FRANCE The Vendee coast is full of food and drink de­lights

If the acres of wide, sandy beaches, pine forests and pretty har­bours aren’t rea­son enough to visit France’s At­lantic coast, the rich food cul­ture and wealth of seafood more than tip the bal­ance

BBC Good Food - - Inside Goodfood - Words LULU GRIMES

Western France’s Vendée coast is blessed with more than 90 miles of white sandy beaches. They’re quiet by Euro­pean stan­dards (even in July when we went), and with a back­drop of fra­grant pine trees and the At­lantic Ocean, it’sa glo­ri­ous set­ting for a fam­ily holiday. Dot­ted along this lovely stretch of coast are vil­lages built around har­bours, oys­ter beds and is­lands, and bike paths that run from Noir­moutier to Bour­ge­nay.

The area has a rich food cul­ture, from the oys­ter trade in the Bay of Bourgneuf and sar­dines from St-gilles-croix-de­vie, to brioche (‘bet­ter than Paris!’, you’ll be told), char­cu­terie and glis­ten­ing white salt. Lo­cal Noir­moutier pota­toes are used to make posh bags of crisps.

The sea­side towns, which are largely de­pen­dent on tourism, come alive in the sum­mer. While frites, pizza and fish and chips are on offer – try hake from the La Roulotte van ( – so are moules, plat­ters of fruits de mer and dishes of ‘mo­gettes’ (white hari­cot beans), as well as the de­li­cious cus­tard tart, flan maraîchin.

We an­chored our­selves in the pop­u­lar Saint-jean-de-monts, which has a sub­stan­tial beach, a wide es­planade and a crop of de­cent cafés and restau­rants. A short car jour­ney north is one of France’s more in­ter­est­ing roads, the Pas­sage du Gois (pass­able only for a cou­ple of hours each day be­fore it’s sub­merged), which leads to the is­land of Noir­moutier. The thing to do here is trun­dle onto the track, leap out of your car and dig quickly for clams to take home, or – in our case – let go again, then saunter on­wards as if the tide was not im­mi­nently on the turn. Once on the is­land, you can drive past the canals, salt marshes and white­washed houses to the tiny port of l'herbaudière, and have lunch at a café on the har­bour. Head to Mai­son Foucher (+33 7 71 88 81 20) in Noir­moutier-en-l'île for high-end gro­ceries, and stop for a bag of sea salt at the Marais Salants de Bonne Pogne salt marshes in La Guérinière (+33 2 51 39 96 63), as you head for the bridge, now your only way off the is­land.

To the south in Les Sables d’olonne, a few streets back, you’ll find Les Halles Gour­man­des (halles­gour­man­ a mar­ket stuffed with fruit, veg­eta­bles, bread and seafood. Up­stairs is the ‘bio’ or or­ganic sec­tion, ideal for your pic­nic or some­thing to take home. On the road be­hind, you’ll find La Sablaise (, a shop spe­cial­is­ing in pre­served seafood and fish.


It’s easy to think you’ll al­ways be able to find some­where to eat in such a food-ob­sessed coun­try, but out­side trad­ing hours in small­town France, you can find your­self truly stuck. Su­per­mar­kets close on Sun­day af­ter­noons and don’t open as late as those in the UK on week­nights, so even th­ese may not be

an op­tion if you’ve missed the boat for din­ner. Bak­eries, too, are closed from about 1-3.30pm, so a sand­wich is out of the ques­tion for a late lunch, though some have a baguette vend­ing ma­chine out­side. All the lo­cal pro­duce at the Su­per U su­per­mar­ket at Les Sen­tiers du Marais, Saint-jean-de-monts, is clearly la­belled – an ab­so­lute boon for vis­i­tors – so it’s worth a trip to stock up if you’re self­ca­ter­ing on your trip.

French farm­ers’ mar­kets gen­er­ally run from 8am-1pm. Notre-dame-de Monts has a big one out­side the Su­per U on Sun­days, and Saint Jean de Monts has a food mar­ket by the church in Place Jean Yole daily from April-septem­ber. You’ll find a full list at


La gâche is the but­tery, bet­ter ver­sion of brioche (so said the re­cep­tion­ist we left our bak­ery or­der with each morn­ing). Classified PGI (Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion), la gâche has cream added to its dough. To round off a day (or kick-start an evening) try La Troussepinette, an aper­i­tif made with the spring shoots of the sloe or black­thorn bush.


We stayed in a two-bed villa with a pri­vate pool on the out­skirts of town at Do­maine de Vert­marines. There’s a re­cep­tion where you can or­der break­fast (hav­ing freshly-baked crois­sants de­liv­ered is one of the most civilised ser­vices ever) and keep in touch via the free Wi-fi (in­valu­able with the kids and their de­vices). A week’s stay in a sim­i­lar villa to ours in May costs from £85.75 per per­son (£343 for four). In the sum­mer peak, how­ever (18 Au­gust on­wards), the price in­creases to £331.75 per per­son. To book, contact Sum­mer France (020 3475 4756, sum­mer­

Our villa and car were pro­vided cour­tesy of Sum­mer France.

Shop at Les Halles Gour­man­des Sandy beaches at St-gilles-croix-de-vie Stroll the cob­bled streets Don't leave with­out try­ing the lo­cal oys­ters

Watch the world go by at Le Casier The brioche is said to be 'bet­ter than Paris' The café at Sainte-hi­lairede-riez beach Lo­cal pota­toes – used to make fancy crisps

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