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
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
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
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition