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Passage du Gois, Vendéen road of mythic proportions

The world counts a few roads that even die-hard adventure bloggers tell you to avoid; roads that consistently make the list of “most dangerous” to traverse. There’s the Stelvio Pass in Italy. And the Yungas Road in Bolivia which hugs the side of a mountain without guardrails; or Skippers Canyon Road in New Zealand which is prohibited for rental cars because no insurance will cover them. And then there is famous French causeway that gives way to the Atlantic Ocean twice per day. Welcome to the Passage du Gois, historic monument in the Vendée and one of the world’s most dangerous roads! Nature’s punishment – Linking the mainland at Bauvoir-sur-mer on the gorgeous French Atlantic coast with Barbâtre on the Island of Noirnourtier is the Passage du Gois, or the Gois, a road that many will recommend avoiding at all cost. They are not wrong. While not the only tidal causeway …

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Discover Montaigu-Vendée

In Gallo-Roman times on an intersection of two important Roman ‘highways’ grew the village of Durivum. Situated in the very north of the  department of  Vendée, the village known since 2019 as Montaigu-Vendée is a treasure. The vision of the Lords of Montaigu included a focus on education, a vision whose affect can be felt even today, making Montaigu and its array of fused villages a desirable place to live. But the area is also hilly and, thanks its many streams and rivers, lushly green and ideal for viticulture. Our investigation not only revealed Durivum’s intersection in Roman times… in the Vendée we know that where a rich history, water, vineyards and castles meet, we have discovered an ideal spot for exploration and discovery. Welcome to Montaigu-Vendée! History – The ancient Durivum (also Durinum) was a historic village between Brittany, Anjou and Poitou. In Roman times it may have been …

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Vouvant, Painters’ Village in the Vendée

Resting snugly in the arms of the Mère river at the edge of the largest oak tree forest in France lies one of the most beautiful villages of France. Vouvant, whose narrow streets demand a languid stroll in admiration of ancient architecture and a colorful plethora of flowers, seems to have been kissed by the gentle lips of history and tended by the loving care of faeries. A lovely drive toward the south-east corner of the Vendéen countryside will quickly point in its direction. Accept the challenge of discovery and you will quickly understand why Vouvant is lovingly referred to as the painter’s village. An introduction – The beginnings of Vouvant are somewhat mystical according to legend. The tale goes that the original castle here was created in just one night by the fairy Mélusine as a gift to the village. Of this castle only the donjon that dominates its …

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Château de l’Hermenault and Garesché: connecting Vendée to world history

Chatting with the current châtelaine of Château de l’Hermenault, it came to light that the person who sold the beautiful castle to her forefather in 1806 had been Daniel Garesché, mayor of La Rochelle in 1791-1792. In our pleasantly lengthy conversation, the kind châtelaine said “Garesché family is fascinating. You should look it up.” … So, we did. We found in Daniel Garesché a man who was part of a veritable dynasty. A family that, to put it mildly, left their at times muddy boot prints on the history of France, Haiti, and the United States of America. With the motto “Jamais sans Espérance” (Never Without Hope) to lend a strong hand, it is the story of close-knit family built on patriarchal opportunism and survival spanning centuries, and touching the Vendée along the way. To truly understand the opportunistic make-up of this family it is necessary to travel back to …

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Castles to see in the Vendée

Not all châteaux in the Vendée are open to the public. In fact, most are privately owned, sometimes with holiday accommodations available. The selection of twenty Vendéen castles in this article represent those accessible to view in high-season or year-round, or those which are open for sightseeing, reenactment spectacles, medieval festivals, and adventure parks. Is the Vendée paved with castles? – Yes and no. From medieval, to renaissance or neo-renaissance-style castles, and even some art-nouveau style ones, the number of chateaux in the Vendée is quite astounding. But most of them are private residences tucked away in sleepy villages or seemingly endless forests. You may run into them quite randomly or look for them in the 3rd weekend of September each year, when many have events or an open house in light of the European Heritage days (Journées Patrimoine) It’s all about the medieval – If you know just a …

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The Sanctuary of La Salette and its remarkable architecture

From the banks of the river la Petite Meine rises a very steep hill covered with lush foliage, wildflowers, and exotic species of trees. This beautiful environment in the middle of nowhere in the Vendeen countryside is home to a monument of remarkable architecture; a place of pilgrimage that draws a crowd each first Sunday of September but is a quiet spot of tranquility and reflection the rest of year: the Sanctuary of La Salette at La Rabateliere. It is a grouping of religious buildings commemorating  the apparition of the Virgin Mary to two children in the French Alps anno 1846. History and location  – The sanctuary was built in 1887 at the initiative of Abbot Hillairet, then parish priest of the small village La Rabatelière. The land belonged to the Count of La Poëze who then owned and lived in Château de La Rabatelière (which is today a bed …

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William Chevillon invites us to discover Fontenay-le-Comte

While we are invited to rediscover the nearby territories without travelling too far, the Centre vendéen de recherches historiques (Sorbonne-University Scientific Council) is publishing a new book on the history, heritage and development of Fontenay-le-Comte. “À la découverte de Fontenay-le-Comte” is a book designed to offer a comprehensive look at the town, from prehistory to the present day, in all its diversity of landscapes and heritage. When I was offered this project on the history and cultural heritage of Fontenay-le-Comte, I thought it would be interesting to draw on what already existed and not simply evoke a past as glorious as often looked back on with nostalgia. Writing about a city is not just writing about people and monuments, it is also about trying to make people understand a global structure and to inscribe, for example, social housing and public art in the continuation of the primitive constitution of an …

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The Legend of the Fairy Mélusine

Château de Lusignan  (Vienne) was the ancestral seat of the House of Lusignan, the Lords of Poitou, who commanded great respect in the First Crusade. The castle was so large that in the 12th century a legend developed as to its beginnings. It was speculated that its founder must have had the help of a fairy, a fairy who took on the guise of the shape-shifting water spirit Mélusine said to have built the castle and its church for her husband Raymondin by using her mystical gifts. The reputation of the Lusignans was larger than life. So much so that between 1392 and 1394 the author Jean d’Arras recorded the folktale in a book entitled Le Roman de Melusine. It was the first of many literary versions that would be recorded through the centuries, as the folkloric tale seeped into the very fabric of history. The Legend One evening in the …

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Windmill hunting in the Vendée

The windmill was omni-present in the European landscape and history shows their use wasn’t limited to the production of flour. In periods of conflict the windmills were an effective communication tool, including in the Vendée. A brief history – A windmill is a structure that converts wind power into a rotating energy through a series of  toothed wheels, mechanisms and millstones, grinding various grains into usable products like flour. The earliest known wind and water powered grain mills were used by the Persians (Iran) from the 6th to the 10th centuries as well as by the Chinese in the 13th century. The vertical windmills seen in Vendée use a mechanism with sails that rotate in a horizontal plane around a vertical axis. The first mentioned “vertical windmill” in Northern Europe dates to the late 12th century.  Bread in its countless variations has always played an important role in cultures around the world. …

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Winter sightseeing: Logis de la Chabotterie

Largely regarded as the most important historical monument in the Vendee, the beautiful Logis de la Chabotterie presents an opportunity for sightseeing year-round. Spring through summer, the gardens thrive with colour and fragrance. But the Chabotterie manor and its surrounding park are especially charming in fall and winter, ideal seasons for an invigorating walk and to warm the soul with the beauty and knowledge of history. A story through the ages –  The story of le Logis de la Chabotterie reaches far beyond the realms of the architecture of a Vendéen castle and its surrounding farm buildings. Its reputation as the best preserved manor of the Bas-Poitevin rests in the very hands of history. Not only was it restored to perfection, but Gerneral François de Charette was wounded and captured in the gardens of the domain in 1796. At its inception in the late XVth century, the layout was typical …

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Journées du Patrimoine 2019 Vendée – EVENTS

Welcome to the European Heritage days anno 2019! On the 3rd weekend of September, everywhere in Europe including our lovely Département du Vendée, we are given a great opportunity to visit popular historical locations and monuments as well as sites that are rarely open to the public for free or at a reduced rate. Historically, how did the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine or European Heritage days begin? The French Ministry of Culture began the event  La Journée Portes Ouvertes in 1984. In the following year, at the 2nd European Conference of Ministers responsible for Architectural Heritage, the French Minister of Culture proposed that the project be internationalised under the European council. The Netherlands joined with their own Open Monumentendag in 1987, followed by Sweden and Ireland in 1989, and Belgium and Scotland in 1990. In 1991 the events were united as European Heritage Days at the initiative of the Council of Europe. Why do …

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Prehistoric Vendée

One of the most unique features of the Vendée is the opportunity it lends to travel from time period to time period throughout history, and even pre-history. With evidence of life in the area dating back to Neolithic times, the Vendée proves ideal to take the entire family on a fun learning expedition away from school! A brief history – What is prehistory? It is the period of time that begins with the appearance of human beings (approx. five million years ago) and ends with the invention of writing(approx. 6,000 years ago). The prehistory is divided into three stages: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. These consecutive periods are determined by the human sociological progression and evolving e.g. in survival practices, tools and the use of pottery.  What is Neolithic and which prehistoric time period does it span? The Neolithic transition (when human beings made the …

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About Les Journées du Patrimoine de Pays et des Moulins

The Heritage Days of Land and Mills are a national event highlighting the heritage of the French countryside and its diversity takes place every third weekend in June. Perhaps less known than its Journées Patrimoines sister-event which takes place every 3rd weekend in September, Les Journées du Patrimoine de Pays et des Moulins was created to honour, celebrate and share heritage, landscapes and traditional know-how. Too often, history is presented as an abstract, depicted on a national scale. Living in an area so culturally and historically rich as the Vendée, it’s sort of normal to drive through the landscape without seeing it. We become conditioned to the vast contours of an ancient castle, or the wings of a windmill frozen against the horizon. But if history were presented as a puzzle, its many individual pieces are the parts that form the whole picture and they were created not in a …

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In the footsteps of Georges Clemenceau

When Georges Clemenceau left his birth village of Mouilleron-en-Pareds to take him to great heights and across the world, the Vendee stayed forever in his heart. We have lined up the places that were important to this very unique French president. Who was Georges Clemenceau? –  The enigmatic and much adored Vendéen-born Clemenceau was a controversial figure strong in journalism as well as politics. After spending his childhood here, he went on to Nantes where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Letters (1858) at the Lycée. After this achievement, Clemenceau went on to Paris to study medicine, (graduating in 1865) where he became a political activist and author. At the onset of his career as a senator, Clemenceau was a radical socialist in an extremely conservative senate. However, it wasn’t until after he broke away from the socialist party in 1906, that he became premier or prime minister of France …

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Images of The Great War

Our very own resident historian, Lawrence Dunn, has released a new book titled “Images of The Great War”, a thought provoking account of British artists and the Great War of 1914-1918, including accounts by many soldier-artists who had previously been written out of the cultural history of England. Many of the explanations are in the artists’ own words, and where applicable there are excerpts from Official British Army diaries. This book makes the perfect memento of the Great War. It is available on Amazon, and can also be purchased at the following bookshops in the UK:  Blackwells, Foyle’s, W. H. Smith and Waterstones. Lawrence also wrote the popular “Vendée Wars” page. He divides his time between L’Hermenault in Vendée, and Essex. Posted April 1, 2015 by admin Share this Post