From south of Nantes, down to the Gironde estuary, runs a flat, sparsely populated and rather unprepossessing region which draws in more holidaymakers than any other département on France’s Atlantic coast.
The western regions of the Vendée and Charente Maritime are hugely popular hotspots for tourists and British campers and caravanners during the warmer summer months. But what is it that draws in holidaymakers in their hordes? We take a look at what makes these regions so attractive.
The Vendée Coast
All over France, Bastille Day is celebrated through dance, music and firework displays. All in the name of the Revolution and Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité. Although it is difficult to resist a good party on your National Day, celebrations in the Vendée can be more subdued than elsewhere. This region was, after all, a hotbed of counter-revolution where in 1793 the peasants rose up against the revolutionary government which had come to power four years earlier.
Today, many Vendéeans are still very aware of their region’s bloody history but as 14th July approaches are happy to organise festivities for the huge influx of summer visitors. In fact, the Vendée attracts over 5 million tourists each year, the vast majority (87%) are French but of all overseas visitors nearly half are British. With tourism so important to the region you would expect a wide choice of accommodation options, particularly around the main holiday resorts, but it may come as a surprise that over two thirds of this accommodation capacity is on campsites.
So what is it about the Vendée that makes it so attractive to the British and to campers and caravanners in particular? Well, it can probably be summed up in three little words: sun, sea and location.
Having your own beneficial microclimate is a good starting point. Figures vary but coastal Les Sables d’Olonne reputedly enjoys well over 2,000 hours of sunshine per year. Even the sunniest places on the Côte d’Azur manage little more than 2,500 and the comparative figure for London is less than 1,500. It seems there are many contributing factors to the Vendée’s magnificent climate but the warming currents of the Gulf Stream play their part. The clearer skies tend to appear close to the coast near the mouth of the Loire with the sun beating down on most of the coast north of the Gironde estuary.
Beaches all along the Vendée’s 140 km coastlineare a sight to behold and perfect for the quintessential family beach holiday. The crescent shaped Grande Plage at Les Sables is one of the safest but it’s also worth seeking out the Plage du Veillon at Talmont- Saint-Hilaire. Considered one of the best beaches in the Vendée, it is 1.5 km long and includes a sand dune spit formed at the mouth of the river Payré.
Wonderful beaches and surprisingly good climate are the essential ingredients for the perfect holiday. Realise that a popular resort like St Jean-de-Monts lies just 150 miles or a three hour drive from the port of St Malo and you begin to understand just why the Vendée is so popular with British holidaymakers.
So next year, why not put the Vendée on your ‘must-visit’ list? With 350 campsites waiting to welcome you there’s something for all tastes. Big and lively by the beach or quiet and spacious by the Lac du Jaunay. And if you can, do try to be here on 14th July as everyone enjoys a good party.
The Charente Maritime Coast
Further south, the Charente coastline is epitomised by the inevitable ribbons of sandy beach backed by dunes and fragrant pine forests. There are over 100 beaches to choose from, ranging from the safe, gently shelving beaches around the bucket and spade resort of Royan to the more turbulent surf of the Côte Sauvage at La Palmyre, popular with surfers and wind surfers.
The pines have a peculiar and beguiling effect, enticing you from the frazzling rôtisserie heat of the beach to the cool embrace of the scented canopy. The French have long valued the restorative benefits of a shady afternoon snooze after a lazy lunch, and British campers have cottoned on with enthusiasm, willingly surrendering to the call of the forests. When it is this hot, shade is a prized commodity, and the pine forests can be vast, usually interlaced with paths and cycle tracks.
The Brits seem to have an affinity with the laid-back lifestyle here: easy going days on the beach, the simple pleasures of the barbecue and a dip in the pool. The major resorts of Royan, famed for its oysters, La Rochelle with its stylish boulevards and shops and La Palmyre, a family favourite for its zoo, punctuate the coastline and add welcome variety. Saintes provides a little history in the shape of a major Roman amphitheatre dating back to 40AD, one of France’s largest.
Puy du Fou
With over 1 million visitors each year, this is a historical theme park with an extravagant son et lumière and a cast of hundreds.
Where to stay: Camping la Bretèche
An excellent, beautifully landscaped site La Bretèche is also good value. There are 162 pitches all on grass, divided into a touring area of 122 pitches (10A electricity) and accommodation areas with 24 chalets, 12 bungalows and four eco-lodges all available to rent. It is a good base from which to visit the spectacular Puy du Fou Grand Park.
Try the seafood restaurants around the little port of St Gilles.
Where to stay: Camping le Parc de la Grève
This site is located in a quiet village a short drive from the Vendée’s famous sandy beaches. This is a mature site with 39 grassy and well shaded pitches all with 10A electricity. Although the beach may well be the main appeal here, the Vendée has a great deal more to offer. A number of cycle trails run close to the site, and offer a great way to explore the region.
Le Perrier is a small village in the heart of the marshes, characterised by the flat land and vast prairies surrounding it. Le Jardin du Marais is a delightful, family site in a country setting on the edge of the marshes. It is beautifully kept and has excellent facilities. Nearby is the busy fishing port and resort of Saint Gilles Croix-de-Vie where you can have a drink or a meal on the quayside, wander along the pedestrianised shopping streets or admire the yachts in the thriving marina.
Take a small boat and paddle along the waterways of the Charente’s ‘Green Venice’.
Where to stay: Camping le Martin Pêcheur
On the edge of the Marais Poitevin and just six kilometres west of Niort, this is a simple family campsite on the bank of the Sèvre Niortaise river. There are 47 shaded pitches with electrical connections available. The area is ideal for walking and cycling and Magné is just a short drive (or ride) from several embarcadères, starting point for delightful excursions by boat or canoe along the waterways of la Venise Verte.
Owners, couple Greg and Nadege, will be pleased to welcome you to their site on the edge of the Sèvre Nortaise and the Marais Poitevin, which is ideal for short or long stays. With canoe and bicycle hire on site you have no excuse for not exploring the local area.
A picturesque island, off La Rochelle, with stunning white beaches, pretty villages and celebrity visitors.
Where to stay: Seasonova Îl De Ré
Camping at Seasonova Île de Ré, you are right by the beach when staying on this scenic site, just 200 metres from the sands of La Plage du Groc Jonc. Start your island day with a French breakfast using the handy croissant and pain au chocolat ordering service at reception before heading out to explore.
A beautiful town with maritime history, aquarium and bustling streets.
Where to stay: Camping le Soleil
Neatly and attractively landscaped, Le Soleil has 158 level pitches amongst trees and shrubs. Very busy in high season, reservation is advised. A half hourly bus service to La Rochelle runs from outside the site and a ferry service across the harbour to town.
Russell has worked in the camping industry for over 28 years and was a director at Alan Rogers for many of them.
He now works for various tourism organisations as a marketing consultant but continues to write top-quality content for us. His content often covers European and worldwide travel, arts and culture, and history.