Check this section out for:
Getting to the Vendée / Top 30 sights /
Routes from Channel ports / Driving around Nantes

This map (which I notice has a few inaccuracies!) is from the site
where you will find an interactive version with useful links to all the places shown.
(Note: Apremont and Soullans are not located on the Aizenay to Challans road, but to the south of it.)




THE VENDEE is a large département (or county) about the size of Devon or Cumbria (or, for American readers, somewhere between the size of Maine and West Virginia), located on the French Atlantic coast, just south of Brittany and Nantes, and north of La Rochelle. Its position, within 2 to 5 hours of the various western ferry ports, makes the area an easy day's journey from Britain and Ireland. The population, according to the 1999 census, is 540,000.






The name "Vendée" is taken from that of a river that runs through the south-east of the département. After crossing the forest of Mervent it flows through the town of Fontenay-le-Comte, which used to be the capital of Bas-Poitou - the county's name was changed to Vendée after the French Revolution of 1789 (see History page) - until Napoleon decided his soldiers could keep the Vendeans in order more easily from La Roche-sur-Yon. The river meanders on through the marshes to meet the Sevre Niortaise, and turns west to meet the sea in bay of l'Aiguillon.



Though several beautiful tourism brochures for the département are produced, you do not seem to come across many of them in the UK. If you contact the departmental tourist bureau direct, either via their website or on tel: +33 (0)2 51 47 88 20; email ) and ask for information you should receive some substantial brochures called something like "Horizons Vendée".  If your French is up to it, you will get more out of the French version of the website than the English one, which is still languishing in a more old-fashioned presentation.









File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0

A microclimate, said to be similar to that of the Côte d'Azur, ensures that 2,500 hours of sunshine beam down on the Vendée's 140km of sandy beaches (see map, left - sorry you can't read the figures, but basically the darker, the hotter...). June is traditionally the driest month.



Peak tourist activity is throughout July and August (especially 14 July to 15 August). Principal seaside resorts are St-Jean-de-Monts, St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, Les Sables-d'Olonne and La Tranche-sur-Mer.
Inland, among the marshes, plains and wooded hills, visitors will find plenty to amuse them. Top-rated experiences for summer visitors (see "Top 30" list, below) are the breath-taking night-time son-et-lumière spectacle, known as the Cinéscénie, at Le Puy du Fou near Les Epesses, in the east of the département; and the fantastic day-time attraction on another part of the same site - a "historical theme park" called the Grand Parc; a day on the tranquil waterways of the Marais Poitevin, or Venise Verte ("Green Venice"), a mysterious marshland in the south-east of the county; and a journey across the incredible causeway that links the island of Noirmoutier (north-west of the Vendée) to the mainland at low tide.

There are plenty of activities for all: water parks; castles; no fewer than five 18-hole golf courses; countless churches and abbeys; museums of every sort; prehistoric standing-stones; thousands of waymarked footpaths; a signposted cycleway running along the coast; mudflats and marshes that attract unusual birds, from avocets to storks; fishing in sea, rivers and lakes; and wide, unpolluted skies for stargazers.










Below - in the order they appear in the guidebook, and with
the page references to the book for more detail -
is my personal list of must-sees for holidaymakers.
Wherever you are staying there is sure to be something within reach.



Area 1. Around Challans

Autrefois Challans
A great free day out for the family, as the town of Challans turns the clock back to 1910 for a day of old-time rural activities. (p45)

Musée Milcendeau, Soullans

This peaceful spot in the marshes south of Challans is dedicated to two famous men of Soullans - the writer and politician Jean Yole and his contemporary and friend, the landscape artist and portraitist Charles Milcendeau (1872-1919). (p46)

Le Passage du Gois, Noirmoutier
The 4km submerged roadway across the Bay of Bourgneuf, linking the island of Noirmoutier to the mainland near Beauvoir-sur-Mer never fails to evoke a frisson of fear in motorists. (p50)

ExploraParc, St-Jean-de-Monts

Treetop trails in the pine forest near one of the Vendée’s most popular seaside resorts. (p58)

Sallertaine, near Challans
A delightful village, between mid-July and mid-August its shops burst into life with artists and craftspeople, exhibitions of local life are staged in the 12th-century church, and you can rent canoes to paddle along the surrounding canals. (p59)


Area 2.  Around Les Sables-d’Olonne

Apremont, near Aizenay
Picturesque village, endowed with a crumbling Renaissance castle, and a lake - the largest in the Vendée - with a sandy beach. Canoes or flat-bottomed boats available for hire on the river Vie. (p64)

Château des Aventuriers, Avrillé

A lot of fun for families, to decipher clues (in English as well as French) and follow a trail around the grounds of this Renaissance country house. There are lots of prehistoric stones in the area, too. (p66)

Balade Enchantée, near Chaillé-sous-les-Ormeaux

A brilliant guided nature walk, with English commentary,  along the picturesque valley of the river Yon. You have to be fairly athletic to keep up, and to scramble over the rocks. (p70)

Indian Forest, Moutiers-les-Mauxfaits

Another fantastic series of treetop trails in a forest near Moutiers-les-Mauxfaits. Also with paintball, and bouncing bungee activities. (p73)

Ile Penotte, Les Sables d’Olonne

A series of witty shell frescoes decorate the narrow streets just behind the seafront of Les Sables. (p80)

Château de Talmont, Talmont-St-HilaireThe ruined castle of Richard the Lionheart dominates this attractive village. There are medieval-style activities in summer. (p84)


Area 3. Around La Tranche

La Rochelle

This historic port makes a wonderful day-trip from the Vendée. It’s full of cobbled streets, ancient buildings and interesting museums. (p98)

La Rochelle Aquarium

Fantastic indoor aquarium, full of fish, sharks and other creatures of the deep. (p100)

Parc Floral et Tropical, La Court d'Aron, St-Cyr-en-Talmondais
A magnificent garden where
koi carp swim lazily in the ponds, and bamboos and banana palms rustle in the breeze. From late June till early August a vast lake is covered with thousands of exquisite pink-tinged lotus flowers. (p102)

The “Venise Verte”, or "Green Venice" marshes, South Vendée
This area of the marshland known as the Marais Poitevin, features a magical maze of tree-lined, duckweed-covered canals. (p105)


Area 4.  Around Fontenay-le-Comte


Charming old village, with castle and small museum, plus lovely garden. (p112)

Ancient streets lined with mellow stone houses indicate the former importance of Fontenay, which was once the capital of Bas-Poitou. (p115)

Musée Bernard d’Agesci, Niort

A marvellous museum of fine and decorative arts in the centre of the historic town of Niort, just outside the SE Vendee. (p122)

Château de St-Mesmin-la-Ville, near Pouzauges

An imposing medieval castle, in course of restoration, which offers some entertaining “living history” sessions in summer. (p124)

Vouvant, near La Chataigneraie
This pretty hilltop village, surrounded by medieval walls, looks down over the meandering river Mère and the forest of Mervent. (p127)


Area 4. Around Les Herbiers


Just outside the NE Vendee, this attractive town on the river Sevre Nantaise is full of Italian-inspired architecture. (p132)

Historial de la Vendée, Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne

An ultra-modern museum tells the story of the Vendée from prehistoric times to the present. (p139)

Puy-du-Fou: Le Grand Parc, near Les Herbiers

This day-time "historical theme park" makes a great day out for all the family, with set-piece shows of falconry, medieval battles, Roman chariot-racing and more, plus demonstrations of rural crafts and reconstructions of villages of different historical periods. (p142)

Puy-du-Fou: Cinéscénie, near Les Herbiers
The greatest sound-and-light show in Europe, this glorious summer open-air night-time entertainment, near Les Epesses, uses sophisticated special effects to tell the history of the Vendée. (p143)

Logis de la Chabotterie, near La Roche-sur-Yon

A rural manor house that has been done up to present an atmospheric recreation of 18th-century life in the Vendée. It has historic links with the Vendée Wars too. (p145)

Chateau de Barbe-Bleue, Tiffauges
There are medieval activities by day and by night at the substantial ruined castle of Gilles de Rais–inspiration for the evil "Barbe-bleu" (or Bluebeard) of fairy-tales.



Area 6. Around the Pays de Retz

Le Grand Blockhaus, near La Baule

A restored German gun-emplacement provides chilling impressions of World War II in the area, and has much to tell about the “St Nazaire Pocket” that was not liberated till 11 May 1945. (p150)

Les Machines de l’Ile, Nantes

Workshops full of extraordinary creatures developed from the imagination of a talented group of designers. Outside, you can take a ride on a larger-than-life-sized wooden elephant. (p159)

Planète Sauvage, Port-St-Pere

A drive-through safari park, full of wild animals from the African savannah. (p162)


Several sea-related visits in and around the vast German WWII submarine base at St-Nazaire, on the north side of the Loire. They include a convincing mock-up of an ocean liner, and a chance to tour a 1950s’ French submarine. (p166)



(see also the Property owners’ pages)






"Brittany Ferries sails direct to Brittany, Normandy and Spain. As well as the highest standards of on board facilities we offer a great range of self-catering and hotel holidays with your car in France and Spain."


25-30% discounts for BF’s frequent-traveller or property-owners’ schemes.

BRITTANY FERRIES (see link beow)

Portsmouth-St Malo
(9 hrs crossing time; approximately 3 hrs driving time in France);
Portsmouth-Caen (6 hrs / 4-5 hrs);

Portsmouth-Cherbourg (3 hrs on high-speed craft / 5 hrs in France)

Portsmouth-Le Havre (8 hrs overnight on “no-frills” service / 6 hrs)

Poole-Cherbourg (4 hrs 15 mins / 5 hrs);
Plymouth-Roscoff (6 hrs / 5 hrs);
Cork-Roscoff (April-October) (17 hrs / 5 hrs).






20-50% discounts for shareholders


Dover-Calais (75 minutes' crossing time; approximately 6/7 hours drive to Vendée)
Hull-Zeebrugge (12 hrs / 8 hrs)




Newhaven-Dieppe (4 hrs / 5 hrs)






Frequent Traveller Club, giving 20% discount on all travel between UK, Channel Islands and St-Malo


Poole-St Malo (4 hrs 30 mins crossing time by fast catamaran, with stop at either Guernsey or Jersey en route; approximately 3 hrs driving time in France);

Portsmouth-Cherbourg (sorry, I can’t find the information on crossing times / 5 hrs Cherbourg to Vendee)
UK reservations 0845 609 1024



Rosslare-Cherbourg (17 hrs crossing time; approximately 5 hrs driving time in France);
Rosslare-Roscoff (16 hrs / 5 hrs)




Rosslare-Cherbourg (17 hrs crossing time; approximately 5 hrs driving time in France)







Newhaven-Dieppe (4 hours crossing time; approximately 5 hours'driving time in France)
Dover-Calais (75 minutes / 6 or 7 hrs)
Dover-Dunkerque (2hrs /  7/8 hrs drive in France)







And if you prefer to take your car on the under-sea route instead, here is a link to Eurotunnel for the Folkestone-to-Calais/Coquelles shuttle service.
(35 mins’ crossing time, 6/7 hours’ drive to the Vendée). 


As you do not even have to get out of your car, this is an ideal route for those with difficulty walking, or for those travelling with pets in the vehicle.

TIP 1  If you are going to take this service frequently, it might be worth joining Eurotunnel’s “Frequent Traveller” programme. You pay for 10 single journeys upfront, at £39 each, and use them as and when you want over 12 months. (Though there are some sneaky add-ons if you want to travel at the most desirable times of day.)

TIP 2  Instead of booking your journey as a “return” ticket, book it as two “single” tickets. This gives you the flexibility to change the time and date of your return leg without penalty. (If you book a return ticket to start with, you cannot change without penalty after you have made the outward journey.)





London (St Pancras)-Lille Europe / Lille Europe-Nantes (total journey time 8 hrs); this is a very easy change (just swop platforms at Lille), and pick up the once-daily direct TGV to Nantes where you might either arrange to hire a car at the station, have somebody pick you up, or change for trains to more local Vendée destinations.
London (St Pancras)-Paris (Nord)/ Paris (Montparnasse)-Nantes (total journey time 8 hrs). TGVs from Paris (Montparnasse) now direct to Nantes, La Roche-sur-Yon and Les Sables-d’Olonne, without changing.
In a few years’ time you should also be able to travel direct by TGV all the way from Paris via Nantes to St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.

" Those living in or visiting the south-east of the Vendée might like to know of the excellent rail service from Niort (Deux-Sevres) to/from Paris/Montparnasse, using the La Rochelle-to-Paris TGV. After leaving Fontenay-le-Comte at 05h30 on a bus to Niort, I can catch the TGV, then cross Paris and catch another from the Gare du Nord - in my case to Brussels, where I can arrive in time for lunch and six hours' work ! "


Here is a site on which to check out the French Railways (SNCF) timetables.









Click here for a link to Nantes-Atlantique airport

CityJet operates a daily service between Nantes and London City airport.  The rumbly turbo-prop planes are reminiscent of early holiday-making!

TIP  The fares can be competitive if you book a few weeks in advance and can be flexible about dates.


The budget airlines can change their routes on a whim, but here are the current (2016) routes:
Ryanair have cut back flights to Nantes, except from Dublin (at Jan 2016).  This can change from one moment to the next, so it’s worth checking the website from time to time for the latest updates. Ryanair still offers flights from Dublin and London Stansted to La Rochelle, so this might be the best way of reaching the Vendee.

FlyBe claims so many destinations from both Nantes and La Rochelle on their 2016 website that I simply can’t believe them.  La Rochelle toStornaway, for example?  I rather doubt it….
Easyjet operates year-round flights from London Gatwick to Nantes.

TIP  Wednesdays and Thursdays often work out cheapest, if you can fly midweek.



Airport to city centre
Taxi fare from airport to city centre is between 30 and 35 euros.

The "navette aéroport" (airport shuttle bus, formerly known as “TANair”) links Nantes-Atlantique airport with the city centre (the stop called “Commerce”) and with Nantes station "Gare, sortie sud" (it’s very important to know there are north and south exits at Nantes station!), opposite the Mercure hotel.

This is the link to the "navette aéroport" bus service .  Click on “fiche horaires de la navette aéroport” to see the timetable. It now seems to have settled down to a regular half-hourly service Mon-Sat; with just an hourly service on Sun. (NB No TANair service at all on 1 May.) Between airport and railway station takes about 20 minutes, with one stop en route at the tram terminus of Neustrie (Tram No 3).

The fare is 7 euros single fare (2011), and may be purchased using a credit card if you do not have the loose change with you; the ticket is valid for one hour on all the Nantes bus and tram system. (The old “carnet”, enabling you to buy several tickets at once and make a saving on individual price, is no longer available.) As with any bus or tram travel, you must “composter”, or validate, your ticket by punching it in the machine on entry into the vehicle.

Information on Nantes bus and tram services can be found on the TAN website.


terlogo.jpg   Local train services
There are trains on the Nantes-La Roche sur Yon-Les Sables d’Olonne (or -Luçon), and on a separate line:  Nantes-Challans-St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.  Fare Nantes to St Gilles, for example, is around 12€.

If you go to the SNCF page in English you can fill in a little box on the left to obtain information on "TER" (local train services).

TIP 1   If you are over 60, ask when you purchase your train ticket about a “billet sénior”, which is about 10 per cent cheaper on off-peak travel. 

Even more advantageous, if you are planning to do a lot of other train travel in France during the year, is to obtain a “Carte Sénior” Railcard (costs 60€ for a year in 2016), which can get you 50 per cent off the price of off-peak travel on TGV and local TER services.
TIP 2   Just in case your arrival flight is delayed, check before you travel whether there are later train services out of Nantes than your original plan.  And as a back-up plan, maybe take the phone numbers of a few Nantes hotels with you in the event of getting stranded!  (For example, there is a Mercure hotel beside the south entrance to the railway station, on Quai Malakoff; tel: +33 2 40 35 30 30.)


Nantes public transport system (TAN):
As stated above, the ticket for the navette aéroport shuttle bus (7€, single) gives you one hour on all the city’s public transport.

You can download the complete Nantes city transport map from this page (click on “plan général du réseau”).

Timetables for Nantes bus and tram services can be downloaded from this page.

References on the timetables to jours verts mean Saturdays; jours bleus are Sundays and bank holidays; jours roses are school term-times; and jours jaunes are school-holiday periods.  However, there are exceptions – i.e. much of July and August seems to be designated “rose”.  The only way to be sure is to download the TAN calendar here.



Click here for a link to La Rochelle-Ile de Ré airport
The airport is on the mainland side of the bridge that links the fashionable Ile de Ré island with the rest of France.


The budget airlines can change their routes on a whim, but here are the current (2011) routes:
Easyjet flies from La Rochelle to London (Gatwick) and Bristol.
Ryanair offers flights to London (Stansted), East Midlands and Dublin.
Flybe flies to Southampton, Birmingham and Manchester.

TIP  You can sign up on the Ryanair site, so that you are alerted by email when there are special offers of very cheap – or even free – flights. These usually have to be booked within a couple of days, so you need to move fast…


Other air-travel possibilities
You can fly to Paris and pick up either an internal flight to Nantes, or a train - a TGV service operates from Roissy (near Charles de Gaulle airport) to Nantes. Other TGVs from Paris (Montparnasse) to Nantes, Niort, La Roche-sur-Yon and Les Sables-d'Olonne; normal trains run from Paris to St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.

The HolidayAutos website sifts through Hertz, Alamo, Budget, Europcar, Avis etc to find the best deal for your category. A correspondent recommends hire company for "great service and excellent prices".

2016   A regrettable development by car-hire companies is to “offer” a hefty extra insurance premium when you pick up the vehicle.  Their headline prices have beens shaved by reducing your insurance cover raising your excess to around £1,000 – so you would have to pay for any damage incurredup to this amount.  To get round this, there are companies such as this one offering to cover any excess payments either one-off or on an annual basis.

Just google “covering car hire insurance”, and read the latest news about this dastardly trick.







The road system is improving all the time. The wonderful "Autoroute des Estuaires" is a toll motorway and toll-free dual carriageway system linking the north-western ports of France with Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux and Spain.
From Calais or Caen there is no obstacle to prevent you zooming down to the Vendee – and it’s toll-free from Caen as far as Nantes..
Visitors arriving via Cherbourg can pick up an excellent dual carriageway down the eastern side of the Cherbourg peninsula, and then cut across country on an ordinary road via St-Lô and Villedieu-les-Poeles to join the A84.
The run from St-Malo is simplicity itself; just head south for Rennes and pick up the Autoroute des Estuaires to Nantes.
And the dual-carriageway that runs around the edge of Brittany makes the drive from Roscoff an easy one, too. The great bridges across the Loire, on the west side of Nantes and nearer the mouth of the river at St-Nazaire, are both toll-free.
Only if you arrive by ferry at Le Havre, in Normandy, will you need to have change (or a credit-card) available immediately for a toll as you cross the magnificent Pont de Normandie, and for tolls on the part of the motorway on the east side of Caen.
Or you might opt to use the new motorway south past Alençon and Le Mans to Angers, and then continue towards Cholet and La Roche-sur-Yon (capital of the Vendée). This is a toll road, but is said to shorten the journey by up to an hour.





From 1 July 2008 it is compulsory for any vehicle being driven in France
to be equipped with a warning triangle, to be placed
30 metres behind the immobilised vehicle after a breakdown.
Flashing hazard lights must also be used.
The law also requires that there should be at least one high-visibility
reflective jacket stored in the passenger compartment of the vehicle
(not in the boot),
for use by the driver on exiting the immobilsed vehicle.
Here is a link to the official French government website on the matter.
From 1 October 2008 a fine of 135€ will be imposed
for non-possession of these items.


TIP  Buy these items before leaving home!


NB  You do NOT need the breathalyser kits, that came briefly into the set of requirements in 2012. At least, technically you are required to carry two of them, but there will officially not be any fines for not having them.

Here are chapter and verse from the French government website.


If travelling by car, you need the original of your vehicle's logbook plus, if the vehicle is not registered in your name, a letter from the owner authorising you to take it abroad. You must also have a valid UK (or other EC country) driving licence, and a valid insurance document. (The old “Green Card”, which had the advantage of looking pretty like a French insurance document, no longer exists. Your insurance company will probably now just have a sentence printed in French on the back of your normal insurance certificate to explain what the document is.)
These three items must be with you in the car at all times. It is an offence to be without them. The police can - and do - stop cars for spot checks, even where no offence has been committed.
It's also a good idea to have what the French call a "pièce d'identité" - something to prove who you are - on you when driving. As we don't have an identity card to carry, or anything else with a photograph, it's best to keep your passport on you, though your driving licence would probably be OK if it bears your photograph and home address.

The French are very concerned about their ghastly accident rate, so are applying the rules of the road extremely zealously these days. Here are a few things of which to be specially careful...

- The blood alcohol level for drivers in France is currently 0.2g of alcohol per litre - even lower than it is in the UK, so drinking and driving is out! If caught, you will have your licence removed on the spot.

- Equally outlawed is using the mobile phone while driving - even with hands-free system, or wearing headphones.
- Whenever you enter a town or village (i.e. you pass the name-board), the speed limit is 50kph - unless shown as an even lower speed such as 30 kph.

- Driver and all passengers must wear seat belts at all times. Spot-checks are often made even in the most rural of villages.

- Never cross a solid white line in the middle of the road! The French police can take your licence away on the spot - awkward if you do not have another driver in the car with you to take over...

- And, finally, in August 2005 “Ian” writes:
I recently returned from the Vendee with a ticket for 90 Euros for not coming to a complete halt at a Stop sign. Although completely my fault, it may be worth pointing this out to all our English friends planning to drive in France in general.”
So it’s worth mentioning that you are required to come to a halt – and to count to at least 3 – before moving off from a Stop sign.


Automobile Association (AA)
Royal Automobile Club (RAC)
Information on French motorway tolls
Route-planning from Michelin
Route-planning through France





Coach travel from London's Victoria Coach Station is provided by Eurolines , though considering how long it takes (overnight, via Dover) it is surprisingly expensive.
There are no destinations actually in the Vendée; the nearest are Nantes, Niort and La Rochelle.

Once in the Vendée, you are not too well served for public transport. Click here to see the Sovetours bus services within the département (click on the route panels, or just above them you can click for main and secondary réseaux, or networks. Note that quite large sections of the timetables run in school term-times only.






Confused? You won't be...

Here are details of routes from the ferry ports







map of Nantes area 


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