Pornic is famous for its charming beaches, its cliff-side houses, castle and port. St Jean-de-Monts is one of the main modern resorts of the area stretching for 3km along the fine sandy beach. It is not renowned for the beauty of its architecture, but does boast well-laid out access roads and easy parking.
St Gilles Croix-de-Vie and St Hilaire-de-Riez offer two beaches on either side of the inlet of the Vie river, la Grande Plage de St Gilles and la Plage de Boisvinet. You can also see the oldest fishing port of the coast, home to over 200 boats including many tuna vessels. The beaches are some of the best known in the area and are easily accessible from the coast road.
Brétignolles-sur-Mer has good beaches, a miniature Vendée museum and a maze.
Les Sables d’Olonne is the largest town on the coast famous for its zoo and its fishing port.
Talmont St Hilaire is renowned for its château, its museum of old cars and regattas held at Port Bourgenay.
Jard-sur-Mer has a port, two beaches, a forest of large pine trees and just outside, the monastery of Notre Dame de Lieu-Dieu founded by Richard the Lion Heart.
La Tranche-sur-Mer is an attractive tourist resort renowned for its splendid beaches.
L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer and La Faute-sur-Mer are famous for the cultivation of oysters and mussels. At l’Aiguillon point a long sand dune runs out into the sea.
Four châteaux further inland are also worth a visit: Château de la Garnache, Château d’Apremont, Château de la Guignardière near Avrillé and Le Logis de la Chabotterie, an 18th century château and Vendée memorial museum.
Two islands off the Vendéen coast can also be visited, the Ile de Noirmoutier accessible via a road bridge or a causeway at low tide, and the Ile de Yeu reached by boat from Fromentine, ideal for visiting by bicycle due its size 12km x 4km.
Two water parks to recommend are: Atlantic Toboggan at St Hilaire-de-Riez and Parc des Attractions des Dunes at Brem-sur-Mer.
Le Puy du Fou is an enormous recreational park set well away from the coast in the direction of Cholet and is highly recommended. Set in the grounds of a magnificent Renaissance castle, the park offers a combination of culture, history and ecology. It is essential to pre-book the unique Cinescenic show which is shown only on certain Friday and Saturday evenings. It is an amazing 90 minute extravaganza of the most stunning special effects presented by local people involving 1,000 actors, 50 horsemen and firework displays. www.puydufou.com
The Charente-Maritime region is renowned for its clement climate, delightful beaches and coastal fortifications. The beaches in the extreme west of the region near La Tremblade are great surfing beaches, but can be challenging because of a strong undertow. Inland the region is full of vineyards whose grapes not only produce delicious red and white wines but also the famous local cognac Pineau de Charente served as an aperitif.
La Rochelle is a splendid Renaissance town full of quaint narrow cobbled streets and porch covered pavements. The old town is dominated by a pair of medieval towers from where you can enjoy magnificent views. The lively quayside market and Hôtel de Ville or town hall are both worth a visit. It also has the largest marina for pleasure boats in Europe, and an important boat building industry. Its famous yellow bicycles can be hired to get around the town easily.
Rochefort is well known for the admirals’ houses on the Grands Boulevards and its rope making museum, La Corderie Royale, whose gardens are renowned for 1,200 varieties of begonia.
Marennes is a world renowned oyster farming capital and important seaside resort with a redeveloped waterfront and a 5 hectare bathing area.
St Palais-sur-Mer located on the Côte de Beauté gives access to 4.5km of fine sandy beaches which offer sheltered coves, sand dunes, panoramic viewpoints and legendary rock formations.
Royan is the largest of the seaside resorts on this Charente coastline and offers well supervised beaches which are good for all types of water sports including windsurfing and sailing. It has an attractive promenade, wide tree-lined boulevards and lots of open-air restaurants and cafés. The Zoo at La Palmyre 16km north of Royan is well worth a visit.
Two of the islands off the coast are also famous holiday attractions. The Ile d’Oléron, 30km long and 10km wide, is France’s second largest island and oyster capital. The Ile de Ré is also 30km long but much narrower, reached from a viaduct near La Rochelle. It is famous for its white-washed green-shuttered cottages, vast sandy beaches and picturesque little harbours.
Cognac about 60km from Royan is home to some of the world’s most famous cognac distilleries. Tours of the distilleries with English speaking guides are offered on a regular basis with an opportunity to sample the goods at the end of the visit. www.cognac.fr
Le Marais Poitevin is a delightful area of natural beauty now a National Park 45km east of La Rochelle. Also known as La Venise Verte or Green Venice, it is a marshy area criss-crossed by a labyrinth of canals and waterways. It is a haven for nature lovers who can explore the waterways on a flat-bottomed punt or take advantage of the excellent network of walking and cycling routes. The pretty unsophisticated town of Coulon at its heart has several bars and restaurants.