Summer on the beach: The Vendée

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Kate Simon travels to the west coast of France for the first in a new series of mini-guides to favourite summer hotspots

A queue is forming at the stall by the gate of Camping La Plage. Clutching baguettes for breakfast, these eager shoppers are already stocking up for tonight's dinner.

In Britain, you'd be unlikely to find anything more exotic than Mr Whippy at the entrance to a campsite, but we're in the Vendée on the west coast of France, and the stallholder is doing a brisk trade in mussels and oysters.

Late risers who miss the stallholder (her business is done by lunchtime) can drop by one of the area's ubiquitous U supermarkets, where a great pile of local mussels is a feature of the fish department and shoppers are supplied with a trowel to scoop the black pearls into bags – no vacuum-packed half-portion for the French. This coast thrives on seafood and though we're in the euro zone, it's an affordable nightly campfire treat.

But there are better things to do in the Vendée than shop for tea. Like going to the beach, the reason why most visitors, many from Britain, head for this popular bucket-and-spade coast every summer. The Vendée has more than 90 miles of sandy beaches – a fair number of which have been awarded the cleanliness accolade of Blue Flag status – as well as plenty of coves for rock-pooling.

And sunny days are almost guaranteed, if you believe the locals, who claim the climate here is more blessed than the Côte d'Azur. The sea certainly benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream, and it's less of a schlep than the Med, being just a few hours' drive from the northern ferry ports.

Like many campsites along this stretch of coast, our nearest beach is just across the road. Beyond a screen of maritime pines and over the grassy dunes lies a broad sweep of golden sand where the breeze licks the sea into waves perfect for jumping. If our son were a little younger, we could probably spend the whole holiday here without venturing any further. Indeed, he'd be happy to spend the week playing football on the campsite with his newly made amis. But, as is the way of parents, we drag him out to explore the area.

The beaches

You could spend your holiday touring the beaches just by bicycle, thanks to a family-friendly network of cycle routes running all the way from Noirmoutier to Bourgenay. Wind-driven sports are naturally popular in these blustery parts and you'll find plenty of opportunities to go sailing, windsurfing and sand-yachting. You'd be hard pushed to find a poor beach on the Vendée coast, but for the very best check out for a full list.

The islands

You must cross a bridge to reach the island of Noirmoutier, unless you dodge the tide and cross the causeway – the Passage du Gois – during the couple of hours each day when it is passable. Famed for its oysters, potatoes and salt, it has plenty to recommend it as a holiday destination – a landscape of quaint whitewashed houses with blue shutters and red roofs, pine and oak forests, salt marshes and dune-backed beaches.

Take the boat from St Gilles Croix-de-Vie to the tiny island of Île d'Yeu, 12 miles offshore, a popular day trip. Just four miles by three, it is best seen by bicycle, which you can hire in Port-Joinville. Obligatory photo opportunities include the prehistoric menhirs and dolmens, the Vieux Château, Port de la Meule, and the final resting place of the infamous Second World War Vichy leader Marshal Pétain (his grave faces the opposite way to the others in the cemetery). For the best beach, head to Plage des Vieilles.

The resorts

At lively Saint Jean de Monts, families will find activities to tire out the kids at Plage des Demoiselles and the nearby Atlantic Toboggan, one of several local theme parks.

Pretty Saint Gilles Croix-de-Vie is part working port, part tourist haunt and has some attractive villas dating from the Belle Époque. Follow the Corniche Vendéenne either to or from the town to see the precarious rock stacks, the Cinq Pineaux. Peer through a huge hole in a rock bearing the sinister name the Trou du Diable. Make your way down to the shore to discover a natural "swimming pool", regularly filled with water by the obliging tide.

The most fashionable resort on the Vendée coast remains Les Sables d'Olonne, popularised in the 19th century by the new breed of aristocratic tourists who came for its thermal baths and casino. It's still appreciated for its sybaritic pleasures by today's yachting crowd. When the sun is high, the place buzzes and the arc of sand below the promenade barely offers room to spread out a hand towel.

Further south at Talmont-St-Hilaire, the ruins of the 11th-century castle offer lots of secret passages to explore, with costumed guides on hand to introduce visitors to medieval pastimes, including jousting. In high summer, special evening events are laid on – Les Nuits de Richard Coeur de Lion – when the castle is brought to life with audio-visual spectaculars.

A day off the beach

Tour the northern marshlands of the Marais Breton. Apart from the long, low bourrines – traditional cottages thatched with reeds – and the sight of storks nesting on posts in the surrounding fields, this is a place where the views are less rewarding than exploration of the local history. Challans is the main town on the marsh and home to some intriguing scenes of local life in Cubist-style sculpted friezes by the local 20th-century artists Joel and Jan Martel. This is also the setting of Autrefois Challans, held on four Thursdays in July and August, where locals turn out in period costume. You can find out more about marsh life at the Ecomusée du Marais Breton Vendéen, near Beauvoir-sur-Mer. Or visit the restored village of Sallertaine to see traditional craftspeople at work, ride in a yole – an old marsh boat – and see inside a bourrine.

Compact facts

How to get there

Kate Simon travelled from Portsmouth to Caen with Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400; brittany, which offers return fares from £126 for two passengers with a car. A week at Camping La Plage costs from £164 with Venue Holidays (01233 629950; Portsmouth Marriott (02392 383 151; offers double rooms from £88 per night. Vendée Tourist Board (

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments