ROAD TRIP

Ex­plore the Côte de Lu­mière in Vendée with Alex Green on the first leg of her camper­van tour of the French Atlantic coast

France - - Contents -

Ex­plore the Côte de Lu­mière in Vendée in the first leg of a camper­van tour.

DAY 1 ROSCOFF TO MONTBERT: 342 KILO­ME­TRES

The Vendée dé­parte­ment is the first out­post on a tour of the French Atlantic coast for many trav­ellers cross­ing by ferry from the UK. It is a haven for hol­i­day­mak­ers on the move, with more than 400 sites to suit ev­ery kind of camper, from can­vas lovers to mo­torhome fans.

Camper­van driv­ers need to al­low five to six hours to reach Vendée from the port of Roscoff in Brit­tany. Progress is slow on the scenic first leg to the re­gional cap­i­tal, Rennes, where the route picks up speed along the N137 to Nantes.

Stop for the night at Le Re­lais des Garennes (camp­ing-lere­lais­des­garennes.com) in Montbert, which is on the edge of Vendée, about 20 kilo­me­tres past Nantes. This small, tran­quil campsite has just 12 pitches (€16), all well spread out and shaded among tall trees.

DAY TWO MONTBERT TO LES SABLES-D’OLONNE: 106 KILO­ME­TRES

Re­lax in this idyl­lic site com­plete with herb gar­den, veg­etable patch, chick­ens, ducks and a com­mu­nal lounge. Take the ten-minute walk past the lake to the vil­lage for break­fast and stock up on sup­plies from the fam­ily-run shop be­fore ven­tur­ing on to­wards La Roche-sur-yon, cap­i­tal of Vendée. The town, re­built by Napoléon on a grid sys­tem, has plenty of restau­rant op­tions for lunch.

Con­tinue to Les Sables-d’olonne, France’s fourth-largest fish­ing port, which is famed for its oys­ters and mus­sels. First stop is the old port of La Chaume, where you can wan­der along the har­bour and the streets lined with fish­er­men’s cot­tages, and per­haps see the lat­est catch be­ing landed.

Take the two-hour boat tour to meet the salt pro­duc­ers at Les Jardins de Sa­lines, which cov­ers ten hectares of marshes, to see how fleur de sel is har­vested. Af­ter work­ing up an ap­petite, head to the seafront prom­e­nade, where restau­rants line the two-kilo­me­tre-long main beach. L’acrop­ole in Place du Maréchal Foch (menus from €10, tel: (Fr) 2 51 95 73 94) of­fers rea­son­ably priced moules frites and great sea views from its ter­race, and there is road­side park­ing.

For a more re­fined taste of the west coast’s sea­far­ing suc­cess, con­tinue to the south­ern end of the Grande Plage to the Hô­tel Côte Ouest (menus from €24, ho­tel-co­teouest.com) on the Route du Tour de France. For some­thing more ca­sual, head across the road to the surfers’ beach, the Plage de Tanchet, where the re­cently opened La Ca­bane d’arthur (menus from €14, tel: (Fr) 6 70 44 65 35) serves de­li­cious food and drink in a lounge set­ting on the sands.

There is a car park op­po­site the beach be­side the In­sti­tut Sports Océan (in­sti­tut­sport­socean.com), where you can go boat­ing, surf­ing or wind­surf­ing with ex­pe­ri­enced in­struc­tors. En­joy a dip in the sea or hire a board and ride the easy-go­ing waves be­fore hook­ing up in one of a clus­ter of camp­sites on this side of town. Les Fosses Rouges (pitches from €15, camp­ing­fos­s­es­rougess­ables dolon­n­evendee.com) has uni­formly tree-lined pitches and com­fort­able self-cater­ing cab­ins.

DAY 3 LES SABLES-D’OLONNE TO LONGEVILLE-SURMER: 37 KILO­ME­TRES

Leave the town and head along the D949 to the vil­lage of Tal­mont-saint-hi­laire, where the fortress (chateaude­tal­mont.com) once be­longed to Richard the

Li­on­heart. The cas­tle stages re-en­act­ments of the English king’s life and that of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. You can also en­joy views over the town and lake from the top of the tower. For lunch, try Le Re­lais Tal­mondais in the main square (menus from €16, re­lais-tal­mondais.com), or a short walk around the cor­ner, the Hô­tel Restau­rant Le Cen­tre (menus from €12, ho­tel-tal­mont-saint-hi­laire.fr).

Con­tinue on to Longeville-sur-mer and set­tle down at one of the camp­sites a short stroll from the Le Rocher beach. The large, fam­ily-ori­en­tated site Le Petit Rocher (pitches €19, pe­titrocher. camp-at­lan­tique.co.uk) is ideal for young chil­dren in sum­mer, while the more ba­sic l’aire du Camp­ing-car park Le Rocher (pitches €8.40, camp­ing-carpark.com/en/aire-camp­ing-car-park/ longeville-le-rocher) has good fa­cil­i­ties and is open all year.

This is the per­fect base to slow down and fol­low the coastal paths on foot or cy­cle through the mar­itime pine forests that pro­tect the dunes. Vendée has more than 1,000 kilo­me­tres of well-marked routes, which make up the largest cy­cling net­work in France.

From here, the nat­u­ral land­scape of Vendée be­gins to take over, with sand dunes stretch­ing as far as the eye can see and mi­grat­ing birds as tran­si­tory as your own visit. The Côte de Lu­mière lives up to its name, shin­ing brightly in the sun with the added re­flec­tions of the fine white sand, sea spray and salt.

The land­scape be­comes less pop­u­lated and de­vel­oped as you head to­wards the most southerly sea­side re­sorts on the Vendée coast along the Baie de l’aigu­il­lon. The D105 leads to La Tranche-sur-mer and, fur­ther still, the D46 leads to La Faute-sur-mer, both of which are charm­ing fish­ing ports and gate­ways to the wa­ter­ways of the Marais Poitevin.

Head to where the D105 and D46 meet the D747 to make a cir­cu­lar route back to Nantes and on to the ferry ports. Al­ter­na­tively, con­tinue past Luçon to the A83 au­toroute, to ac­cess the Atlantic coast fur­ther south.

GET­TING THERE: Ferry ser­vices op­er­ate to Roscoff (400km from Vendée) and to Saint-malo (265km). The air­ports at Nantes and La Rochelle are less than an hour’s drive away. The train from Paris Mont­par­nasse to Nantes takes 2hr 20min. TOURIST IN­FOR­MA­TION: Atout France, France.fr; Vendée tourist board, vendee-tourism.co.uk CAMPER­VAN HIRE: If you are trav­el­ling by air or rail, you can hire a camper­van at a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in France in­clud­ing Nantes and La Rochesur-yon (trois-soleils.com).

En­joy this ar­ti­cle? Tell us where you would like your road trip to be and we’ll plan it in a fu­ture edi­tion. Email ed­i­to­rial@francemag.com

ABOVE: A shady pitch for the camper­van at Le Re­lais des Garennes in Montbert

The wide-open beaches of Les Sables-d’olonne

ABOVE: Salt pro­duc­tion on the Vendée coast

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