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Postcard from Vouvant and Fontenay-le-Comte
Today our postcard comes from the Vendée. We’ve come here to catch up with two sets of dear friends; a couple based in Vouvant and another family we’ve been close to for years in Fontenay-le-Comte. Vendée is part of the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west central France or Western Loire, and gives directly on to the Atlantic Ocean. Named after the Vendée River that runs through the south east of the department. It’s a pretty and wealthy part of the country that has a real abundance of blonde, sandy beaches.
Resorts such as Les Sables-d’Olonne, La Tranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-de-Monts attract tourists in their droves to enjoy the warm summers and abundance of cycle routes and footpaths that weave their way along this beautiful coast. Also known of course for the Vendée Globe, this part of the world is renowned for fun, sea and frolics, but we’re here for a quick trip to visit friends in Vouvant and Fontenay-le-Comte.
The first friends of ours, a couple called Nick and Sarah, are based in Vouvant and were drawn to this area thanks to their love of sunshine, art and painting. A relatively small village, with a population of only just over 800, Vouvant really comes to life during July and August when a dozen or so artists in the village open their doors to the public sharing their work with whoever fancies coming along. For Nick and Sarah, this truly is heaven on earth because they can get up close and personal with these artists (many of whom are now personal friends). It’s also a great chance for them to invite friends and family to their town and share this intimate, arty experience.
We’re staying with Nick and Sarah for our stay because their kids have now flown the nest and they have plenty of space. They have chosen to live in the village and really enjoy the community feel it has. Voted as one of the “Plus Beaux Villages de France” Vouvant really is picture postcard beautiful and you can see at a glance why it has attracted so many artists.
Surrounded by the River Mère and protected by a fortified wall that’s in incredibly good order, the village is steeped in some magical folklore. In fact it is linked with the legend of the Fairy Mélusine who was an ancestor of the Counts of Luisignan and is famed for (supposedly) making the village castle appear overnight. We’re sure that the people who fought tooth and nail to construct the castle would have something to say about that claim, but it’s a lovely story nonetheless.
We’re over the moon that during our off-season visit, Nick and Sarah have managed to organise for us to visit 3 artists’ studios and meet them and hear about their work. Apparently this is something that the artists are quite open to; so if you’re visiting and are interested in this opportunity, don’t be scared to ask. We’re spending 3 nights with Nick and Sarah, and then we’re off to Fontenay-le-Comte where we’ll stay in a charming little chambre d’hôte, because unlike Nick and Sarah, our other friends still have all their kids at home.
Fontenay-le-Comte is an inland town that’s the sub-prefecture of the department of the Vendée. A renaissance town, it is commonly described as the prettiest town in the Vendée and it’s easy to see why. Funnily enough Fontenay was a former port on the River Vendée thanks to its location on the old Roman coastal road that runs from Les Sables D’Olonne to Niort. It’s strange when you wander around this inland town and you stumble across streets that are named quay road and include signposts to the port. The reason for this is that the marshes gradually silted up over the years and the land was drained by the Benedictine monks when the sea receded, resulting in the town being landlocked by the end of the 19th century.
While we’re in Fontenay, we’re not going to have much time for travelling around because we’re going to catch up with our friends, but we know from previous visits that the Nieul-sur-l’Autise, the Centre Minier de Faymoreau and the Chateau de Terre Neuve are unmissable tourist attractions. And for us, of course the markets and street cafés are simply to die for. So, if you’re planning a visit, then do make sure you don’t miss them.
No matter whether you fancy investing in a property in the Vendée for holidays or for a more permanent move, take a look at our selection of properties for sale in the Vendée.