Vendee 85, Pays de la Loire, France

Category: Regional & Department Guides, Loire Region
Population: 607,430
Land Area: 6,720 km2
Population Density: 90.4/km2
Department No: 85
Arrondissements: 3
Cantons: 31
Communes: 282
Prefecture: La Roche-sur-Yon
Subprefectures: Fontenay-le-Comte, Les Sables d'Olonne
Unemployment Rate: 8.1% (National average 9.5%)
Average Property Price: 251552€ (Regional Average 274138€)
Average Property Price per m²: 2246€ (Regional Average 2426€)



Vendée is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution. It effectively encompasses the area known as Bs-Poitou part of the former French province of Poitou. Vendée takes it name from the river of the same name which runs through it, the name being derived from Gallo-roman ‘Vindeda’ meaning white.



The tranquillity of today’s Vendée hides a turbulent past. A constant thread running through the history of Vendée has been counter-revolutionary or religious struggle. Vendée has links with England dating back to the 12th century. Vendée was part of the realm of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204). The village of Nieul-sur-l'Autise in south east Vendée is believed to be her birthplace. Eleanor’s son was Richard the Lionheart (Richard I of England) who is thought to have spent a lot of his time in Vendée at Talmont.


Much of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between England and France took place in  Vendée. In the following century Vendée was again a battleground during the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) as it was home to many influential Protestants. The Wars of Religion were brought to an end when King Henri IV issued the Edict of Nantes (1598). The Edict of Nantes granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (Huguenots) substantial civil rights in a nation which was essentially Catholic. The Edict, to an extent, was the forerunner of a secular state separating civil life from religion and offering general freedom of conscience to individuals.


The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 marked the start of another period of religious conflict causing many Huguenots to flee the Vendée for England and North America. Today many families in the Anglophone world can trace their ancestry back to the Vendée.


Less than 100 years after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Vendée was again a hotbed of counter-revolution when, in 1793, the peasants revolted against the French revolutionary government which had come to power after the French revolution of 1789. The Vendée revolt cost more than 100,000 lives before it ended in 1796. When Napoleon returned from exile in Elba in 1815, Vendée refused to recognise him, remaining royalist and staying loyal to King Louis XVIII. An expedition of 10,000 troops was sent in to pacify the Vendée. During the Napoleonic years after the French revolution, on the orders of Napoleon, construction of a new garrison town and prefecture, La Roche-sur-Yon was commenced in 1804. La Roche-sur-Yon was to replace the former capital of Bas-Poitou, Fontenay-le-Compte. During the next 60 or so years the ebb and flow of the French Empire, the restoration of the French monarchy and the creation of the French republic can be followed along a timeline of how La Roche-sur-Yon was known. Between 1808 and 1870 La Roche-sur-Yon was variously known as Napoléon, Bourbon-Vendée and Napoléon-Vendée before finally settling on La Roche-sur-Yon in 1870.



Vendée borders the Bay of Biscay and is renowned for its sandy beaches. Along the Vendée coast beaches extend for over 140 kilometres. Along the Vendée coast the beaches give way to sand dunes bordered in many areas by forests of maritime pine. The pine forest helps protect the flat farmland behind from Atlantic winds and also affords some protection against coastal flooding when Atlantic storms batter the coastline.


In winter, Atlantic storms can be violent. In Spring 2010, the Atlantic storm Xynthia battered the Vendéen coast causing extensive loss of life, coastal flooding and severe property damage. As a result of Xynthia, a programme was put in place to improve coastal flood defences and to tighten up planning rules concerning the construction of new houses near the Vendéen coast.


The terrain of Vendée is generally low lying and gently undulating. With the terrain being generally flat, beyond the Vendée littoral there are a number of large marshes and wetlands almost all of which are nature conservation areas. In the north of Vendée department extend the Marais Breton between the town of Challans and the coastal flats looking on to the island of Noirmoutier. In the south the Marais Poitevin, sometimes called ‘Green Venice’ extend around the Bay of Aiguillon and south into Poitou Charentes region. In the north of the department can be found an area known as the Bocage Vendéen, a more hilly landscape forming a mosaic of fields and pastures punctuated by hedges and rows of trees. The Bocage contains numerous small hamlets and isolated farms underlining the rural character of a countryside that is organised around small towns.

The river Vendée runs through the south east of the department, through the forest of Mervent and the town of Fontenay-le-Comte then meeting the river Sèvre-Niortaise before flowing into the Bay of Biscay at the Anse de l'Aiguillon.



Unlike the neighbouring Pays de la Loire departments of Loire-atlantique and Maine-et-Loire to the north, Vendée has no large conurbations. The largest town is the prefectorial seat of  La Roche-sur-Yon (pop.51,124). The other main towns,  Challans, Les Herbiers, Fontenay-le-Comte and Les Sables-d'Olonne are all of modest size but coastal resorts like Les Sables-d'Olonne, whose census population is 15,433, can have a summer population exceeding 100,000 boosted by tourists and holidaymakers.


The coast has the major resorts St-Jean-de-Monts, St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, Les Sables-d'Olonne and La Tranche-sur-Mer but is interspersed by smaller seaside towns like Jard-sur-Mer and Brem-sur-Mer.


Overall, Vendée is moderately populated with a population density of about 90 per square kilometre. The late 20th century has seen consistent growth in Vendée’s population but the population increase has tended to be concentrated along the coast.



Average minimum winter temperature (January and December) is about 3°C whilst the summer average maximum daytime temperature (July and August) is about 25°C. The average number of sunshine hours is greater along the coast, Les Sables d’Olonne benefitting from an average of 2000 hours per annum whilst the equivalent figure for La Roche-sur-Yon is about 1700.



The Vendée’s main industries are tourism, agriculture, food processing and light/medium engineering. Its economy is characterised by a low rate of unemployment (around 7% in late 2006 compared to more than 9% nationally).  Vendée has a very high proportion of small and medium sized businesses (one business for every 14 inhabitants).


In agriculture, the main crops are maize, oil seed rape, wheat and sunflowers. The island of Nourmoutier is famed for its early potatoes. Meat and dairy production also feature, as does the offshore farming of shellfish (oysters and mussels). Poultry from Challans is highly regarded nationwide as is lamb produced from the salt marshes in the North of the Vendée.


Vendée has several major fishing ports with Les Sables d'Olonne, ranking the 6th most important fishing port in France. Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie is France’s major sardine port. he Ile d'Yeu, off the Vendée coast, has a long fishing tradition. Fish and oyster farming are of growing importance around the island of  Noirmoutier. The fishing industry generates more than 4000 Vendéen jobs onshore and 1400 offshore.


Much of the light manufacturing industry in Vendée reflects its status as a major tourist destination. Mobile homes are manufactured at Luçon and the building of motor and sail yachts takes place at many locations. The world’s leading yacht manufacturer, Bénéteau SA, is based in Vendée.


Gastronomy and Wine

Vendée has a number of specialty products including a distinctive brioche, raw cured ham Jambon de Vendée (raw cured ham), jambon-mogettes (ham and white beans).


Vendée is not renowned as a wine growing area but it has some production concentrated around the communes of Vix, Brem, Pissotte and Mareuil-sur-Lay. Wine is marketed under the "Fiefs Vendéens" designation. Wine quality has gradually improved and is now classed for the mostpart as Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure (VDQS). Producers hope that continuing quality improvements will bring the more prestigious Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (A.O.C.) status.



With its long sandy beaches and above average sunshine hours, the coast of  Vendée  is a tourist magnet. In the summer, coastal resorts like St. Hilaire de Riez, Saint-Jean-de-Monts, Les Sables d'Olonne and St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie can become very busy indeed. Vendée attracts more than 3 million tourists each year, (more than four times the resident population) and ranks second department in France in terms of visitor numbers.


Many of Vendée‘s beaches lend themselves to surfing and detailed surf reports for the major surfing beaches in Vendée and Loire-atlantique can be found here.


Vendée has been a regular starting point for the Tour de France cycle race, hosting the opening stages in 1990 and 2005. In 2011, the Tour de France will have a spectacular start across the Passage du Gois, the causeway linking Noirmoutier to mainland Vendée.


Vendée is home to one of the world’s most important yacht races the Vendée Globe. The Vendée Globe is a round the world race held every 4 years. Traditionally, the starting point for the Vendée Globe is Les Sables d’Olonne.


Away from the coast Vendée has a wealth of visitor attractions. At Puy du Fou in the north, during the day here are historical re-enactments from Roman chariot racing to the Vikings to the Musketeers all set in their historical context. At night, at the same location, Cinéscénie is a spectacular sound and light show.


In the south the Green Venice of the Marais Poitevin can be explored at a leisurely pace by hiring a punt. The wetlands of Vendée are also a haven for birdwatchers. There are mile upon mile of footpaths and cycleways throughout Vendée. A coastal cyclepath runs the length of the Vendée coast and on Ile d’Yeu, one of the best ways of exploring the island is to hire bike at the harbour. Zoos can be found at Les Sables d'Olonne and Mervent.


With Vendée’s turbulent historical past, there are many chateaux , abbeys and historical sites to explore. The Chateau of  Terre-Neuve near Fontenay-le-Comte has magnificent architecture and parkland. The Chateau de Barbe-Bleue, Tiffauges, a substantial ruined castle, towers over the town. It is renowned as the Castle of Bluebeard. The village of Vouvant 12km north of Fontenay-le-Comte is surrounded by medieval walls and overlooks the river Mère. Vouvant has been classified as one of France's most beautiful villages (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France).





 Travelling times to the Vendée vary widely depending on the port of entry. From Roscoff and Cherbourg, allow 4 hours, Saint Malo and Caen 3 hours, Le Havre about 4 hours and Calais about 7 hours (sample journey times to La Roche-sur-Yon). Negotiating Nantes can be tricky and if you’re in a hurry, it’s best to stick to the ring road around the city and follow signs for Bordeaux. If arriving from Caen, Le Havre or Calais then Nantes can be avoided by following the A87 south west of Angers proceeding via Cholet and on towards La Roche-sur-Yon.

The two principal autoroutes in Vendée are the A87 (Angers-Cholet-La-Roche-sur-Yon-Les Sables d’Olonne) and the A83 running north-south connecting Nantes-Fontenay-le-Comte-Niort with a spur heading off to La Roche sur Yon. If travelling from Brittany, Nantes can be avoided by taking the Pont de St Nazaire across the mouth of the river Loire and heading along the coast towards Noirmoutier, the latter now being connected to mainland Vendée by a bridge as well as a (tidal) causeway.




There are some very small provincial airports at La Roche-sur-Yon and Les Sables d’Olonne but for international flights, Nantes Atlantique in adjoining Loire-atlantique is the nearest major airport.




There are good frequent local TER rail services within Vendée connecting with principal TGV routes  through Nantes and Niort in adjoining departments. There is a TGV service direct from La-Roche-sur-Yon to Paris which generally has an early morning and a late afternoon service. The journey time for this TGV service from 3hours to 3 hours 30 minutes. The afternoon TGV service originates at Les Sables d’Olonne and has a total journey time from there to Paris Montparnasse of about 4 hours.



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