WINDMILLS AND WATERMILLS OF THE VENDEE

 

  2. LES SABLES AND LA ROCHE-SUR-YON AREA

  

L'AUBONNIERE

Moulin de Rambourg; picture from Nesmy web site (see right)

An amazing place for a riverside walk, alongside the turbulent waters of the river Yon as it begins its rapid descent towards Luçon and the plain. In nearby Chaillé-sous-les-Ormeaux a museum called La Maison des Libellules (Dragonfly centre) tells you about the river and the 20-odd small watermills that used to make use of the rushing current. Just south of the village, follow signs to a gîte d'étape (walkers' hostel) near L’Aubonnière, and then follow a fairly rugged path down to the waterside. If you can make your way far enough downstream (the path is distinctly precarious in places!) where the water swirls around boulders and alder trees, you may catch a glimpse of some of the old watermills slumbering under the vegetation. Outside the nearby village of Nesmy, the picturesque Moulin de Rambourg watermill is now restored and open to visitors upstairs and down for guided tours (in July and August, Tues-Sun afternoons).

 

The swirling waters of the Yon at l'Aubonnière.

Another quaint aspect of the area is a guinguette, or open-air bar, where on weekend afternoons in summer (April to Sept)  you can sip your drink to the sounds of live accordion music (the accordionist likes to be challenged to dredge half-forgotten music-hall songs from his vast repertoire!) and the gurgling of the river Yon far beneath. And in the evening there is dancing under the stars.
Approach the Guinguette de Piquet from the road on the Le Tablier side of the river.

 

 

 

LE POIRÉ SUR VIE

Moulin à Elise watermill. Photograph
from the mill's
web page

 

 

Inland, north of Aizenay, at the picturesque little town of Le Poiré-sur-Vie, you'll find the MOULIN À ELISE. Its informative web page tells the story of this pretty watermill dating from 1867, restored in 1991, which in summer doubles as Le Poiré's tourist office. A series of leaflets produced by the Association du Moulin à Elise, available at the mill, gives fascinating detail not only about this particular building, but about the origins of milling in general, and recounting how 50 wind-and water-mills used to grind flour throughout just this one commune. Some 40 years after the mill was built, a steam engine, later replaced by gas power, was installed to keep the wheel turning in summer when the river Ruth failed to provide sufficient water. The Moulin à Elise ceased commercial activity in 1954.

 

 

A guided tour ensures you understand every aspect of the mill's operation, with models and diagrams to explain some of the finer points. One of the present millers creates weather-vanes in his spare time (one of his creations adorns the roof of the mill). If arriving from the south, you'll easily spot the huge millpond on the left - turn down here (it's a tight turn, don't go into the water!).
Mill open 1 April-30 June & 1 September-31 October, Sun and public holidays 3-7pm; 1 July-31 August, Fri, Sat and public holidays (July 14 & August 15) 3-7pm. Tel: 02 51 31 61 38 (out of season 02 51 31 80 14).
The Moulin à Elise web page (click on Guide from Sommaire) gives details of several other privately-owned watermills that are not open to the public. 

Footpaths near Le Poiré-sur-Vie.

Some interesting footpaths radiate from Le Poiré, and the Moulin à Elise site hosts some popular local events such as the Foire à la Mogette, on 14 August each year (the mogette, or white haricot bean, is a staple part of the Vendée diet), and the Fete du Blé Noir (buckwheat festival) in the autumn, as well as an annual summer open-air film screening. There's also a good little restaurant/ crêperie.

 

  

 

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