The Vendeé is an area of western France just north of La Rochelle. It is mostly flat and encompasses some stunning beaches alongside plenty more family-friendly attractions. We had a brilliant week in a large gîte with four other families. We had taken the ferry and driven there but other friends had taken flights to La Rochelle and hired a car. Whichever option you choose I would say that having a car is a must. It allows much more freedom in order to explore the area.
For us, the advantage of driving from home was that we were able to stop off en route for a fab family city break in Paris. Read about our Paris adventures here.
There are lots of things to do in the Vendeé region of France with your family, here are our top picks.
La Venise Verte
‘Green venice’ is a beautiful network of canals between pretty french villages. The canals are surrounded by trees, in some places almost closing in to make a green tunnel, hence the name ‘green’. The main setting off points for exploring the canals are Arcais, Coulon and Damvix. We chose Damvix which is a really pretty village in it’s own right. There is a a nice small park by the river which would be perfect for a picnic. There are a couple of places to hire boats where you can choose either to have a driver or to self drive. We opted to self-drive, which added to the adventure. We were given a map of the waterways with suggested routes and roughly how long each route might take which was really helpful.
There were also various options for the length of time that you could hire the boat for. We chose 1.5 hours which turned out to be just about right. The toddler was starting to get a bit restless in the last ten minutes.
The boat was spacious enough for us all to have plenty of room and as long as nobody moved around too much it never felt likely to tip. The children were all given lifejackets to be safe anyway. When we got off the boat we enjoyed a refreshing ice cream by the side of the river which rounded off the outing perfectly.
Mini travel tribe top tips:
- Make sure you get a map of the waterways if like us you choose to self drive the boat. It was really helpful to keep us on track and gave us ideas of where to go.
- In Damvix there is a small amount of parking available right next to the river, alternatively there is a small free car park a short walk away in the town.
- If you are going to be on the boat for a while, especially with children, make sure you take snacks and drinks. You won’t see anywhere to buy any until you are back at the dock in the town.
The Vendeé, France is famous for its wide sandy beaches. Our gîte was around a 45 minute drive from the coast so we only made the beach once (our children generally prefer the pool). We opted to go to la Tranche sur mer, having been recommended the beach there by the gîte owners. It turned out to be a great choice. It’s a long beach with lots of different places to join it. We didn’t go to the centre of the town but followed a recommendation to drive down Ave de Saints-Anne. This led directly to a small car park right next to the beach. We parked fairly easily (and we were 5 families with a car each!) in the small free car park.
There was one restaurant next to the car park which we went to for lunch and turned out to be a fantastic find. The Au Bout du Monde restaurant was excellent with our large party and I had the best mussels of the holiday there.
Mini travel tribe top tips:
- The beaches of the southern Vendeé tend to be less busy in the summer months than further north.
- The gently sloping beaches are great for younger children playing in the waves. However, this does mean that when the tide is out many of the beaches can be very wide. It may be worth checking tide times for your visit to prevent a long walk to get to the sea.
Vouvant is a beautiful medieval village in the Vendeé area. We had a lovely trip here one day. There is a car park as you enter the village which is a short stroll from a small square. We had a lovely lunch in one of the restaurants here.
From there you can stroll through the winding alleys and through the medieval town walls to the river. Once by the river we found colourful sculptures depicting stories about the history of the town. Even though the narrative was all in french the children enjoyed looking at the sculptures and pictures. Walking along by the river there is a small children’s playground which is always a welcome distraction for the kids! Also by the river was a fitness course including monkey bars which they loved.
Next to the car park there is a tower which we had seen when we arrived. We walked over to it and tried to climb up only to find the door locked. It was confusing to then hear voices and footsteps coming from inside- the children we convinced it was a ghost! We solved the mystery by asking in a local cafe, who pointed us in the direction of the tourist office. You pay a small fee and they give you a key along with a laminated information sheet about the tower.
The children thought it was very exciting to have our own key to the tower. Climbing up the steps and the great views from the top was probably their favourite part of the day!
Mini Travel Tribe top tips:
- If you like art make sure to allow time to browse the are many art galleries in Vouvant selling work by local artists.
- There are a few footpaths by the river which would be lovely to walk if you have more time than we did.
Le Puy de Fou
Le Puy de Fou is one of the most visited attractions in France. It is a theme park like no other! Themed around a dramatisation of the history and mythology of the Vendée and France it is in two parts. A daytime display in Le Grand Parc has both fixed exhibits and live displays. There is also an evening performance called Cinéscénie, performed on the largest stage in the world!
Due to the age of our children we didn’t visit the park as I think they were a bit too young to be able to sit through the displays and appreciate them. However, it is most definitely on my wish list therefore we will definitely be back in the Vendee when the children are a bit older so we can all enjoy it.
If you are interested in going Karen, from Mini Travellers, has a great review of the park here.
Ile de Ré
Although not technically in the Vendeé, Ile de Ré was less than an hour from our gîte and was one of the highlights of our trip. It is an island just off the coast of La Rochelle which does get very busy in the summer. There is a bridge connecting the island with the mainland which we drove over after paying the toll.
The island is full of bike paths and being almost completely flat it is perfect for cycling. We drove to le Bois-Plage-en-Ré following a recommendation from our gîte owner. This was a lovely small town which has a nice beach with playground next to it.
It was very busy so parking was not easy. However we did manage to find a space and then realised that it was market day. Next to the market was a small fairground which the children enjoyed on the way back to the car in the afternoon.
There are plenty of bike hire shops and even on a busy day in August we managed to get bikes without prior booking. M was very disappointed that nowhere had a bike small enough for her little legs. If you are there with keen smaller cyclists it is probably worth bringing your own bikes or calling ahead to the cycle shops to check what they have available. We ended up with a child bike for C and a trailer for the two smallest. We got a map of the bike paths on the island from the bike shop too which was really handy. It probably worked out for the best that M didn’t have her own bike, it meant we could cycle a bit further and she ended up asleep in the trailer anyway!
We all really enjoyed our bike ride. It was an easy 2-3km ride across the island to Saint-Martin-de-Ré. There is a lovely little marina in Saint-Martin full of seafood restaurants. Even though it was pretty busy we had a nice lunch overlooking the marina to refuel.
After lunch and strolling through the small town we were back on the bikes to cycle back to Le Bois-Plage. We took a slightly longer route back cycling along the coast before turning back inland to cut across the island again. With only one day we only sampled a small section of Ile de Ré. We definitely will be back at some point with our own bikes to explore further.
Mini Travel Tribe Top Tips:
- If travelling in high season try to arrive early to avoid the traffic and get the best parking spots.
- Call ahead to hire bikes if you have specific requirements e.g. child seats etc. to ensure that you get exactly what you need.