With so much on offer, it’s a wonder the departments of Vendée and Charente aren’t bursting with tourists throughout the year. With Paris not too far off (so travel and a day trip to the City of Light are a breeze) you can still experience the quaint rhythm of the French countryside – especially if you’re thinking of staying in one of our French Chateaux closeby. To tempt you to visit and give you some inspiration, we’ve put together this handy Vendée & Charente Travel Guide so you can make the most of your trip.
Neighbouring Vendée and Charente-Maritime share one key feature: the Atlantic. This sunny patch of France is prime beach territory. If you stay anywhere near the seductive shoreline, deciding what to do won’t be difficult; its ample coastline is virtually all beach and days are almost inevitably spent on the sand. The dilemma is, which beach? Vendée and Charente have all kinds of options, from powder-soft Blue-Flag specimens to blustery surf strands to rocky inlets – all interspersed by attractive port towns, chic seaside resorts and dinky harbour villages. Though few tourists venture beyond the beach, those that do will be amply rewarded. Behind the coast is an area of great variety, which encompasses lush marshland – criss-crossed by an extensive network of canals and waterways – as well as riverside towns and a stretch of the famous church-lined pilgrims’ route, the Way of St. James.
- La Rochelle – Climb to the top of the imposing towers for glorious harbour views.
- Ile de Ré – Pedal along the rural cycle paths of this popular holiday island.
- Fort Boyard – Circle this island fortress by boat.
- Abbey of Maillezais – Discover the romantic ruins of this 11th-century abbey.
- Germanicus Arch – Marvel at this mighty Roman monument.
- Chateau de Talmont – Saint-Hilaire – Play medieval games among the castle ruins
When to Visit?
When it comes to sunshine and clear skies, the Vendée and Charente have just as copious amounts as the Mediterranean Côte d’Azur. The sea also benefits from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.
Sunshine measures in at more than 2,200 hours a year, making this one of France’s sunniest regions. To give you an idea of context, it’s worth noting that the UK’s annual sunshine count normally comes in somewhere between 1,400 and 1,500.
Peak summer (between June and August) is the driest time of the year. Temperatures tendto hover around the comfortable mid-20s (Celsius) mark, occasionally hitting the 30s during a heatwave. All in all though, it’s rare that you’ll have to endure any heat that might be classed as uncomfortable. This period is also the busiest tourist-wise, but with so many beaches to choose from, you won’t have a problem finding your own little patch of paradise. Late spring and early autumn offer a chance to experience summer weather without the summer crowds.
Winters in Vendée and Charente are chilly, but the warming currents of the Gulf Stream keep things mild around the coast so you’ll have to head inland for scarf-and-hat weather. When dusted in snow, the inland parts of Vendée and Charente are nothing short of magical, and ideal for a winter escape.
- Airport: You can easily fly to Vendée & Charente. They have three close by airports Nantes Atlantique Airport, Poitiers Airport and La Rochelle Airport who have direct flights from the UK.
- Public Transport: The larger towns and cities such as La Roche-sur-Yon, Les Sables d’Olonne and La Rochelle, are served by trains (see here for timetables), while regional bus companies such as Sovetours and Impulsyon also carry passengers around Vendée and Charente. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that public transport services are limited and most of the time, you’ll have to be willing to use bikes, taxis or your own two feet as an add-on to the trains and buses.
- By Bike: Cycling is one of the best ways to explore here. Both regions have an extensive network of bike lanes. A particular highlight is the La Vélodyssée route, which runs along the Atlantic coast from Noirmoutier island all the way down to Royan and beyond into Aquitaine. The bike paths are generally safe and well signposted making them suitable for inexperienced groups and families.
- Hiring a carCompanies like Europcar and Avis offer rentals direct from regional airports, including Nantes Atlantique Airport, Poitiers Airport and La Rochelle Airport.
- The Passage du Gois causeway connects the mainland to the island of Noirmoutier, but it isn’t always visible. In fact, it can only be seen and traversed at low tide twice a day. If you find yourself stranded mid-way, find refuge in the safety towers where you can wait for the tide to shift and the road to emerge from the water once more.
- At just 10 kilometres in length and four kilometres wide, the Atlantic island of Ile d’Yeu proves that the best things really do come in small packages. It’s great for biking and hiking and its blissful beaches are a life-affirming vision.
- The picturesque oyster port of Port du Bec is affectionately known as the Chinese port, thanks to its scrawny wooden jetties (which resemble bamboo). Watch boats hauling in oysters as you shuck the fresh-from-the-sea bivalves at a nearby port bar.
- Maison des Libellules casts a spotlight on a small yet beautiful creature common to the region: dragonflies. These aerodynamic and agile insects can be seen flitting about their natural habitat at the centre’s tranquil gardens.The humble cave dwellings (known as troglodyte homes) at Meschers-sur-Gironde provide an interesting alternative for those who are tired of the opulence of the region’s over-the-top chateaux. The history of these much-less-lavish-though-no-less-striking habitations is fascinating, and the views out over the Gironde Estuary might cause you to question why the French nobility didn’t just shack up here.
Families won’t be able to complain about lack of things to do in Vendée and Charente – the choices are endless. If you’re not sure where to start, head to the beach for a taste of coastal living. The magnificently wide stretches of sand provide ample space for your cherubs to enjoy some bucket-and-spade fun. They’re also the setting for more active outdoor pursuits, such as surfing, catamaran sailing, sand-yachting, kite flying and snorkelling.If you can drag the family away from the ocean’s edge, you’ll find plenty of on-land fun too.
Cycling and rambling trails lace the interior, while adventure parks, museums, aquariums and zoos provide even more child-friendly entertainment. Little ones can also run on the ramparts of the region’s many medieval castles and search for wildlife in the wetlands. Although they probably won’t appreciate the quiet beauty of a landscape where the only sounds that can be heard are the breeze rustling the marshes and the birds’ singsong, the adults certainly will.In need of a little family holiday inspiration? These child-friendly activities in Vendée and Charente will help you plan your perfect trip.
The Best Family-Friendly Activities in Vendée and Charente
- Vendée and Charente both have a vibrant historical past, and it’s presented in the kind of way that’ll have kids enthralled as history is brought to life before their eyes. This is definitely a step up from tramping around some crumbling ruins!
- Puy du Fou is a must for all would-be medieval adventurers. With a literal cast of thousands, this theme park recreates everything from spectacular battles to village crafts, with falconry and even a relaxing garden for a bit of down time.
- Or you could go even further back and visit Paléosite, where the whole family can get a little better acquainted to their Neanderthal ancestors. on;t forget to try the spear throwing!
- For something a bit less educational but a lot of good exercise, there’s a number of treetop adventure parks in Vendée and Charente that are sure to tire the kids right out just before bedtime (and then you can open the wine).
- Indian Forest Atlantique offers rope bridges, zip lines and other treetop adventures, and there’s even BMX bikes and skis to tackle.
- If your kids are avid readers, they’ll love the Musée de la Bande Dessinée in Angoulême. It’s a museum dedicated entirely to comics, and they can even get arty and produce a comic of their very own.
If these look like fun , wait till you read our best family friendly activities in Vendée & Charente.
Best Family Cycling Routes in Vendée and Charente
- The Voie Verte, or “Green Routes” stretch across Vendée and Charente and provide some great cycling for all ages – for something easy, try the one that runs down the banks of the Charente towards Soubide – a very manageable 5km.
- Another Voie Verte runs from Chevanceaux to Clérac through some beautiful terrain. At 15km, it’s perhaps one for older kids.
- You can also follow the path of the Charente from Vieille Forme through Rochefort for some wonderful waterside views.
For groups in search of the perfect sun, sea and sand destination, look no further: Vendée and Charente are the answer. Its wide, unrelenting stretch of coastline is the place to go for unadulterated beach bliss, while the sun-drenched islands that dot the Atlantic shoreline make excellent day trip destinations. But your group holiday doesn’t have to be all lolling and lazing about, there are opportunities to get active as well, with almost every conceivable water sport on offer and scenic cycling trails too.
If you tire of all that sand and sea, just head to the countryside where history-soaked fortified towns, Romanesque churches and turreted chateaux punctuate the landscape. Another option for the beach-averse is to get lost among the labyrinthine waterways of Marais Poitevin, also known as Green Venice. The culturally curious, meanwhile, can while away the days at superb festivals and museums.
Whether you are planning an intimate getaway with close family or a large wedding celebration, we’ve found some experiences that will stay emblazoned in memory long after you’ve all returned home.
Adrenaline-Fuelled Activities in Vendée & Charente
- Both Vendée and Charente are home to a lot of beautiful waterways, and there’s no better way to enjoy the countryside than by tackling them any way you wish – from kayaking to boating or maybe even just a spot of fishing.
- Les Bateaux Rouges gives you the experience of helming your own boat down the river Charente.
- But it isn’t just inland water that promises a challenge. There’s some beautiful coastline to be explored too, where you can indulge in any number (and intensity) of watersports.
- Or you could stick to the beach and try sand yachting with Char a Voile – these three wheeled, wind-powered land boats can get pretty speedy, but you’ll be in the safe hands of an instructor all the way.
If you are looking for additional activities like this, check out our post on the best things to do in Vendée & Charente.
More Laid Back Activities in Vendée and Charente
- There’s no better way to see Vendée and Charente than on two wheels, and grabbing your bike means you can dictate the pace, distance and exactly the right time to stop in somewhere quaint for a croissant and a coffee.
- There’s an abundance of different landscapes in Vendée and Charente to explore, from rugged coasts to hilly plains and expansive wetlands. Great for a hike or a nature trail if the weather’s on your side.
- The wetlands of Marais Poitevin are well worth exploring, and Embarcadère Cardinaud can show you around with a fascinating boat tour.
With coastline for days and more rivers and waterways than you might care to count, it’s no shock that seafood dominates in Vendée and Charente. Fish is the protein of choice and is most commonly served with rich and irresistibly buttery beurre blanc sauce. In Marais Poitevin, eel and frogs’ legs feature heavily, while in the regions around the Charente River estuary, oysters – said to be among the best in world – are cultivated. Mussels are also farmed here in a traditional way using wooden stakes. They are usually eaten in one of two ways: mouclade (with a lightly curried sauce made with white wine, butter, garlic and saffron) or eclade (for this method, the mussels are cooked over a bed of burning pine needles, infusing them with a smoky pine flavour). If you’re finding it difficult to decide what you want, try the fruits de mer platter, which usually features a selection of shellfish and, if you’re lucky, urchin roe – a treasured delicacy in these parts.
Vendée is also famous for the free-range Challans poultry and in particular the meat from the black-feathered poulet noir, as well as samphire, sweet brioche and mogettes, a type of small, melt-in-the-mouth white bean often served atop garlic buttered bread. Drinks-wise, the undiscovered wines of these regions are eminently quaffable and much better value than those of Bordeaux or Burgundy. Plus, it’s just a short journey inland to the Cognac vineyards where the famous grape-based spirit is distilled.
To help you get acquainted with the local cuisine, we’ve put together a list of top restaurants and tantalising food and drink experiences.
The Best Restaurants in Vendée & Charente
- Fish and chips might not seem like the most exotic choice while you’re enjoying the continental splendour of Vendée and Charente, but head to La Roulotte in Les Sables-d’Olonne to enjoy it done properly – out of a van by the quay.
- For a more formal French dining experience, Bistro Yonnais is found in the delightful ton of La Roche-sur-Yon, and serves up all the classics in an easy-going bistro environment.
- To up the ante of your culinary experience, try Restaurant Thierry Drapeau in Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon. It’s got a whopping two Michelin stars, and the good news for families is that kids are welcome and well catered for.
- Les Flots in La Rochelle boasts a stunning location in the ancient port and, naturally enough, serves a tempting array of incredibly fresh seafood.
For more delectable inspiration, take a look our the best foodie experiences in Vendée & Charente.
Must Try Dishes and Drinks from Vendée and Charente
- If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll be in heaven. You’ll find fish everywhere (especially as you get nearer the coast) but keep an eye out for mussels from L’Aiguillon, sardines from St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and oysters from the Bay of Bourgneuf.
- Farci Poitevin is a delicious, light pate made from vegetables and meat trimmings, and makes a great starter with a lighter white wine.
- Tourteau Fromagé is a sort of cheesecake with a burnt top – not all that well known, but grab a slice if you see some.
- And of course, it wouldn’t be a visit without trying what’s easily the region’s most famousrink – Cognac.
Best Foodie Experiences in Vendée and Charente
- For a French cookery experience with a difference, why not try your hand at something a little spicy at Chez Cartier in Condéon? Chef Reza Mahammad will teach you the in and outs of Indian cookery, and you’ll end up with a delicious three-course meal to enjoy.
- Fancy a wine-tasting trip? Domaine Saint-Nicolas is one of the best known (and well respected) wineries in the area, and it’s well worth taking a trip round their vineyards and picking yourself up a bottle or two of their organic vintages.
- And make sure you don’t miss out on trying the Charente’s most prized export – Cognac. There are plenty of distilleries in the region, but Camus in the city of Cognac itself offers an informative tour and, of course, a little tasting session too.