximum flavour and tenderness.
Jambon de Vendée
Prepared in Apremont and on sale throughout France, Jambon de Vendee
can be as thick as gammon, for cooking, or offered in thin slices to enjoy
It is cured with a special mixture of herbs and flavours,
and is delicious served with mogettes
– of course.
A flat, slipper-like garlic bread, which was allegedly the result of
bakers testing the temperature of their fired-up ovens by tossing some
buttery bread into them.
Fished in quantity off the Vendée coasts, the sardine has become an
emblem of St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. The canning company La Perle des Dieux
produces tins of them in all sorts of subtle flavours. The company also has a
shop, screening a video of the fishing and canning processes, and featuring a
tasting of the product (opening details here)
Now with a sort of appellation
contrôlée to protect their name, the fluffy loaves of
Vendean brioche are for sale in every self-respecting boulangerie.
Slices are dished out at festivities, such as weddings, or just as a welcome
gesture to participants in a local sport or to customers at some other event.
A similar product is la gâche, with
a slightly denser texture.
Sunshine and seaweed are the two essential ingredients for the early
potatoes whose cultivation covers one-sixth of the island of Noirmoutier.
Especially cherished is the Bonnotte, an old variety recently revived,
which is planted on one day in February, and harvested on one day in May to
fetch hugely-hyped prices.
A flavoursome liqueur, with a coffee base, distilled by the Vrignaud
company in Luçon.
Its name comes from a sort of “backslang” derived from that of the
Arabian port (Mocha), from which coffee was originally shipped.
A recently-created aperitif, based on a French version of sloe gin
– only it is flavoured with the leaves rather than the fruit of the
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