Whether you prefer to explore wild forest trails, wander around patchwork salt marshes, or gaze out over miles of golden beaches—you can pick your panorama in this Western France department. From photo-worthy views that you’ll be dying to share to secret spots you’ll want to keep all to yourself; here are 10 of the most stunning places in the Vendée.
1. Passage du Gois, Noirmoutier
Few sights are as emblematic of the Vendée as the rocky causeway that links Beauvoir sur Mer on the mainland to the island of Noirmoutier. Passable only at low tide, the “Passage du Gois” is not only the region’s most unique road trip, but a natural phenomenon, formed by stacks of sand and silt at the meeting point of two Atlantic currents.
Gaze out across the Bay of Bourgneuf as you drive, cycle, or hike the 4.2km road through the sea, venture out into the bay to hunt for shellfish, or attend the annual Les Foulées du Gois, which sees athletes race against the tide. Check the tide times here before you set out, as it’s only accessible for a few hours a day; the rest of the time, you’ll need to cross the bridge from nearby La Barre-de-Monts.
2. Passerelle de la Belle-Henriette, La Tranche-sur-Mer
Hidden away in the southern reaches of the Vendée, the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de la Belle Henriette is a wild pocket of protected marshland centred around a natural saltwater lagoon.
Walking the passerelle, a 130-meter-long boardwalk that winds its way across the lagoon to the sandy La Belle Henriette beach, serves up ever-changing views. Come at low tide to enjoy bird-watching across the marshes, or time your visit for sunrise or sunset, when the light dances across the lagoon waters. In the off-season, you might even have the beach all to yourself, and on a clear day, views stretch all the way to the islands of neighbouring Charente-Maritime.
3. Route du Sel, Marais Breton
The Vendée’s ever-changing coastal landscapes are bordered by sprawling saltwater marshes. The Marais Breton blankets the northwest with more than 45,000 hectares of crisscrossing canals, lush wet meadows, and salt marshes.
The most scenic way to explore is by canoe, and tours set out from Sallertaine along the waterways of the Route du Sel. Paddle through the heart of the marshes, stopping to peek around rural villages and historic windmills, then visit the Daviaud open-air museum to discover the age-old traditions of salt harvesting.
4. Plage du Veillon, Payré estuary
Halfway between Les Sables d’Olonne and La Tranche-sur-Mer, the Payré estuary might be one of the Vendée’s best-kept secrets. Flanked with salt marshes and oyster farms, including France’s smallest oyster farm at La Guittière, it’s also home to the Blue Flag Plage du Veillon.
With swathes of blonde sand curling out into the estuary and a backdrop of rugged dunes and pine forests, it’s a magnificent backdrop for swimming, surfing, and kitesurfing, all of which are popular pastimes. For the best views, cross to the opposite shore of the estuary and hike along the coast to the Pointe du Payré.
5. Ile d’Yeu
Rocky coves, historic lighthouses, and timeworn fishing villages dot the coast of the Ile d’Yeu, the smallest of the Vendée’s two islands. Reachable only by boat (year-round from Fromentine, April-September from St Gilles Croix de Vie, and July-August from the Ile de Noirmoutier), the photo-worthy views start as soon as you set sail.
Hire a bike to explore the island, which measures in at just 23 square kilometres, and hop off to stroll around the picturesque port and lively market of Saint-Sauveur, visit the Grand Phare lighthouse and the Vieux Château, and watch the dreamy sunset from the Pointe du But.
6. Corniche Vendéenne
With the GR8 and Vélodyssée trails hugging the coast for the entire length of the department, there are no shortage of seaside views for hikers and cyclists in the Vendée. Among the most spectacular stretches is the Corniche Vendéenne, which winds along the sea cliffs between Saint Hilaire de Riez and Saint Gilles Croix de Vie.
You can drive, hike, or cycle the coastal road, but whichever you choose, make sure you stop to see the famous “5 Pineaux” rocks. Along the clifftop walkways, look out for the rocky stairways that lead down into secluded sandy coves, perfect for escaping the summer crowds of Saint Gilles’ main beaches.
7. Estacade of Saint Jean de Monts
If summer holidays by the seaside conjure up thoughts of strolling along a scenic pier, ice cream in hand, Saint Jean de Monts doesn’t disappoint. The resort’s 400-meter-long pier, L’Estacade, is the longest in the Vendée, and its wide boardwalk provides easy access to panoramic views along the Atlantic Coast.
The most memorable moment to admire the views is at sunset, but you can also visit at high tide to watch the surfers and kitesurfers along the Plage des Demoiselles, enjoy fishing off the pier, or return after dark when the Estacade is dramatically illuminated.
8. Mervent-Vouvant forest
More than 5,000 hectares of holm oak woodlands, rambling forest trails, and gleaming lakes await in the vast Mervent-Vouvant forest, which covers much of the Vendée’s southeastern corner. Once you’ve enjoyed hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding along the vast network of trails, head to Lake Mervent to rent a boat, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard.
Highlights of the forest include the old Pont du Déluge, tucked away in the trees; the hike to the Père de Montfort cave; and the view across the lake to the 17th-century Château de la Citardière.
9. Plage de Sauveterre, Les Sables-d’Olonne
There’s no shortage of sandy shores along the Vendée’s Atlantic Coast, but sailors, surfers, and water sports enthusiasts will find their nirvana in the maritime hub of Les Sables d’Olonne. North of the port city, the rugged dunes and wind-ravaged shores of the Plage de Sauveterre provide a wilder alternative to the family-friendly Grande Plage.
This is where you’ll find some of Les Sables’ most renowned surf breaks—get there at sunrise for the most magical views and watch the pros in action. Be warned, though, the northern part of the beach is designated for naturists, so it might not be suitable for the whole family!
10. Puy du Fou
Natural wonders are what the Vendée does best, but the final spot on the list has to go to the region’s man-made marvel, the Puy du Fou. Fusing history, theatre, and entertainment to dramatic effect, this is a theme park like no other. It’s also the second most-visited theme park in France, with some 2.3 million annual visitors.
Seven spectacular live shows bring history to life before your eyes, while the evening Cinéscénie is a show-stopping theatre experience performed by more than 2,500 actors, dancers, acrobats, and horse riders, along with fireworks, pyrotechnics, and a 23-hectare open-air stage.
There are also sword-fighting musketeers, gravity-defying horseback stunts, Roman gladiator battles, and a life-size Viking longship… in short, prepare to be stunned.
Lead photo credit : The Meule port on Ile d'Yeu © Thomas Pajot / shutterstock
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