The Vendee: Beaches, bikes and blue skies in west France

Pedal power is big business in the Vendee. The region in mid-west France will become the focus of the cycling world in July when it hosts Le Grand Depart – the start of the Tour de France.

For the amateur enthusiast or total novice, the family-friendly flat landscape has been enhanced with hundreds of miles of cycle paths and tracks to explore the forests and dunes along the coastline as well as the countryside inland.

If, like us, you travelled by ferry, bringing your own bikes is a brilliant idea. You will get plenty of use out of them. There are also numerous places to hire with prices start from a couple of euros for an hour.

Our family favourite is a four-wheeler affair – for the princely sum of 14 euros we spent several happy hours pedalling along the promenade at St-Jean-de-Monts with the kids relaxing in the front and us parents discovering thigh muscles we never knew we had!

The Vendee is fantastic family destination – real outdoor paradise mix of sandy beaches and inland activities.

Breezes off the Atlantic stops the heat becoming stifling in high summer and for those with younger children, it is definitely more civilised than the intense temperatures of the south of France or Spain.

St-Jean-de-Monts
On four wheels at St-Jean-de-Monts

Some 200km of beaches, separated from the roads and campsites by dunes and woods giving them a secluded feel, is peppered with quiet resorts and towns giving a uncrowded, relaxed vibe.

The majority of visitors to the coastal Vendee stay in holiday parks and, oddly in such an unspoilt part of the world, they all seem to have pool complexes with water slides towering out of the surrounding pine trees, which can make it hard to tear the little ones away to explore.

The Vendee is fantastic family destination – real outdoor paradise mix of sandy beaches and inland activities.

We are staying at the Les Ecureuils campsite, between the coastal towns of St-Jean-de-Monts and St Hilaire-de-Riez.

It is about a three-hour drive from St Malo in the north, and a little longer from Caen and a few minutes’ walk from La Pége beach.

The beach at St-Jean-de-Monts

This is the Atlantic so excellent for bodyboarding and surfing. The beach at St-Jean-de-Monts is wide and flat, and less wild than those further south, where the waves can crash onto the shore.

It can get gusty, so a windbreak might be a good investment, but is generally safe for children as the beaches gently slope into the sea.

Enjoy the space. Even during August you are unlikely to have to have to fight for a good space to break out the family boule set before hopping back on your bike to pick up a baguette on the way home. Beach, bike, brilliant.

If you fancy exploring the area a little further afield, here are a couple of suggestions:

Puy du Fou

Puy du Fou is France’s second most-visited theme park (after Disneyland Paris) and is a bonkers gallop through French and European history – sometimes legend – with indoor and ourdoor theatres that hold thousands of people.

Le Signe du Triomphe stages a chariot race and battles to death between Gauls and Romans in the enormous replica amphitheatre, with audible gasps as fake blood spurts and tigers and lions prowl the arena.

Other shows include the Three Musketeers (beautiful horses and flamenco women dance across a flooded stage) and Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes where hundreds of birds of prey are released from a balloon high above the park in a mesmeric dance in the sky.

The finale – where the birds fly in and out of the audience – includes a man in a microlight leading a flock of geese through the air.

Bonkers!

Le Signe du Triomphe at Puy du Fou
Le Signe du Triomphe at Puy du Fou

 

Le Chateau de Commequiers

Surrounded by a moat, Le Chateau de Commequiers dates back to the 15th Century but like most castles in the Vendee region was demolished on the orders of Cardinal Richelieu.

It is free to wander around the grounds and let the ruins spark images past battles in the imagination, with grassy expanses perfect for picnics and woodland areas dotted with play equipment and a zip wire to let off steam.

Sadly you can’t get across the moat and onto the island, but throughout the summer the castle holds medieval shows and spectacular events complete with knights and jousting contests.

Le Chateau de Commequiers
Le Chateau de Commequiers

Velo Rail

It is time to put those recently honed cycle muscles to the test again! A real family favourite – near Commequiers for a combined day out – the Velo Rail is a large bike that is pedalled along the old railway lines.

While two people pedal, everyone else can put their feet up and take in a couple of kilometres of picturesque forests, rivers and viaducts, before returning to the station where there are picnic tables waiting so you can refuel.

But, be warned, the Velo Rail is extremely popular so needs to be booked as the carts go out in convoy at set times.

The Vendee – facts and figures

Paul’s family holiday in the Vendee was provided by Eurocamp and Brittany Ferries.

A seven-night stay in a two-bed holiday home at Les Ecureuils starts at £145 in May 2018, rising to £1,200 in August. A ferry can be added when booking.

Puy du Fou is about an hour south of Nantes, near the town of Les Herbiers, and is open from May to November. Day tickets for 2018 start at 35 euros for adults and 25 euros for children up to 15; children under five are free.

 

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