Great food, wine, views and beaches, the Vendee region of France has it all

From the moment a gust of tropical air greeted me in Nantes, I knew I had come to the right place.

The sun, sea and stunning coastline make this the perfect spot to explore, no matter what kind of vacation you’re looking for.

Joinville Port in L'lle d'Yea


Joinville Port in L’lle d’YeaCredit: Getty
Beautiful beaches in the Vendee region


Beautiful beaches in the Vendee region
Dramatic coastlines are dotted with ancient forts and castles.


Dramatic coastlines are dotted with ancient forts and castles.
Anita burns calories with a bike ride


Anita burns calories with a bike ride

And I was lucky enough to enjoy a French foodie’s dream with amazing local food, a little sustainability education, some exercise, and a little relaxation – all packed into just a few days.

The first stop on my tour of the Vendee region of western France was the charming coastal destination Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie.

With the tourist season drawing to a close, the seaside town’s cobblestone streets were filled with locals who gathered outside cafes for a lazy lunch in the heat of the afternoon, gossiping about seafood and wine.

Lunch was planned at Le Casier, a beautiful seafood restaurant in the heart of the port city, where I paired some white wine with the region’s specialty – sardines.

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The humble fish is something of a seafood hero in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie, as it saved the town after industrialization claimed other aspects of harbor fishing.

And while there are still some concerns about the future of seafood – with overfishing still an issue – local fishermen in Saint-Gilles are concerned about fishing sustainably so that tourists can experience the city’s sensational sardines without fault.

We decided to burn off the calories with a quick cycle along a coastal path. And luckily the bikes we rented were electric so I didn’t run out of breath.

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We passed some scenic beachfront views, but my favorite was the LA-style infinity pools – made out of natural rock formations on the waterfront.

We were all bloated after training, so a trip to the bio organic Domaine Eric Sage vineyard was perfectly timed to quench our thirst.

The friendly owner, who left England for France, gave us a tour and explained how they carefully grow the grapes without pesticides or chemicals.

This means that wine is healthy for both the people who drink it and the environment.

I was lucky enough to taste their white, pink and red varieties – and I can safely say the lack of additives works because it was one of the smoothest wines I’ve ever had.

The next leg of the adventure took us to Île d’Yeu – an island off the coast famous for tuna and lobster fishing.

The Compagnie Yeu Continent ferry takes you on a short trip across the water, making it an easy excursion for travelers interested in taking a day trip from the mainland.

As soon as we arrived at the pier, it felt like we had been transported to heaven. The air was mild and all the little white houses reflected the ocean with impressive shutters and blue doors.

My room at the Atlantic Hotel had a breathtaking view of the sea and, after an adventurous start to the trip, it was great to spend some time people watching, with the locals milling around the quaint flower and cheese markets.

Dinner that night was booked at one of the island’s luxury hotels, Les Hautes Mers, so we dressed to impress.

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The hotel’s open-plan design is breathtaking, allowing diners to look through the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows to the ocean.

We had a table outside, next to the hotel’s beautiful garden, which was perfect for a warm evening. The entire area was lit up beautifully with candles and lights, giving it a fairytale vibe.

Anita has dinner at Les Hautes Mers tartare


Anita has dinner at Les Hautes Mers tartare

And the food was just as magical. My favorite dish of the night was a white tuna tartar with cucumber and radish, complete with a citrusy soy sauce poured over it – it exploded with flavor.

After all the sea air, exercise, and good food, I slept like a baby – and nearly missed the brekkie, which was classically French croissants and cheese that energized me perfectly for our next cycle.

We headed to the La Roue Libre rental shop, just around the corner from our hotel, where we picked up more e-bikes complete with handy baskets that we packed with picnics for the trip.

As we cycled through the 30C sun, climbing over shimmering blue beaches and ancient castles and chapels, I thought this could easily be one of the best days of my life.

Along the way, we stop at La Ferme d’Emilie, where owner Emilie and her husband, along with a handful of volunteers, raise sheep that are on the verge of extinction and tend the crops.

The ecological farm has been a family-run project and Emilie is passionate about showing people who visit the island an example of sustainable living.

The hardworking couple make their own ice cream, jam, juice and jumpers from the farm’s animals and crops and it was a fascinating sight to live off the land.

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When we got tired of biking, we took a break for lunch at a beautiful spot with a breathtaking view from the top of the cliff – and the seagulls circling above seemed to be just as interested in our tuna quiche as I was. It was even warm enough for me to take a dip in the sea.

My final stop on the trip was the Hôtel Le Robinson in Saint-Jean-de-Monts, another beautiful seaside town in the region.

Joining me for dinner that night were a retired English teacher and her husband who are part of a group in the Vendee area that focuses on making British tourists feel welcome in France.

They moved to Saint-Jean-de-Monts because they loved the long, bright days and the wide variety of family activities that are easily accessible in the area.

The Vendee is known as a slow tourism area because the local council has been careful to preserve natural areas such as forests and swamps from becoming construction sites. That means there are plenty of wild open spaces to venture into.

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I ended my exploration with an electric scooter tour. As others ran along the forest trails, I literally took the slow tour, running at the lowest speed, enjoying the scenery and my last few hours in the beautiful area.

It might have been a lightning adventure from Vendee, but by the time it was time to head home, I was already missing the bright sun, slow pace of life, seafood, and long sandy beaches before my plane even took off.

Delicious picnic on the Île d'Ye overlooking the sea


Delicious picnic on the Île d’Ye overlooking the sea
Fruit market in Saint-Jean-de-Mont


Fruit market in Saint-Jean-de-Mont

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