10 Reasons to Visit Vendée Grand Sud, the South of the Vendée 



10 Reasons to Visit Vendée Grand Sud, the South of the Vendée 

If you’re looking for a truly green escape, where nature and heritage jostle side by side, look no further than Vendée Grand Sud – the south of the Vendée. The ideal slow tourism destination, here you can take time out to discover the rich natural landscapes of ‘Green Venice’, wander through the winding streets of idyllic villages, and get to know the local people, who are, quite rightly, passionate about this beautiful corner of France.

With the Vendée coast, Puy du Fou and La Rochelle all within an hour’s drive from Fontenay-le-Comte, you are guaranteed a holiday to remember.  

1. Green Venice

The magical landscape of the Marais Poitevin – nicknamed ‘Venise Verte’ – is ripe for exploring by boat along the many canals that crisscross this historic marshland, which was created during the Middle Ages. Take a guided tour to truly immerse yourself in this land like no other. As well as the marshlands, the Marais Poitevin is home to beautiful meadows and pretty little lanes, perfect for exploring by bike or on foot – or even on horseback. 

The Marais Poitevin – © Simon Bourcier pour Vendée Expansion et CC VSA

2. Mervent-Vouvant Forest

Outdoors lovers will adore the Mervent-Vouvant Forest, with its array of open-air fun and sports activities. At 5,000 hectares, it’s the largest expanse of woodland in the Vendée, and is home to mighty oaks and rushing rivers, dammed in places to create tranquil lakes. It’s the perfect spot for hiking, or get those legs and lungs pumping with a spot of mountain biking – or for a real treat, explore on horseback. On the lake at the heart of the forest, you can have fun on the water, whether you want to try canoeing, paddle-boarding or relax aboard an electric boat. Don’t forget to leave time to visit the 300 or so animals at Natur’Zoo of Mervent or let the kids burn off some energy at the Pierre Brune Amusement Park. 


The Mervent -Vouvant Forest- © Simon Bourcier pour Vendée Expansion et Office de Tourisme Vendée Grand Sud

3. The bocage

The Vendée is famous for its bocage – the undulating wooded pastureland which forms a patchwork of varying shades of green. There are plenty of walking trails you can follow through this peaceful swathe of countryside, or perhaps you prefer to explore by bike or on horseback? At night, settle down in one of the picturesque villages and remember to look up – with next to no light pollution, you will marvel at the night sky as you’ve never seen it before. 


Pays de la Châtaigneraie- © Mehdi Média pour CCPLC

4. Fontenay-le-Comte

This Renaissance city bears the label Ville d’art et d’histoire and is a recognised Plus Beau Détour de France – and little wonder. Fontenay-le-Comte’s golden age was in the 16th century and this era gave rise to some of its most stunning buildings – check out the glorious arcades of Place Belliard. Be sure also to visit the beautiful Fontaine des Quatre Tias and  the Château de Terre Neuve, a Renaissance gem.  

To really appreciate this beautiful town, explore with the GPS-tracked audio guide and get to know the characters who once strolled these pretty streets. 


Fontenay-le-Comte – © J. Gazeau pour Vendée Expansion

5. Exceptional villages

In Vendée Grand Sud, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to pretty villages to explore, many of which have an impressive heritage to boot. Medieval Vouvant is a Plus Beau Village de France and Petite Cité de Caractère , and its Mélusine tower is not to be missed. The former keep has a fairy-tale quality – the legend goes it’s all that remains of a castle built by a fairy called Mélusine, who was half-woman half-snake. Today, you will find a haven for artists, forest trails on your doorsteps and a raft of welcoming hostelries in which to unwind. Foussais-Payré is another Renaissance gem and Petite Cité de Caractère whose marvellous architecture is testament to the success of the local cloth trade in the 16th century. Here you’ll find exceptional buildings and, every two years, a symposium of chainsaw sculpture (the next one is in July 2024). Discover the fascinating history of mining at Faymoreau, where a museum tells the story all the way from the discovery of the coal seam back in 1827 to the mine closure in 1958. History buffs will love the Petite Cité de Caractère of Nieul-sur-l’Autise, built from glistening limestone not far from the Marais Poitevin. Don’t miss the Abbaye Saint-Vincent, built in 1068 by the Duc d’Aquitaine. And imbued with a rich history, beautiful cloisters and garden of medieval plants.  


Vouvant – ©Simon Bourcier pour Vendée Expansion et Office de Tourisme Vendée Grand Sud

6. A starry night at La Chapelle-aux-Lys

La Chapelle-aux-Lys is a small village, home to just 250 people – and thousands of stars. It has been recognised for its lack of light pollution and the quality of its night sky with the label Village étoilé, 4 étoiles, which benefits the local wildlife as well as enthusiastic stargazers. It is also home to a state-of-the-art planetarium, allowing visitors to explore the solar system. Other ‘starred villlages’ in the Vendée include Marillet, Breuil Barret, Cezais and Bazoges-en-Pareds. 

La Chapelle-aux-Lys planetarium – © Olivier Sauzereau

7. The abbeys of Vendée Grand Sud

For a dose of history and stunning architecture, be sure to visit some of the abbeys, cathedrals and Romanesque churches dotted throughout the area. At Maillezais in the Marais Poitevin, you’ll find the Romanesque Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Maillezais, which overlooks the canals dug by the monks in the 13th century to drain the Gulf of the Pictons, creating a unique natural environment. Then there’s the Abbaye Saint-Vincent de Nieul-sur-l’Autise, a Petite Cité de Caractère. This architectural gem – it is one of the best preserved monasteries in Poitou – dates back to 1068 and has been given a virtual restoration, allowing visitors to step back in time. 


Maillezais Abbey- © Mehdi Média pour CCVSA

8. Travel through time with Fontenautes & Co

Discover the rich heritage of the area with the help of the Fontenautes, your time-travelling guides who will bring to life some of the great Vendéen characters who have shaped this land over the centuries. With the help of VR and immersive experiences, join the fairy Mésuline and her pals to uncover the historic hotspots and legendary tales of Vendée Grand Sud. At Fontenay-le-Comte Tourist Office you’ll find clues left by the Fontenautes, including videos, phone calls, various objects, photos… and listen to Mésuline’s destination song, Setting sails, accompanied by Renaissance mathematician and astronomer François Viète and prehistoric man Jean-Grüt.  


Let the Fontenautes guide you as you explore – © Akken

9. Gourmet specialities and producers

Visitors to Vendée Grand Sud won’t be surprised to learn that an array of local specialities await to tantalise your taste buds. The light and airy sweet treats brioche vendéenne and gâche are perfect with a morning coffee. Or perhaps you’d like to try the minute-cake, so-called because it lasted well and was ready to be served ‘in a minute’ should you need to entertain unexpected guests. From the Marais Poitevin comes the tourtisseaux or Vendéen fritter, traditionally served at the Mardi Gras carnivals instead of crêpes. For those with a savoury tooth, préfou is a delicious flat bread baked with butter and garlic inside. Add Jambon de Vendée to your picnic hamper, a fragrant ham, hand rubbed with sea salt, spices and eau-de-vie and look out for mogettes, the local white beans which carry the PGI label. And while you’re deciding what to try first, have an aperitif. The Kiki Vendéen uses the local troussepinette (blackthorn wine) and is available in various flavours including peach and pear. And of course, to really appreciate the Vendée’s rich larder, be sure to visit the local producers who will teach you about their products and offer you a tasting, plus an opportunity to buy. 


Gourmet delights on offer in Fontenay – © D. Herbreteau pour Office de Tourisme Vendée Grand Sud

10. Incredible places to stay and eat

You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation and dining in Vendée Grand Sud. At hotel-restaurant L’Auberge de la Rivière, in Velluire-sur-Vendée, you can enjoy a gourmet meal of seafood and other local produce overlooking the banks of the Vendée, right in the heart of the Marais Poitevin. Just 45 minutes from La Rochelle and an hour from the Puy du Fou, it’s an ideal place to stay. A warm welcome awaits at La Parenthèse guesthouse in Maillezais, just 100m from the abbey, while B&B Aux 4 Cornes offers charming guest rooms (plus a swimming pool) in the heart of the bocage just outside Fontenay-le-Comte. For a bit more independence, there is a choice of gîtes, including secluded cottages on the water’s edge in the Mervent-Vouvant Forest, such as Le Rétro and Le Moderne ,and the Gîte du Rossignol, a converted barn in the Mervent-Vouvant Forest not far from the medieval city of Vouvant. Camping fans should check out La Venise Verte campsite in the lush green heart of the Marais Poitevin. When it comes to dining, you won’t go hungry, and there are cafés and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. L’Echauguette in Maillezais offers traditional cuisine and local specialities using recipes passed down through the generations. In Fontenay-le-Comte, L’Ardoisine also serves terrific local produce overlooking the river, or enjoy snacks and light meals in the courtyard of Café Cour du Miracle in Vouvant, a Plus Beau Village. 

Lead photo credit : Mervent-Vouvant Forest - © Simon Bourcier pour Vendée Expansion

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