Vendee Tourisme is lobbying for this beautiful area to be a year-round destination. Whether you're living here or you're tourist, there are plenty of reasons why, and we're listing them here!
Behind closed shutters – Like the rest of the French countryside, the Vendée tends to batten down the hatches from the end of October through the end of March. Many donjons, chateaux and abbeys retreat into tranquility, even famous Puy du Fou closes its doors. With the scent of smoldering hearths wafting gently over the villages, and countryside hamlets huddling behind closed shutters, the Vendée wraps itself in a blanket of cosiness.
Winter activities – But it's still the second sunniest area in France, also in winter time! As fall explodes in a multi-layer colouring book, and falling leaves blanket the rolling hills of the bocage in a winter hush, there's no need to hibernate like bears! Several of summer's most interesting destinations open their doors for special events leading up to Christmas and average temperatures of 8°C make the area perfect for outdoor activities of a different sort!
Abbeys & chateaux are
alive for the Holidays
Our favourite Vendée locations are fabulous to visit year-round. With art markets and demonstrations, the medieval festivals are reminiscent of the harvest moon or apple festivals for which the U.S. and U.K. are known. Admission is often free, and event participants bring an all-immersive experience to the visitor. You could click your heels three times and think you've landed hundreds of years ago. These events are great opportunities to sample medieval food like pies and breads. Find more information in our article about Abbeys in the Vendée.
From the end of November and throughout December, the ancient ruins also serve as beautiful backdrops for Christmas markets and other special holiday events like choirs. Our top pics are the events staged at Nieul-sur-L'Autise, Maillezais, and Chateau de Tiffauges. Our list for Christmas markets are scattered around the many Vendée villages builds year after year! And in La-Roche-sur-Yon a Christmas show featuring horses is staged every year.
Mountain biking & hiking
A consistent surprise to tourists seems to be the fact that the Vendée is not flat! We have spoken to people who'd strapped their bike to the car, hopeful for leisurely trails on flat terrain and were bitterly disappointed. Hiking and mountain biking are a top activity in the glowing countryside and those among you who favour the activity, or hiking or backpacking, will be in their element here. Trails are dotted around the Vendée, with many to be found in Pays de Fontenay and the Forest de Mervent-Vouvant, the largest hardwood forest in France.
Trails narrow, wide and steep range from easy to difficult, reaching heights of nearly 300 meters or approx. 1000 feet! Welcome to the Vendée! More information here. If you enjoy less extreme activity, the entire countryside is at your disposal for beautiful walks, or the Marais Poitevin and Marais Breton and stunning nature reserves are accessible year-round.
TIP: Wear good shoes and take water! Be aware that not all trails make a loop so please research before departure.
We've already mentioned that the beaches are as inviting for summer reading as they are for invigorating winter walks. There is 200km of coastline at your disposal in the Vendée, as well as several islands. The famous Passage du Gois causeway at Noirmoutier is a sight to see and while Ile d’Yeu, situated around 100 km off the coast is more difficult to reach for a day-trip in winter (due to a reduced ferry schedule), a romantic weekend might be just the thing.
Les Sables d'Olonne is always a good choice for a meal by the beach, sightseeing and shopping. Whatever your desire to chase away the winter blues or bring some variety to winter life in the Vendée, quaint villages, tiny ports, shops and fresh air await.
City & Day Trips
In other articles we've spoken about the Vendée being the area for a rest en route to other countries. The same is true for the area as a point of departure to visit other cities. December brings big Christmas markets to Nantes and Angers where the atmosphere is always good. There is an ice skate rink in Nantes as well though it usually begins a couple of days before Christmas and goes into January.
In most larger cities there are the typical shopping streets, shopping centers or malls, historical points of interests, art museums, opera, and of course restaurants for a romantic dinner or a taste of world cuisine. In no particular order (because we love them all) our recommended winter city trips or day trips from the Vendée are: Poitiers, Angers, Nantes, Tours, Limoges, Niort, Bordeaux, Le Mans, St. Malo, Cognac.
Museums & aquarium
For a sense of the seas around the world, the Vendée Aquarium is open year-round, with over one thousand species in sixty aquariums. A Halloween event is organised in October. The aquarium also holds special workshops. Groups are limited but you can sign up or make reservations on their website. This is a great outing at any age and at any time of the year but especially nice to fill your senses with colour during colder winter months! But with a little research and a car equipped with GPS, it's easy enough to find museums that are open in the winter too!
There are two beautiful Clemenceau museums to visit, Maison de Clemenceau in Saint-Vincent-sur-Jard and Mouilleron-en-Pareds. Tip: Musée Clemenceau-de Lattre in Mouilleron offers free entry on the first Sunday of the month! Learn about the Vendée Wars at the art and history museum in Cholet. The Centre Minier de Faymoreau does close its doors from early November through early February, but is open the rest of the year. Check their website.
And reason #6: BUDGET!
From end September though end March it's possible to find a self-catering cottage or gîte in the Vendée at much reduced rates, often including wood, electricity, water, and Internet. Dining out can be as expensive as you want it to be, but a typical 2 or 3 course restaurant meal will cost between 10 and 15 Euros per person. B&B's sometimes offer family rooms with nicely equipped kitchenettes.
Even in fall and winter, the Vendée offers sightseeing, hiking, walking or mountain biking against a backdrop of green countryside, vast forests and 160km of beautiful beaches. Visit museums, bird habitats and Christmas markets too. And if none of these things are your cup of tea, the area is a haven of tranquility where it's just as wonderful to read a good book next to a warm hearth! Whatever you need to recharge your winter batteries, let the Vendée surprise you!
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