The historic sardine-fishing town of Saint-Gilles Croix de Vie, on the coast of Vendée is ideal weekend-break country: think breezy coastal walks, chats with local fishermen, perusing the markets and, of course, beach fun for the whole family.
Take a walk on the wild coast
The seaside town of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie is the result of the merging of two municipalities located on each bank of the river La Vie: Croix de Vie and Saint Gilles sur Vie.
You can head out on two walking tours to discover the stories of the former villages. Follow the boats painted on the ground for a delightful walking tour among the period houses of the town. If you follow the blue fish path, you will explore the maritime past of Saint Gilles which specialised in sardine-fishing, the first fish to receive the “Label Rouge” distinction.
Aside from these themed walks, explore this beautiful, wild coast. The Pays de Saint Gilles Croix de Vie is made up of a plurality of coastal landscapes: beaches, rocky coasts, dunes, forest… all bordered by the ocean.
The seafront reveals two portions of rocky ledges: from the north of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie to Sion sur l’Océan, to Saint Hilaire de Riez and de la Sauzaie to Normandelière, to Brétignolles sur Mer.
Learn about the town’s fishing heritage
Next, visit the Escale Pêche interpretation centre in Saint Gilles Croix de Vie. Located in the heart of the tide market, above the fishmarket, on the port of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie, Escale Pêche is a discovery centre which takes visitors to the heart of the port’s activity thanks to its permanent exhibition “The journey of fish from the ocean to the plate”. Delve into the history of the fishing port and the secrets of sea fishing thanks, in particular, to the filmography “Des hommes, vent debout” which enhances the visit with poignant testimonies in the fishing industry.
Riding the sand dunes and the waves
Time for some relaxation on the beach. With its fine sand and dune wal, the large beach of Saint Gilles Croix de Vie attracts lovers of relaxation and swimming (there’s a supervised swimming area to give families peace of mind)!
It’s ideal for sport enthusiasts of all kinds too, whether for a run on its long stretches of sand or a yoga session with the ocean as a backdrop. It’s also a surfers’ paradise! From north to south of the destination, there are superb surf spots where you can climb to the top of the waves, especially from October to May when swells are very frequent.
The Grande Plage de Saint Gilles Croix de Vie is an accessible spot everyone, particularly for those who are looking to learn how to surf. In Brétignolles sur Mer, the Sauzaie spot has built a great reputation thanks to its reef wave, a rare occurrence in France. The rocky plateau is perfect for improving your skills while the reef break offers powerful waves, hollow and tubular, which open both to the left and to the right.
Spend the night at L’Envie, a gorgeous guesthouse in the centre of the old town. Four independent rooms each invite you into a powerful and soothing atmosphere as close as possible to the elements: air, water, fire and earth. The tranquillity and simplicity of the property are an invitation to escape and wind down.
The white gold of the Vendée
Next day, head out to the salt marshes of Saint Hilaire de Riez. Shaped over the centuries, the salt marshes of Saint Hilaire de Riez today constitute a protected natural heritage, home to rich ecosystems. Guided tours are organized to discover the local ornithological wealth and you can meet the salt workers who harvest this white gold from the marshes.
Don’t forget to snap a picture of the perfect geometry of the salt marshes eyelets, the perfect balance between man’s know-how and a wild environment.
Ocean-side cycle ride
Pick up a bike for an afternoon spin! The Pays de Saint Gilles Croix de Vie offers a vast network of cycle paths. But did you also know that the famous Vélodyssée cycle route crosses this territory?
The longest of the French cycle routes (1,290 km) starts from Brittany and runs along the Atlantic to the Basque Coast. You’ll be pedalling your bikes with the ocean in the background. Most of the journey is on car-free roads. Fully marked, the route runs along the Pays de Saint Gilles Croix de Vie for 32 kilometers, marked in both directions.
Food, glorious food!
Once you’re cycled-out, refuel with some delicious local products at the St Gilles Croix de Vie markets. Every weekend, two markets bring life to the town. Stock up on the best local products from fruits and vegetables, to seafood and meats. On Saturday, the market takes place in the Croix de Vie district, on the Place Guy Kergoustin square. On Sunday, another market awaits in old Saint Gilles, on the Place du Marché aux Herbes.
Speaking of local products, a trip to Saint Gilles would not be complete without a trip to the sardine canning factory. Step inside the Atelier de la Sardine, located in a renovated farm. The Atelier de la Sardine traces the history and artisanal know-how of the last active Vendée cannery: the Conserverie Gendreau. At the end of the visit, in the boutique area, you will find the wide range of La Perle des Dieux specialties, a premium brand representative of local know-how.
For more information, visit www.laperledesdieux.com
Lead photo credit : Saint-Gilles' Grande Plage © J.Gazeau
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