About Western France: the Vendee and Charente-Maritime
Western France: the Vendee and Charente-Maritime
Sandy beaches and misty marshes, brash resorts and historic ports, this mid-section of the Atlantic coast is something of a lucky dip with a prize for everyone. Families armed with buckets and spades flock to the safe, sunny seashore (happy campers to Royan and the islands, less rugged types to the apartment blocks of Sables d’Olonne); others track down Roman relics at Saintes or the Romanesque churches at Aulnay and Talmont; and, of course, wine enthusiasts follow their noses to Bordeaux (see Wine tours in Bordeaux). Though local fishermen do still fish, and the green-tinged huîtres from Marenne and Oléron account for nearly half the country’s total oyster harvest, tourism reaps the biggest rewards. During the height of the summer season prices rocket to almost double their low season rates, accommodation is booked up months in advance, and unless you are a lemming with advance reservations, August is best avoided.
Spring and autumn are the seasons to savour the best places to visit. There is room to stroll around the lovely 17th-18thC streets of La Rochelle, relax over a long seafood lunch, or catch a boat to tiny Ile d’Aix where the bicycle, not the motor car, reigns. Stop to explore the watery charms of the Marais Poitevin national park (click here); and head inland on the same tour to historic Poitiers; or follow the River Charente to Colbert’s safe port at Rochefort, sleepy Saintes, and the brandy town of Cognac. And leave plenty of time to savour Bordeaux.
The main road between Nantes and Bordeaux is the N137, which touches on all the major towns mentioned in this section. If you’re in a hurry stick to this, with the option of hopping on to the A10 autoroute. However, there is a difficult decision to be made over the lle de Noirmoutier, one of the lovely islands off this stretch of the coast which deserves a visit. If you have the time, at least one of the islands is a must, and there are roads that parallel most of the coast which you are encouraged to follow – except in the summer season.
There are several daily train services between Nantes and La Rochelle, and from La Rochelle to Bordeaux. Trains and buses serve Royan and Cognac from Saintes. Buses travel via the coast from Nantes to Sables d’Olonne in the north. In the south, Blaye can be reached by bus from Bordeaux, but services to the Médoc are sketchy at best.