Abbeys in the Vendée

Stunning in their dimensions, tranquil locations, state of ruin or architectural beauty, the abbeys  offer intrigue with a significant glimpse into French history and geography.

Build an Itinerary – It would be difficult to see all of the abbeys in one day, but some could be looped together. Fortunately there is enough to find nearby them to venture out, perhaps with a picnic basket or beach toys, and definitely a camera, creating memorable days in the Vendée.

In more good news, three of the abbeys are included in the Pass Vendée.

Pass Vendée the Vendée Pass is a cultural pass for 21 that allows you to visit 9 cultural and 2 nature reserves, as many times as you like for a year. It is available online (currently the site link is not secure, be aware of this) or in each of these locations where you can also use it:  Historial de la VendéeLogis de la ChabotterieChâteau de TiffaugesAbbaye de Nieul-sur-l'AutiseAbbaye de MaillezaisHaras de la VendéePrieuré de GrammontLa Cité des OiseauxLa Réserve de Nalliers Mouzeuil-St-Martin

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The abbey of Jard sur Mer -
XIIth Century

Founded in 1197 by Richard the Lionheart, whose parents were King Henry of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Abbey Notre Dame de Lieu-Dieu was home to an order of the Premonstratensian monks.

The abbey is lovely. In its heyday, it was enormous but like the rest of the Vendée, the beautiful monastery suffered greatly during the 100-years war and the wars of religion. It was looted, burnt, rebuilt and looted and burnt again throughout the centuries. Since 2012, the abbey is privately owned and being restored.

For the past three centuries, the area has been popular among geologists. Located at the cusp of the Armorican Massif, the Aquitanian Basin and the Atlantic Ocean, the local sulfide-bearing ore was mined for silver towards the end of the 18th century.

Fossils can be found, still, and several specimens are displayed at the abbey.  To find fossils, simply find a rock and break it open... you might find a sea creature that's been hidden for millennia, just waiting for your adventurous self to discover it!

Open  15th July to 31st August 2019. Guided visits from 10h00 - 12h00 and from 14h00 - 18h30
Tip – near the beach of Plage de la Mine where a WWII bunker can also be discovered
Address  Abbaye de Lieu Dieu, 85520 Jard-sur-Mer
GPS coordinates46 ° 25 '29 "North, 1 ° 36' 32" West
Nearby abbey (36km): Abbaye Royale in Saint Michel en l'Herm
Nearby Sightseeing  Maison de Georges Clemenceau
Blvd Georges Clemenceau, 85520 St-Vincent-sur-Jard

GPS coordinates – 46° 24′ 23″ N, 1° 32′ 51″ O 
Images – by inthevendee.com

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Prieuré de Grammont - XIIth Century

Located in the midst of farm fields, the small abbey Le Prieuré de Grammont is as tranquil as it is charming. It's not difficult to imagine monastic life as it once was. Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard de Lionheart) ordered the Order of Grammont and this structure built at the end of the 12th century. It is one of the best preserved Order of Grammont monasteries in France. The chapel and courtyard have amazing acoustics, so do check the Prieuré summer concerts schedule and buy tickets timely.

Open  1st June to mid-September.
Tip – Pass Vendée
Address  85110 Saint-Prouant
GPS coordinates –  46.7486° N, 0.9857° W
Nearby abbey (16km): Abbaye de Grainetière
Nearby Sightseeing  Sigournais (donjon), Bazoges-en-Pareds (donjon), Mouilleron-en-Pareds (Maison Musée Clémenceau, Musée Clemenceau-de Latre, La Colline des Moulins, Bar Le Clemenceau)
Related Blog Post  with beautiful images of nocturnal Gregorian chanting at the abbey.
Images – by webservices.dramatis

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Abbaye de Maillezais - Xth Century

It takes big words to describe this abbey: majestic, mysterious, glorious... come to mind, each evoking the cultural heritage site perfectly. Constructed on the ruins of an old chapel ca. 976, there are accounts of an established abbey anno 989. The abbey was deemed the area's bishop's seat until 1648, but its monastic function continued until it was abandoned in 1666. The cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation and the Religious Wars. For a number of years, the abbey changed hands to Protestants, but was returned to Catholics in 1618/19. Check schedule for cultural events.

Open  Closed from 12 November to 28 February. Schedule
Tip – Pass Vendée
Address  85420 Maillezais
GPS coordinates –  46.3727° N, 0.7457° W
Nearby abbey (10km) – Nieul-sur-l'Autise
Cycling route from Maillezais to Nieul. Info here
Nearby Sightseeing – boat tour of the Marais-Poitevin. Embarkation point by the entrance to the abbey grounds. It's not necessary to purchase an abbey ticket to hire a boat. Embarcadère de l'Abbaye
Images – by webservices.dramatis

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Nieul-sur-l'Autise -
XIth Century

In this picturesque village you will find an abbey that has dipped its feet into the 21st century with an interactive tour and exhibits that have the abbey come to medieval life.

Founded in 1068, it was declared a royal abbey in 1141 by King Louis VII, husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Except for the Romanesque cloister, it was largely destroyed in the Wars of Religion, and restored. 

They've done a brilliant job showing the visitor how it once was, as unobtrusively as possible. While electronics and ramps steal from the imagination a little, this abbey is also a great research location for authors.

Open – Open all year. In July and August, guided tours daily Schedule 
Tip – Pass Vendée
Address – 1 Allée du Cloître

85240 NIEUL-SUR-L'AUTISE
GPS coordinates – 46.4247° N, 0.6789° W
Nearby abbey (10km) – Abbaye de Maillezais
Nearby sightseeing Chateau du Terre-Neuve (Fontenay-le-Comte), Vouvant (Petite Cité de Caractère)
Image credits – Main Image and walkway by Patrick Charpiat, Cloister by Selbymay, Abbey by Aoudot25. Village by webservices.dramatis

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Abbaye Royale - VIIth Century

In the village of Saint-Michel-en-Herm is a hidden gem, founded in 682 by the monks of Noirmoutier. Many of the abbeys in this article are located on what used to be islands in the Gulf of Pictons. At that time they were considered infertile and worthless. Until the monks had the brilliant idea of gradually filling the bay through a method of dredging and natural sedimentation.

Thus new soil was built up so that the bay disappeared into what is today known as the Marais Poitevin. The old part with its scriptorium is therefore located 9m lower than the newer part. When the kings realized how fertile the soil had become, the abbeys were heavily taxed. This abbey was deemed 'Royal' in 1516. Since 1818, the abbey is privately owned, but nevertheless saw a German occupation in the Second World War. The monastery itself was active until the French Revolution.

Open – Guided tours in spring and summer Schedule 
Tip – tickets Tourism Office near the abbey
Address – Place de l'Abbaye, 85580 Saint-Michel-en-l'Herm

GPS coordinates – 46.3530° N, 1.2502° W
Nearby abbey (10km) – Abbaye de Maillezais
Nearby sightseeing la Trance-sur-Mer, delightful village by the sea with many restaurants, cafe's, and golden beaches
Images – by webservices.dramatis

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L'Abbaye Notre-Dame de La Grainetière - XIIth Century

Established in 1130 by Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Fontdouce in Saintonge, and recognized by Pope Lucius II anno 1145, the abbey was repeatedly burned and robbed by the English during the Hundred Years War or Religious Wars. In 1790 the abbey was sold as a stone quarry and largely demolished. Bought in 1963, it was then partly restored.  Since 1979 the abbey houses the only male monastic community in the Vendée. Benedictine monks live here by testimony of evangelical poverty and perform manual labor. In particular, monks in good health share life with disabled monks.

Open – Open daily Website and schedule
Tip – this is a working monastery where silence is practiced. Be respectful.
Address – La Grange d'Ardelay, 85500 Les Herbiers

GPS coordinates – 46° 49′ 49.8″ N, 1° 03′ 34.56″ W
Nearby abbey (16km) – Le Prieuré de Grammont
Nearby sightseeing Le Puy du Fou Cinéscénie (evenings),  
Château d'Ardelay, Le Mont des Alouettes, Château du Boistissandeau accommodates a home for people with disabilities and their elderly parents, unique in France. Chapel is open for visitors.
Images – by webservices.dramatis

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L'Abbaye de Fontevraud - XIIth Century

This Unesco World Heritage Site
founded in the 12th century, was home to the monastic Order of the Fontevrault, with a dual community of nuns and monks living in separate sections under the authority of a long list of abbesses throughout the centuries. The monastery was active until after the French Revolution, after which it was turned into a prison from 1804 to 1963 - one of the most notorious in France. Noteworthy is that the abbey was steeped in poverty until 1247, when contrary to monastic custom the nuns were allowed to receive family endowments, providing some measure of income. L'abbaye de Fontevraud is the largest abbey in Europe.


Open – Open daily with a few exceptions  Website and schedule
Tip –Treasure hunt for children available
Address – 
Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud
49590 Fontevraud-l'Abbaye
GPS coordinates – 47°10′53″N 0°03′06″E
Nearby sightseeing Visit medieval city Chinon and its Château de Chinon or the beautiful Château d’Ussé. There are 200 winemakers in this Anjou area with opportunities for tasting.
Images  Tango7174, JfzanteThérèse GaigéJean-Christophe BENOIST 

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Abbaye de l'Île-Chauvet - XIIth Century

Founded circa 1130 by Benedictines, the abbey was brought to a state of ruin through damage in the Hundred Years War, and by being set on fire in 1588. It was restored and occupied again (by Benjamin de Rohan) in 1621. In 1680 it became a monastery once more. The abbey was sold after the revolution.

Open – Open daily with a few exceptions  Website and schedule
Tip – Make it a day-trip with a sail around the Marais Breton
Address – 
Abbaye de l'Ile Chauvet
85710 Bois-de-Céné
GPS coordinates – 46 ° 56 '00 "north, 1 ° 54' 33" W
Nearby sightseeing Marais Breton,  St. Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, bicycling, Noirmoutier
Images  Antoine Meissonnier and Marine69 

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Create an itinerary in the Vendée

This beautiful area in France, the Vendée, boasts many abbeys - there are as many as 60 in the greater region in various state of ruin or restoration. Mentioned in this article are the ones worth seeing. Each offers exceptional opportunities for (amateur) photographers, for a family picnic and for brushing up on French history. Mix and match the abbeys with nearby points of interest for a memorable holiday in the Vendée.

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