I was fairly ignorant about French regions before I met my OH. I knew that a lot of British people like Brittany, the Dordogne, and Provence, but I couldn’t have named many parts of France apart from those. One of the best kept secrets, I think, is The Vendée: the Atlantic coast, but a little south of Brittany and north of Bordeaux. I always thought of French people charging down to the South for their July or August holiday, and I knew about “black days” on the motorway, days when HGVs aren’t allowed on the roads. If you’d asked me, I’d have guessed that the Atlantic coast would be stormy and a lot less warm than the Côte d’Azur.
So, along with my discovery that the climate in landlocked Alsace is fantastic, my first visit to the Vendée in 2001 was a real eye opener. We went at Whitsun, meaning that the beaches and towns were very quiet, and yet – as we discovered almost every year – your chances of good weather in that last week of May are pretty high. We rented a fairly basic house in Bretignolles-sur-Mer, which is probably best thought of as the Herne Bay to the Margate of Les Sables D’Olonne or nearby Whitstable-equivalent Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. In other words, there are classier places, and there are busier places, but Bretignolles is a good base.
The house we rented that first year was right on the Avenue de la Corniche, the road that runs parallel to the beach on the other side. I think a year later we tried La Tranche sur Mer, a few kilometres further south, but in 2003 we were back in Bretignolles, which is my favourite place. We rented a house not quite on the sea front, but about ten minutes walk away. The video above dates from that summer. My older daughter is five, the younger not yet three. The wind was a bit stronger that year, the seas rougher, and there were some blobs of spilled oil on one of the beaches, but it was still great.
Bretignolles has an enormous expanse of sandy beach, if that’s your thing, but a little further down there are rock pools and hours of fun catching crabs. I can’t think of a better place for a beach holiday. The shame of it is, we almost never go anywhere but the house in Auxelles these days. We went to Ile d’Yeu a few years ago, and we’ve been to the South a few times, but the Vendée is a real trek from our place in France. France is big.
(It was around now that we discovered the young one had a sun allergy, so we tried to keep her as covered up as possible: hence the purple sun screen and the legionnaire’s hat.. My OH’s brother and his girlfriend always came with us, so they’re in the video.)