Watermills and windmills are a distinctive feature of the Vendee’s plains and fens, reflecting a traditional way of life long past.
Some windmills are still in working order, such as the eighteenth century Le Petit Moulin, near Chateauneuf which is built on the site of an even older sixteenth century wooden mill.
Take a tour to see how the flour is made. Various types of flour are for sale and you can sample the produce in the mill’s creperie, which also has a bar and souvenirs. Tel (00 33) 2 51 49 31 07
If you visit the pretty marshland village of Sallertaine look for the nearby Moulin de Raire, a sixteenth century working stone-built tower mill with slatted wooden sails. These sails were invented in the mid nineteenth century and proved much easier for the miller to control than traditional canvas sails which could be dangerous in high winds. A guided tour will explain how the mill works and there are lovely views across the marshes. Bar and organic flour sales on-site.
The Moulin des Gourmands in St Reverend near St Gilles was working from 1842 to 1930. There are guided tours showing how it was restored in 1997. Tues - Sun from the beginning of July to end of August 1000 - 1200 and 1500 - 1900. Tel: (00 33) 2 51 60 16 72
The 3 windmills at La Gueriniere on Noirmoutier are now privately owned and not in working order but there are others on the island where flour is still for sale.
Approximately 1 hour from Nantes, Angers and Les Sables-d’Olonne, the Grand Parc du Fou reproduces eras and events from history and is a very popular attraction for tourists. During the day, visitors can see reconstructions of a Gallo-Roman amphitheatre with chariot-racing, a fortress from the year 1000 complete with pillaging Vikings, a siege of a medieval castle and the more sedate eighteenth century village. Musketeers, birds of prey, a market town during the 1900s and the Puy du Fou Forest enable visitors of all ages to enjoy the variety of entertainment on offer.
The Park is open from 1000 to 1900 from April to September annually. At night, there is a cinescenie show involving 1000 actors and music featuring equestrian displays and ballet. Late opening selected summer nights – see park’s website for details www.puydufou.com
Built in about 1555 for Jean Girard in the reign of Henry II, this Renaissance castle provides guided visits, plays, puzzles and 86 hectares of parkland containing centenary trees, a large pond dug and paved in the eighteenth century, a Neolithic site, an orangery, and birds and animals (ducks, swans, geese, peacocks, horses and ponies).
Open April to June (1100 to 1800), June to August (1000 to 1900), 1 to 26 September (1100 to 1800). For more information, contact the Chateau de La Guignardiere, 85440 Avrille or tel: (00 33) 2 51 22 33 06.
The zoo at Sables-d’Olonne, located at Lake du Tanchet a short walk from the sea, is a great place for families to enjoy wild animals at close range in natural surroundings, from lions, tigers and jaguars to monkeys, penguins and even red pandas.
The zoo participates in breeding programmes involving endangered species and is currently involved in over 40 conservation projects in various parts of the world. Open all day April – September, afternoons February – early April and October, closed other months. See the website or tel: (00 33) 2 51 95 14 10.
Test your rhythm and balance amongst the trees at the Indian Forest near Tranche-sur-Mer which has a variety of aerial routes for children, juniors and adults. Glide down over 2km of cables tyrolean-style; enjoy night ‘surfing’ amongst the green waves. There are games with inflatables for 3 to 11 year olds in Kid Land and air games for adults. See website for times and tariffs www.Indian-forest-atlantique.com
The 140km of Vendee’s fine sandy Atlantic beaches, stretching from Brittany to the Cote d’Argent, has brilliant light and sunshine hours to rival the south of France making the coast an ideal venue for watersports enthusiasts.
‘La Cote des Fleurs’ has a particularly mild micro-climate and its safe beaches are a magnet for swimmers and sunbathers. La Tranche-sur-Mer, has a sailing centre, kite-surfing, longboard and bodyboarding, skim boarding and surf boarding with plenty of watersports opportunities for children.
The little fishing and leisure port of La Faute-sur-Mer, also along this stretch of the coast, is an ideal base for fishing expeditions, swimming and watersports such as sand yachting. In the far south of the department the pretty port of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer attracts swimmers and sunbathers as well as watersport enthusiasts and fishermen. Sables-d’Olonne and Saint-Gilles are popular sailing venues which stage regular regattas.
Centre Nautique, sailing and watersports centre, Saint-Jean-de-Monts Tel : (00 33) 2 51 58 00 75.
Char a Voile - Centre Nautique St Giles Atlantique at Saint Gilles-Croix-de-Vie for sand yachting, speed sailing, sand kiting. Tel (00 33) 2 51 60 11 11.
Association Canoe Kayak Les Alligators Montois, Notre-Dames-de-Monts for canoeing and kayaking. Tel (00 33) 2 51 58 00 75.
Children will love the 60 everyday objects created on a gigantic scale from wood, rushes and wicker. Craft workshops on-site for copper, basket-making etc with opportunities to learn the basics. Open 1 Apr - 30 June and 1 - 30 Sept 1400 - 1800. 1 July - 31 Aug every day 1030 – 1200 and 1330 - 1630 with optional guided tours. 1 Oct - 12 Nov Sundays and public holidays 1400 - 1730.
Faymoreau Mining Centre invites you to retrace 130 years of coal mining in the heart of the Vendee. Make the simulated descent (525m) into the mine with mine-galleries, exhibitions and demonstrations.
The Miners’ Chapel has a colourful exhibition of contemporary stained glass illustrating mines and miners. There is also a tour of a miner’s cottage. Open Feb to Mar and Oct to Dec on Wed, Sat and Sun afternoons; April to June and Sept, Tues to Sun afternoons; July and Aug, everyday 1000 to 1900. Tel: (00 33) 2 51 00 48 48.