Heritage

Noirmoutier-en-l'Île

The fans of cinema in the seventies often head to Noirmoutier to discover the scenery of where the film César et Rosalie starring Yves Montand and Romy Schneider was shot, while vacationers invest in a pot of salt flower after visiting the salt marshes. All keep in memory their discovery of the Passage du Gois, one of the rare roads in the world, entirely covered by the sea when the tide is high. The peloton of the Tour had gathered there for the start of the 2011 edition before  Philippe Gilbert conquered his only stage win at the top of the Mont des Alouettes.

Once the main city of the “département” of Vendée, it was then called Fontenay-le-Peuple, before being renamed when Napoléon the 1st preferred La Roche-sur-Yon as the area’s prefecture back in 1804. Later, the common gained in notoriety for the cycling fans who probably still remember Jacky Durand winning his second consecutive French national title in 1994. It was with his red, white and blue jersey conquered in Vendée that the rider from Mayenne then went on to win his first success on the Tour, in Cahors several days later.

On the road

Km 30

SAINT-JEAN-DE MONTS (Pop: 7,650)

Its 8-km beach made the reputation of St Jean de Monts. Thanks to its soft sandy slopes and its wide-open spaces, it is accessible to all. At low tide, it becomes an ideal playground for fishing and seaside sports. But St Jean de Monts has not always been a seaside resort since the first tourists only appeared around 1867. The parish developed around a monastery founded on the island of Monts. The town played a major role during the Wars of Religion and was used as a base by the army of Louis XIII to cross over to the island of Monts in 1622. St Jean de Monts was later a stronghold of the Vendee royalist rebels known as Chouans. The first victim of the Revolution in Vendee was the local vicar in 1790. In 1795, the English army landed on the Grand Bec beach to bring supplies to the army of Chouan leader Charette. Fighting went on in the area until 1815.
Around the beach, St Jean de Monts now offers state-of-the-art equipment such as the new Odyssea Congress Hall, a venue for exhibitions and concerts, or the Oceabul aquatic theme park. In the evening the esplanade with its coffees, restaurants and casino, is a crowd favourite. Cult writer Boris Vian spent several holidays in St Jean de Monts where he wrote one of his most famous novels, I Spit on Your Graves, in 1946.

Km 45

SAINT-HILAIRE DE RIEZ (Pop: 10,000) 

With its 12 km of sandy beaches lined by dunes, St Hilaire de Riez boasts the longest sea front in Vendee. Its twelve beaches and three yacht clubs are perfect grounds for the practice of catamaran sailing, sand yachting, windsurfing, kayaking and other sea sports. Nature lovers might prefer to walk along the three kilometres of a rocky coastline known as the Corniche Vendeenne, listed since 1926, or in the pinewoods. The salt marshes of La Vie are another remarkable site. 

Bourrine du bois Juquaud is an authentic complex of clay houses covered with reed, which are a rare testimony of life in the mashes in the early 20th century. The site, built in 1818, comprises the farm itself and several other buildings (barn, dairy, hen house, warehouse). The furniture is also genuine.

Km 49

SAINT-GILLES-CROIX-DE-VIE (Pop: 7,300) 

Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie was formed from the fusion of villages St Gilles-sur-Vie and Croix de Vie in 1967. St Gilles was known since Antiquity when it was a Greek settlement. In the 9th century, monks from St Michel en l’Herme built a priory an a church named after St Gilles. The town became a major port in the 18th century. During the Revolution, the populations of St Gilles and Croix de Vie were at odds, the modest fishermen of Croix supporting the monarchy while the merchants of St Gilles were in favour of the Revolution. From the 1860s onwards, St Gilles became a seaside resort like most of the towns in the area. St Gilles Croix de Vie also hosts the headquarters of shipbuilder Beneteau, whose factory is in St Hilaire de Riez.  

Km 60

BRÉTIGNOLLES-SUR MER (Pop: 3,900)

In the canton of Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, the small seaside resort is known as the best surfing spot in the area. Also remarkable is the Vendee Miniature museum, an authentic local village built at a scale of 1/10. 

Km 63.5

BREM-SUR-MER (Pop: 2,500)

Unlike what its name might suggest Brem-sur-Mer, home to one of the oldest churches in Vendee, St Nicolas (11th century), is not by the sea! It is renowned for its wines. Brem is with Mareuil, Vix and Pissotte, one of the four areas forming the appellation of Fiefs Vendeens.  The grapes used for the white wines are Grolleau gris and Chenin blanc. These whites are ideal with seafood. Rosés and reds are made from Gamay, Cabernet and Pinot noir.

Km 77

LES SABLES D’OLONNE (Pop: 14,500)

Les Sables d’Olonne is celebrating its 800 years in 2018. The town was founded in 1218 when Savary de Mauleon awarded a charter to the population, marking the official birth of the commune. Numerous events (conferences, shows) are organised to mark the anniversary. A major event will crown the year when the municipalities of Les Sables-d’Olonne, Olonne-sur-Mer and Château-D’Olonne merge into a new commune. On foot, by bike, the town is remarkable for its seaside landscapes, its cycle trails, the Olonne forest, the green countryside of Vaire, Ste Foy or St Matuhrin, the marshes of Olonne island, the dunes of Paracou but also its several beaches. The rocky coastline of Chateau d’Olonne between Cayola and Puis d’Enfer and the winding shores of Bleue de la Chaume look otherworldly.
Les Sables-d’Olonne is also the starting port of the Vendee Globe around the globe yacht race attracting thousands of spectators in town every four years. The 9th edition will start on November 8, 2020.
Les Sables d’Olonne hosted 16 Tour de France stages and was on the race map in every edition between 1919 and 1931. It was the start of the longest Tour stage over 486 km to Bayonne between 1919 and 1924. While Fausto Coppi won a decisive time trial between Les Sables d’OIonne and LA Rochelle over 92 km in 1949, the last stage winner in town was fellow-Italian Mario Cipollini in 1993. Local rider Eloi Tassin won his second Tour stage in Les Sables d’Olonne in 1947 and died here 30 years later.

Km 92

TALMONT-SAINT-HILAIRE (Pop: 7,000)

Château de Talmont, home of the principality of Talmont, was located at the western end of the old region of Lower-Poitou. Built on a mound, its defensive vocation was all the more efficient as the waters of the Atlantic were bathing its moats twice every day. Around the 11th century keep built by William the Bald, Richard the Lionheart built the fortress later dismantled by Richelieu in the 17th century, the ruins of which are visible today. 

Km 117.5

LA TRANCHE-SUR-MER (Pop: 2,990)

Dubbed “the small California”, La Tranche-sur-Mer is a family resort retaining its authentic charm of old. In the summer, the town’s population is multiplied by 40, going from nearly 3,000 to 120,000 holiday makers. To handle the traffic generated by this overcrowding, pedestrian and cycling areas are privileged, In 2008, the resort set up free shuttles called Fun Buses to prompt residents to leave their cars at home. In 2016, La Tranche was awarded a third flower by the organisation of flowery towns and villages and the municipal services have been relying on organic energy since 2009. The town also has 30 km of cycling tracks and is part of the Velodyssée trail.
On the seaside, the local spots are renowned internationally for surfing, windsurfing, catamaran sailing… In 2017, La Tranche-sur-Mer hosted the men’s windsurfing world championships and the women’s European championships. The quality of the water on the 13 km of beaches is listed every year among the very best in France.

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