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