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Things to do in the Vendee

Extending out to the nearby La Rochelle and Il de Ré

The Vendée and the surrounding region offer a wide selection of things to do, activities and places to visit. From the magnificent Puy du Fou (voed best theme park in the world in 2013) to challenging adventure parks. There are zoos and aquariums for the lover of the natural world; uncrowded acres of forests, lakes and national parks provide tranquility and space to breathe. The beautiful renaissance towns, nearby chateaux and abbeys stand as witness to the vibrant history of the area. Those of a more energetic nature will find miles of cycle paths and well-marked walks as well as  golf clubs, horse riding and local tennis courts. The Vendée really does offer something for all the family.

Puy Du Fou

We have split this section up into the following categories.  Click on the link to go to the category directly:



The theme park at the Puy du Fou is one of the most visited attractions in France.  Located in the North of the Vendée about 45 minutes drive away from the gîtes, the Puy du Fou is a “must-see” for anyone visiting the region. It was voted the best theme park in the world in 2013 by the industry itself. As a non-profit making association, the Puy du Fou also represents staggeringly good value for money.


Themed around a dramatisation of the (surprisingly frisky) history and mythology of the Vendée, the Puy du Fou is essentially presented in two parts: a daytime display in Le Grand Parc de Puy du Fou and (only 28 times a year) and evening performance called Cinéscénie.


Note that the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou is often much busier on days when the Cinéscénie is performed.


English language commentaries for most of the shows are available from the kiosk at the entrance to the park. For non-French speakers these will add a great deal to the day out. The shows are all highly visual and are suitable for all the family, though we suggest that very young children are not seated right at the front as the special effects can come as something of a surprise.


Le Grand Parc


Booking your tickets in advance using the link to the right will give you a discount on the published prices.


Divided into fixed exhibits and live shows, the Grand Parc is open every day in July and August, though the season runs from April to September.  See the Puy du Fou website for full opening hours and tarifs.  


The principal shows in the Grand Parc du Puy du Fou are


The Triumph’s Sign – set in 300AD and staged in a Roman stadium that seats 5000, Ten Gaulish prisoners are condemned to death by their Roman masters. Unless, that is, they can triumph in the Games.   Chariot races, gladiatorial combat, wild beasts, the lot!


The Vikings – Vikings attack from the sea and lay waste to a peaceful 10th Century village with fire and sword. But things don’t go entirely their way.

The Dance of the Phantom Birds – Based on local myths, this is a startling display of falconry set in the ruins of an abandoned castle. Hundreds of birds are involved, including hawks, falcons, eagles and even vultures.

The Secret of the Lance – Set during the course of the Hundred Years’ War, a young woman must discover the hidden powers of a lance to save the day. This show particularly features some stunning horsemanship.

Richelieu’s Musketeer – The only major show held inside, this is performed on one of the world’s largest stages inside an enormous replica of an 18th Century theatre. Set in the 17th Century, the show features dance, dressage and a lot of sword play.

The Park and the Smaller Shows

Medieval villages, Victorian towns, forest paths, and fountains – the park is immaculately kept, the staff helpful and the whole place runs with good-humoured efficiency. The many small shows (which include a highly amusing magic show and some barking mad minstrels) could probably occupy a day on their own.


La Cinéscénie


A night time show on the biggest stage – 23,000 square meters odd - in the world.  


This history of the Vendée is enacted by a cast of 1200 and includes cutting edge special effects, stunning equestrian skills, stunts and masses of sword play.  The show lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes and must be reserved in advance.  


A word of warning: because it can be performed only in darkness, the show finishes very late (about 1am).  Seats are up high so take some warm clothes even in summer.  


Mervent Forest

One of a series of forested granite hills (or massif forestiers) that border the marais. Only 15 minutes drive away from your holiday gite, the forest of Mervent provides over 12000 acres of mixed woodland, with over thirty varieties of tree, including holm oaks (a Mediterranean species that does very well in the warm climate of the Vendée), penduculate oaks, ash, hornbeam, beech and chestnut.

The historic village of Vouvant, noted as one of the most beautiful villages in France (the only village in the Vendée with this label) is just to the North of the forest. It is without question a very attractive village with bars, one or two nice looking restaurants and lots (eleven at our last count) of art galleries selling work by local and other artists.

The Parc de Pierre Brune is a fun old fashioned amusement parc in the centre of the forest.  Opinion is somewhat divided as to the merits of the Parc de Pierre Brune. Some people have been slightly put off by the tired aspect of the park, but many have found the rather old-fashioned approach to entertainment very refreshing. Our own children love the combination of archaic play equipment (giant swings, high-hats, slides, etc), trampolines in all shapes and sizes, and bouncy castles.

 


The lake at Mervent is actually a reservoir formed by a dam – Le Barrage de Mervent.  The lake is a popular spot for local fishermen.  Boats can be taken out onto the lake – canoes, kayaks and electric motor boats can be rented from the local water sports centre.  Life jackets are provided and the contract and explanation are in English.

 


Natur’Zoo de Mervent


There is a small, well managed zoo just outside of Mervent which provides a very nice afternoon out. The range of wildlife on display is surprising for a small zoo: lions, tigers, bears, wolves, monkeys, lemurs and more. Popcorn is sold at the reception and is particularly appreciated by the residents of the “petting zoo.”  

La Venise Verte

The marais poitevin – the Poitou Marshes are divided into two parts: the “dry marsh” and the “wet marsh.” The wet marsh is also known as Venise Verte – Green Venice.     Boating in Veinise Vert is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  The three “centres” of Green Venice are at Damvix in the Vendée and at Arçais & Coulon just over the boarder in the Deux Serves.


Both Arçais and Coulon can get extremely busy on warm weekends anytime in the year and all week during the height of summer.  Damvix is a smaller town (more of a village really) and is generally far quieter. It is also – in our opinion – the nicest of the three.


Damvix has a number of excellent restaurants including a very good one serving pizzas, crêpes and salads, built in a former school with a play area, called La Récré.



Fontenay le Comte

The small Renaissance city of Fontenay-le-Comte lies between the marais poitevin and the forest of Mervent and is only 10 minutes drive away from your gite. Noted for its architectural heritage and particularly relaxed way of life, the town has nonetheless borne witness to both the brutality of civil war and to the heights of science & culture.


During the Renaissance, the city was home to the great Rabelais and the mathematician Viète, amongst others. Later, in 1793 (after the revolution in 1789), Fontenay was one of the seats of rebellion that led to the bloody Vendéen wars. The slaughter that followed still marks the collective consciousness of the Vendée more than two centuries later.

Today, Fontenay offers a wide range of cultural activities (museums, cinemas, a theatre and a new arts centre), a wide range of shopping, an excellent selection of restaurants and a superb Saturday market.

Parcabout


The Donjon de Cîmes, ancient fortress of Fontenay le Comte, is now home to an aerial playground called Parcabout.  A number of close-mesh nets (similar to trapeze artists’ safety nets only much larger) have been slung at different levels amongst the trees over which children and adults can scramble and cavort to their heart’s content.


Parcabout is well shaded and is therefore a good option on sunny days.


The main part of the complex is suitable for children aged 4 and up to adult; there is a separate section for younger children.


Adjacent to the Parcabout is a café with an outdoor terrace and a picnic area which has good views over the town.


Chateaux and Abbeys

The fascinating (and often somewhat lively) history of the Vendée has left the region with many important abbeys and châteaux. Two of the most important châteaux are the Château de la Guignardière and Château Tiffaugues, both of which are well suited to family days out.

Château Tiffaugues was built over a period ranging from the 12th to the 16th century. It was home to one Giles de Rias (1404 - 1440), also known as "Blue Beard" he was made Marshal of France under Charles VII for his exploits against the English during the Hundred Years War and was comrade-in-arms of Joan d'Arc. After the death of Joan, he returned to Tiffauges and developed an unhealthy obsession with alchemy. He came to believe that the key to transmuting base metals into gold lay in the blood of innocents and is reputed to have kidnapped & murdered some 200 local children....


The château has an extensive collection of engines of war (such as trebuchet), many in complete working order and whose operation is demonstrated throughout the day.

Château de la Guignardière (now known as Château des Aventuriers) was started far later than Château Tiffaugues in around 1550. Although never actually completed, it remains one of the finest examples of renaissance architecture in western France. This is all well and good – and the Château itself is very much worth a visit – but what really makes the Château de la Guignardière a great family day out is the “Adventure Trails” laid out in the grounds.


These take the form of pirate-themed treasure hunts where children and adults must follow clues, solve puzzles and complete tasks to gain answers that lead to a trophy. The trails take about an hour and a half to complete. One is specially laid out for 3-7 year olds; the other is set up for 3 years to adult. A tour of the château itself takes about an hour. The grounds are very attractive and there is a dedicated, shady, picnic area.

The Abbeys of Maillezais and Nieul-sur-l’Autize


The great cathedral abbey of St Peter at Maillezais (above left) (about 8km from Fontenay) is regarded as being the historic centre of the marais. Founded in the 10th century, it is now a ruin, but the grandeur of the building is evident. Boats for touring the marais can be hired here, and the town has a couple of nice-looking restaurants.


Nearby Nieul-sur-l'Autise (birthplace of Eleanor of Aquitaine) is home to the more complete abbey of St Vincent (above right). Both abbeys hold son-et-lumière shows throughout the summer months.


Details of the abbeys and the summer programmes can be found on the website at http://abbayes.vendee.fr/


The abbey at Maillezais also plays host to a very good Christmas market.

La Rochelle and Il de Ré

Located about 40 minutes away, La Rochelle, the capital of Charente Maritime, is superb; an historic and beautiful city.  From the port, busy with yachts and pleasure vessels, to the quays replete with excellent restaurants, and the handsome 17th century city centre with its extensive shopping facilities, there is plenty to occupy visitors.  For children, the large, modern aquarium (certainly the largest in France and said to be the largest in Europe) is not to be missed. Just offshore, the Ille de Ré (reached by bridge from the mainland) has fantastic beaches, cycle ways and picnic spots. Visit the La Rochelle website for more information about the city.

Indian Forest

The Indian Forest adventure playground near Moutiers-les Mauxfaits is set in 5 Acres of ancient Oak forest. Billed as the largest adventure park in France it is claimed you will find something here to suit all ages and abilities, though it comes into its own once children are over about 8 years and is not really suitable for the elderly or infirm.

The park started out as being a high ropes/tree climbing place but has expanded in recent years.  There is a large bouncy castle area (including some water castles for hot days) a whole section based on the TV show Fort Boyard (set on an island off La Rochelle a bit like the old Crystal maze series), nets in the trees, maxi bungy, a really good go-cart downhill course, as well as other attractions such as archery and mini golf.  The two main attractions are the tree top course (16 separate routes through the trees as well as a maxi zip wire) and the new water jump.  

The water jump consists of 13 separate jumps (like a ski jump) which you slide down before being hurled into the water.  You can go down either on your own front or back, or using an inflatable ring, or even on a snow board or BMX bike.  Both are accessible from 5 years old, but 8 year olds have access to more of the courses and jumps.


Tickets for Indian Forest can be booked in advance via their website and we would recommend doing this.

Futuroscope

The other main theme park in the area, this time in the neighbouring department of the Vienne.  This is a theme park based around cinema and new technology.  It has several 3D cinemas and a few 4D cinemas along with other attractions and shows, some of which are the only examples in the world.  We really enjoy a day out here, though it has to be said it is not ideal for toddlers as there are height restrictions on many of the rides.


This is very much a French theme park, English speakers will need to get a translator headset to enjoy the attractions.  


For full details see the Futuroscope website

There are over 20 different shows and attractions.  Our favourite attractions include


Arthur - l'Aventure 4D


Based on the film Arthur et les Minimoys you are shrunk down to miniature size and take a trip on the back of a ladybird.  The seats move along with the 3D film.  Excellent fun, but quite scary.


Danse avec les Robots


Strap yourself into a seat on the end of a robot arm (think car manufacture type robot) whilst it dances to music using moves by one of France's most famous choreographers.  3 levels of difficulty depending it seems on how often and how fast you want to be twirled upside down.  Height restrictions apply.


La Vienne Dynamic


A film in 4D showing the best the department of the Vienne has to offer tourists, seeing the main character jumping out of trains and hurtling through towns in a 2CV.  We missed this film on our first visit as we thought it didn’t sound interesting.  The second visit had everyone, even the kids, voting it the best show of the day.


The Park & Practical Notes


The park itself is well maintained and makes for a pleasant stroll as you go from show to show.  Be warned there is quite a bit of walking involved.  There is a very good play section for children including flying machines, mini cars, climbing frames, and chairs on zip wires.  There is also a fountain area for children to run through which is a favourite of our girls, so we always take swimwear and towels if the weather is good.


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