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France's Golden Coast

France's Golden Coast

05 Jun 2015 BY Tim Wells

The Atlantic coast of the Vendée stretches for around 200 km, and over two-thirds of “Le Littoral” are delightful golden-sandy beaches against a pleasant backdrop of sand dunes and stands of pine and Holm oak forest. Ranging from Port de Collet, on the border of the Loire Atlantique, to the departement’s southernmost beach at La-Faute-sur-Mer, just above the nature reserve at the bay of Aiguillon, many of the Vendée’s beaches are perennial “Blue Flag” winners, awarded for cleanliness.

The main seaside resorts are predictably crowded in high season, but are still very enjoyable and family-friendly, and maintain a measure of unsophisticated charm. LES SABLES D’OLONNE, in the middle of the Vendée coastline, is the largest, with its Grande Plage an endless expanse of gently-sloping golden sand. A popular resort town with hotels, restaurants, and all manner of seaside activities, Les Sables is also the starting point for the gruelling Vendée Globe round-the-world sailing race.

ST-JEAN-DE-MONTS, in the north of the Vendée, is another seaside resort with lively beaches with all facilities. Its Plage Centrale, Plage des Demoiselles, and Plage de la Tonnelle can all be crowded in high season with impossible parking. You may want to head for quieter beaches at the southern end of St-Jean-de-Monts at Soixante Bornes.

Furthest south is LA-TRANCHE-SUR_MER a very popular summer resort, with eight kilometres of south-facing sandy beaches, and a pleasant atmosphere, with plenty of restaurants, entertainment, a sailing centre, windsurfing and other water sports, museums, riding, childrens’ centres, you name it. The beaches here are some of cleanest in the Vendée, carrying the Blue Flag award year after year.

In between these popular spots, however, there are delightful stretches of pristine beaches much less travelled, and if you are happy to do some exploring you may find one nearly all to yourself. In the north, LA-BARRE-DE-MONTS stretches for seven kilometres of sandy beach backed by sand dunes and pine forest. As at most quieter beaches, there is no lifeguard surveillance, and one must always be wary of unpredictable and sometimes dangerous offshore currents. A bit further south, NOTRE-DAME-DE-MONTS has several fine sand beaches, but there is no surveillance outside Plage Centrale and the other central beaches of the town.

The coastline above the St-Hilaire-de-Riez commune enjoys the delightful backdrop of the Forest de Pays de Monts overlooking the beaches of the BEC: Le Grand Bec, Le Petit Bec, and Plage des Salins, one of several official naturist sites on the Vendée coast, if you happen to have forgotten your bathing costume. At St-Hilaire you will find the only seaside cliffs on the Vendée coast, five kilometres of cliffs with pleasant walks, nice views, and some picturesque sites, such as the Devil’s Hole rock formation. South of St-Hilaire, at the mouth of the Vie River, is the beach at St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, leading to a long stretch of beach down to Jaunay. This will be quite crowded at the northern end, which is lined with apartments and hotels, and forget about parking anywhere.

Although it has no beach of its own, the charming small marina village of Bourgenay, south of Les Sables, is a pleasant spot for a bite, with nice cafés, bars, and restaurants, and it is a short walk from here to the beach at VEILLON at the mouth of the estuary of River Payre. Sheltered by some of highest dunes on the Vendée coast, and with the backdrop of the lovely Point de Payre reserve of pine forest with some nice seaside rock formations, the 1.5km beach is quite popular, with lifeguards and a car park. Walk a few minutes up the estuary to Port de la Guittière, a centre for local oyster production, for a pleasant (we think) session of tasting, and other treats.

Finally, the island of NOIRMOUTIER, on the northern edge of the Vendée, would be perhaps better off in the Mediterranean, the epitome of seaside charm. Its lower (western) coast is virtually one long beach, while the upper coast is more a succession of rocky inlets with the occasional sandy beach. Plage les Sableaux is the main beach for the town of Noirmoutier en l’Ile, with the Plage des Dames its best-known beach. It is worth remembering that for all the golden sand beaches and radiant sunshine, the waters of the Atlantic off the Vendée coast are not as warm as your villa’s private swimming pool; they will struggle to top 21° C. even in high summer. Wetsuits are permitted, at most beaches.

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