I enjoyed a grand adventure in Vendée with Summer France, May 15 – 18, 2018 and wrote a feature story for 50 Connect. Here it is!
Journalist Diane Priestley discovers cycling, canoeing, horse riding, succulent oysters and delicious French cuisine and asks: ”‘What’s not to love about a summer break in Vendée on the secluded west coast of France?”
I could never have imagined cycling for a solid two hours! To say I am not sporty is an understatement. But these e-bikes are miraculous and even a novice cyclist can master the pace and distance!
So here I am gliding with ease along a scenic coastal track in Vendée, on the west coast of France, where the famous Tour De France will start in just a few months in July.
How exhilarating to realise that more than 150 of the world’s best road cyclists will follow this very same route after departing from Noirmoutier-en-l'Île in Vendée for the 105th Le Tour de France. The Grand Depart will be a spectacular sight, with hundreds of spectators supporting the 22 teams as they begin the gruelling race of 3,329 km (2068 miles)!
But now in the tranquil seclusion of this unspoilt haven, I’m with a group of new friends. We are six enthusiastic UK journalists with our sweet Rosie from Heaven Publicity and our delightful hosts, the all-girl dream team of Summer France; Joanna, Gina and Lucy.
We arrived only yesterday, on a quick flight from Gatwick to Nantes, to perfect May weather of warm sunshine with a crisp breeze gentle on our stressed-out faces, as we left our worries behind to embrace four days of exciting activities and the superb French cuisine.
Comfortable and Spacious Villas
Our capable, multi-skilled team leader, the lovely Joanna Laforge drove us to our impressive villas, Le Domaine de Vertmarines in Saint Jean de Monts.
The comfortable and spacious villas are ideal for an extended family holiday with grandparents, parents and kids or groups of friends. The beautiful villa I shared with Eleanor, a bright young journalist from Kent, boasted four bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a très chic dining room and huge comfy living room and private swimming pool and garden!
Other villas are designed to suit couples of all ages seeking romance and togetherness. These charming French villas, 55 in total, truly offer a relaxed home away from home where many loyal UK holidaymakers return every year.
Summer France has seven of these beautiful holiday resorts in Vendée, where guests can soak up the excitement of the Tour de France and the unique coastal attractions and enjoyable leisure activities.
|Scrumptious breakfast in the beautiful villa|
These holidays are ideal for people over 50 seeking active, healthy and good-value breaks just a quick hop across the English Channel. And you can be sure of being pampered by the helpful locals.
Every morning we indulged in crunchy baguettes and delicious croissants and pastries fresh from the local bakery and good coffee before heading off on our e-bikes, which can be hired from the nearby cycle shop.
Bicycles, Horse, Canoes
The French do love their bicycles and there are a myriad of safe, off-road cycling tracks in picturesque Vendée, located in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west-central France, on the Atlantic Ocean.
Vendée is home to sweeping sandy beaches, sparkling salt flats and fresh delicious oysters. Because of its position in west-central France, it’s easy to reach; less than 60 minutes’ drive from Nantes Atlantique Airport.
We also tried horse riding and canoeing! Let me tell you all about these wonderful activities!
All of us put our hands up as ‘eager beginners’ when it came to horse riding. So the skilful horseman at Club Hippique du Havre de Vie saddled up the quietest, plodding horses and made sure we were all firm in our stirrups for our gentle walk through the tranquil forest. What a truly serene and enchanting way to see the wild scrubland, breathe in the honeysuckle fragrance and commune with nature.
I adore horses so enjoyed getting up close and personal with my sturdy Irish Grey who was very well behaved and clearly knew the route with his eyes shut!
|Plodding along in the tranquil forest|
Paddling my Own Canoe
As if the thrill of horse riding wasn’t enough, that same day we experienced canoeing along La Route du Sel, through the marshlands of Sallertaine, with our trusty leader, the charming and handsome Luc.
I’ve tried kayaking before, but now I can honestly say I prefer canoeing with a partner as the two or more paddlers make a delightful, sociable activity. Well it was sheer pleasure once I got the hang of steering and stopped crashing into the prickly trees! (Sorry Rosie!)
|The lovely Luc!|
Luc guided us along the beautiful canals to the historic windmill, Moulin de Rairé, which has been milling flour since 1555. The miller led us up through the fascinating inner workings of the windmill and gave us an entertaining and enthralling talk, clearly passionate about keeping the old mill alive and his traditional craft of producing high quality, artisan flour.
|Getting the hang of paddling!|
The French are legendary for their delectable food, so artistically displayed on the plate, and fine wine. The regional cuisine of Vendée is superb and prepared for guests with love and great pride.
Vendée is renowned for succulent, fresh oysters served straight from the sea and our group was treated to a visit to the oyster farm, l’Huîtrière de Vendée. The farm produces 50 tonnes per year through a complex process of breeding, growing and harvesting the sought-after molluscs in the surrounding seabeds.
After an intriguing talk by our host David, we sat outdoors overlooking the harbour of bobbing fishing boats and tucked into delicious fresh oysters with a light fruity white wine. Just heavenly!
So Much Food!
Our generous Summer France hosts lavished us with the very best of French cuisine at carefully chosen restaurants for lunch, apértifs and dinner.
We sampled delicacies at Le Comptoir Saint Jean on the esplanade followed by a sumptuous seafood dinner at La Langoust’in.
After working up an appetite cycling, our group savoured the region’s unique dark, thin and crispy crepes called galettes, at the creperie, La Suite. Following the massive savoury crepe oozing with scrumptious fillings, some hardy souls even managed to devour an equally huge sweet crepe and freshly made ice cream for dessert!
One delightful evening we enjoyed cocktails on the beach at sunset and then wandered to the superb restaurant, Kerlouis for a sublime dinner. The chef even looked after me as a vegetarian with a dainty compote of julienned veggies.
|Our lovely hosts, Rosie and Jo|
|Some of our group relaxing at sunset|
The final food fling, with our bursting waistlines, was an exquisite three-course lunch at the historic homestead of Restaurant La Quich Notte, where the charming hostess served our rowdy group with pure panache.
The Summer France dream team – Jo, Gina and Lucy – capped off our stay with a barbecue of prawns and escargot, followed by a party in our villa on our final night. And before flying out we made like the locals and cycled into the markets to buy fresh produce for a delicious pool-side lunch, including my new favourite dip, tapenade and scrumptious handmade cheeses.
What’s not to love about a holiday in coastal Vendée, packed with fun activities, superb food and wine and meeting the charming locals and making new friends?