Driving through endless farm fields across the rolling hills of the Vendée, adorable villages present themselves from a distance with ancient church steeples peeking over trees or clay rooftops. Why not slow down time itself to discover their hidden secrets? We do! In fact, we've been known to colour outside the lines.
Prehistoric and Romanesque – How much do you really love history? Enough to ignore the incessant 'recalculating' voice of the GPS and park the car even at the slightest hint there may be something to see?
The hand of History – Have you ever heard about the age-old tradition of gathering to wash laundry in a village pond still being honored? Or discovered a centuries-old chapel in a picturesque valley? Have you ever touched a circa 4000BC Megalith?
This walking circuit of 13km or 8mi begins and ends in La Bretonnière-la Claye, follows the circumference of what was an island in the Gulf of Pictons around 10,000 years ago. Beginning in the Xth century, monks from nearby (and then coastal) abbeys began to transform the gulf into a varied landscape of marshland. The marriage of time-deposited sediments, and arduous manual labor by the monks form the large expanse that is called the Marais Poitevin today.
On this easy walk between the cultivated farmland and lovely green meadows, enjoy the wide horizon of the Lay and Yon river valleys with its bridges and age-old sluices, hydraulic systems, and dikes that regulate the water levels in the marshes.
Open – all year
Tip – tranquil fishing and picnic area at the start of the trail. Bring water (no shops in the village) and supplies needed for the hike.
Address – 85320 La Claye
GPS coordinates – 46° 28′ 44″ N, 1° 17′ 03″ W
Nearby Sightseeing – Church Église Saint-Hilaire, La Crypte de Curzon - where there is also canoeing and touring of the Marais by boat.
Dog walking – superb
Images – by webservices.dramatis
Sinister history in a well-hidden chapel
Literally off the beaten path in an idyllic little valley just outside the village of La Tardière, lies a small chapel called Our Lady of Brossardière. The chapel has a sinister origin: on August 3rd 1595-near the end of the Wars of Religion- 31 protestants were massacred in a barn-cum-temple at this location. Built in devotion to Our Lady of Recouvrance (recovery), the event is remembered yearly in a pilgrimage on August 15th, a Catholic holiday (the Assumption of the Virgin Mary) People often ring the chapel's bell when visiting.
Open – Year-round
Tip – while the chapel's location was practically unmarked, there is an actual sign to it now (May 2019)
Address – La Brossardière, 85120 La Tardière
GPS coordinates – to the village
Nearby Sightseeing – Base de l'Etruyère (swimming, horse riding and other activities), Vouvant (medieval village), grocery stores in neighbouring La Châtaigneraie
Images – by inthevendee.com
Tranquil slumber in the Vendeen countryside
Georges Clemenceau died on November 24, 1929, aged 88, at home in Paris. In his will he stipulated to be buried "without procession or ceremony of any kind" next to his father at Le Colombier, the chateau where the Clemenceau family had settled since the end of the 17th century.
On November 25th Georges, President of France, was buried in Mouchamps. No amount of gendarmes could keep hundreds local farmers from attending the funeral.
Father and son Clemenceau are buried side-by-side on a rocky ridge overlooking the valley of the Petit Lay river, beneath a beautiful cedar Atlas tree planted in 1848 by Benjamin Clemenceau.
A small buvette is located nearby. Stop in for a drink and a chat with the lady whose parents ran father Clemenceau's farm. She is a very lovely French lady who has cared for the burial site for many, many decades, and is happy to give you an impassioned account of Clemenceau's life. Including the fact that he was "naughty" with the ladies.
She is a humble farmer's daughter who by the sheer location of her birth and childhood has met her share of French presidents, including Emanuel Macron on June 13th, 2018.
Open – Gravesite always open. Parking nearby.
Tip – Don't miss an opportunity to chat with the caretaker, though in French only.
Address – Le Colombier, Mouchamps
GPS coordinates – 46° 47′ 36″ N, 1° 00′ 59″ O
Nearby Sightseeing – Mouchamps is a lovely little village
Park Chateau de Terre-Neuve – superb walking and picnic spots
Images – by inthevendee
Hidden in obscurity
There is nothing like getting your sense of adventure ignited and this spot does just that. Hidden beneath a church 'like so many others' (anno 1873) it might be easy to ignore the signposts to this historic location. Don't. The entry to the crypt lies near the altar beneath trap doors. Navigating the steep stairs is awkward, but at the bottom is a beautiful room from the XIth century, with exquisitely carved pillars supporting nine vaults. The area shows Roman activity since 58BC.
The north wall in the church is the only one that survives from before 1873 when the church was restored to what it is today. The painting on wood depicting a scene of the crucifying of Christ that adorns it was discovered in the sacristy anno 1995-1996, and restored.
Open – Open all year
Tip – Les Ponts de la Claye, are two historic bridges a cross the river Lay (three arches) and the river Petit-Lay (two arches). The bridges first show on maps made in the 18th century, and made of granite (engineer Etienne Raimbaud.)
GPS coordinates – 46°26′54″N 1°18′29″W
Nearby sightseeing – the Marais Poitevin can be explored from this village.
Images by inthevendee.com
The oldest megalithic monument in the Vendée
Since 6000BC there is evidence of settlement around the village of Bazoges-en-Pareds. La Ciste des Cous, the oldest megalithic monument in the Vendée, is located in the rolling farm fields outside the village. Find the dirt-road off the D43 direction Miteau-les-Champs, marked only by a faded signpost.
The restored Neolithic dolmen is an unusual polygonal chamber is shaped by a stepped circular cairn. The ancient grave-site was first excavated in 1913. Just a short distance away from it lies the largely destroyed dolmen of Pierre Folle des Cous
Open – Year-round
Tip – visit the Donjon de Bazoges (a beautifully preserved castle keep) and its medieval surroundings, including a pigeon coup and gardens. Always there to view, the keep is open only in the summer. A nighttime event in July celebrates the chateau's medieval heritage.
Address – Les Cossonnières
GPS coordinates – 46°39'30,6"N , 0°56'2,8"W
Nearby sightseeing – Musee Maison Clemenceau (Opened by President Macron in June 2018) Musee Clemenceau-de Lattre, La Colline des Moulins (see above)
Images – by inthevendee.com
We couldn't keep these from you!
As mentioned in the blog post about our day trip to Oradour-sur-Glane, there are times (amateur) photographers will go through great lengths to get the images they want, indeed for adventurers to satisfy their curiosity! Two images are an old chateau. Its floors are missing and it's absolutely beautiful! The next two images are of an old windmill.
Open – No
Tip – We'd never tell you not to be adventurous. But do be careful if you're going to trespass. You don't want to get caught... and you must take care to protect your eyes and head. Keep protective eye-wear and a construction helmet in the car.
Address – Our lips are sealed!
GPS coordinates – Not even that!
Nearby sightseeing – You can't trick us!
Images – by inthevendee.com
Finding hidden spots in the Vendée is not difficult.
With history spanning from 4000BC, through medieval times and beyond the wars that plagued the Vendée area for so many centuries, there must be tons of places that have yet to be discovered. We hope! Don't be afraid to veer off the beaten path, ignore the little voice in you that says not today. One of the coolest things in this beautiful region of France, is that once you make the decision to ignore the GPS, you'll arrive at a spot that is rarely visited and there will be time to explore in a very peaceful setting.
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