The Vendée, the sunniest department in France, was rebellious in other times. Over the last fifty years or so, it has opened up to tourism along its coastline. With three quality courses, the Golfy Network is hoisting the sails on these lands of sailors.
In 1988, the Golf de Saint Jean de Monts was born between the pine forest and the ocean. The hemmed dunes, whipped by the winds, wet by the sea spray, inspired Yves Bureau who alternated the holes between the pines and the links.
In 2013, Gilles Paris took over the club. The evolutions orchestrated by Martin Hawtree have seen the birth of new greens on the 6th and 13th, a shifted tee on the 4th and many other more discreet improvements. The clubhouse offers a pleasant view of the course and the ocean while the table puts everyone in agreement, forgetting the score !
In 1990, the Bourgenay Golf Club took shape, set back from a dune planted with pine trees, a bulwark against the ravages of the wind. Pierre Thévenin designed a wise course, on a rather flat terrain, in the image of the lagoon of the Payré estuary, the small neighbouring river.
Since 2005, the first 18-hole Pitch & Putt course in France completes the recreational offer of this club taken over in the summer of 2020 by Jean-Paul Dubreuil, an entrepreneur from Vendée who is ready to invest and to revitalise the club. Sylvie, his wife, has been very involved in the renovation of the clubhouse, which has been brought back to life.
In 1989, Joël and Isabelle Gautier inaugurated the Golf des Sables d’Olonne on the site of the Château de la Pierre Levée, a replica of the Petit Trianon in Versailles dating from the 18th century. Designed by the architect Bruno Parpoil, this course flourishes in the Vendée bocage. If the outward journey is powerful, the return journey is more technical and often flirts with ponds.
In this family club, the unceasing efforts to improve the quality of the terrain are bearing fruit around the greens. The wisteria-covered farmhouse is pleasant, especially when the anglers return with their baskets full. The menu is then adapted to the day’s fishing for the pleasure of all, gathered on the terrace.
Where to stay ?
The Hôtel Côte Ouest Thalasso & Spa****, in the Vendée, opens generously onto the bay of Les Sables d’Olonne, between the ocean and the pine forest. From the lobby to the 97 rooms and suites, the marine-inspired decoration invites you to travel, to dreams carried by the winds. Furniture from legendary liners, deckchairs on the terrace, knick-knacks, portholes, everything encourages escape, even if it is virtual! Behind the large bay windows overlooking the sea, the restaurant, with its combination of metal beams and brick walls, is inspired by the old maritime stations. Here again, the invitation to travel is always there, without even waiting to discover the plates… which give priority to the sea. The Sunday seafood buffet is a must! The Thalasso area is ideal for letting go, relaxing, letting yourself go between the treatments, the spa and the fitness area where the most modern machines compete with the sauna, the hammam, the jacuzzi, the ice fountain and the solarium. The fitness area is freely accessible to all residents.
Tourism in Vendée
There are two options for reaching the island of Noirmoutier, since 1971, the bridge, classic and fast, without danger, or, more picturesque, the passage of the Gois, this ancestral roadway and submersible at each tide. It is better not to miss your schedule, at the risk of getting wet, even if the raised railings provide makeshift shelters.
The Gois – just over 4 km long – has been passable by car since the 18th century, but it reached its peak during the 20th century with the development of tourism on an island of just under 50 km2. Often nicknamed “the island of mimosas” for its mild winter climate, Noirmoutier is not just about beaches, but also about salt marshes, dunes and forests of holm oaks inland, including the famous Bois de la Chaize, near the Bay of Bourgneuf. Since the Second Empire, the island has been divided into several towns behind Noirmoutier-en-l’Île. Arriving from the mainland, Barbâtre, La Guérinière, le Vieil and l’Herbaudière, the island’s main fishing and yachting port. If tourism is the first island resource, oyster farming and fish farming diversify the agricultural activities, beyond the production of bonnottes, the small early potatoes.
Slightly to the south-west of Noirmoutier, the island of Yeu is smaller and rounder. Called Isle-Dieu until the Revolution, its modern name is a tautology meaning “the island of the island”! The island offers two physiognomies, a sandy and green coastline to the east, towards Port-Joinville – the most urbanised and inhabited area -, and a wilder, more granite coastline between creeks and cliffs to the west. The island is traversed by a long-distance footpath, the GR 80, which circles the island over a little less than forty kilometres.
Gastronomy & Heritage
As early as the 5th century, Benedictine monks began to transform the wet marshes into salt marshes, to harvest the white gold. Today, on the island of Noirmoutier as well as on the Vendée coastline, these well-defined marshes benefit from the mild and airy climate which helps the water to evaporate. The salt rises to the surface and the salt grower only has to pass the lousse (a kind of rake) to collect the fleur de sel before it is packaged and marketed. Although the flower is the most prized by restaurateurs, the exploitation of salt and coarse salt also provides a living for around a hundred producers. Over the last fifteen years, the profession has found a new popularity with young salt producers, ready to invest in an ecological and profitable activity. This is a way of perpetuating the profession and the island’s artisanal activity.
Although salt is an essential condiment in many recipes, the gastronomy of the Vendée goes beyond these little piles of white gold. Starting with the gâche, this braided brioche, sweetened and enriched with fresh cream, on every table at every meal. On the savoury side, the Vendée ham prepared with brandy, herbs and spices goes very well with mogettes, the white beans of the region. The sardines of Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie are a delight for young and old alike, as is the thick and generous poultry of Challans, roasted with fleur de sel!
Since Titouan Lamazou’s victory in 1990 and his single-handed round the world race completed in just under 110 days, the Vendée Globe Challenge, the most difficult ocean race according to the specialists, has never ceased to inspire skippers from all over the world. In nine editions, every four years, 115 sailors have set off from Les Sables d’Olonne, many of them have suffered damage, 22 of them have completed at least one Vendée Globe, which is quite an achievement. Jean Le Cam and Arnaud Boissières have reached Les Sables four times, a record even if they have never entered their names on the list of winners. In 2017, Armel Le Cléac’h – an excellent golfer – set the record for the event in 74 days 3 hours 35 minutes and 46 seconds. This record is to be beaten during the 10th edition, which will start from Les Sables on Sunday 10th November 2024, towards the Equator and its doldrums, the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean, then Cape Leeuwin off the coast of Australia, before tackling Cape Horn and its Dantean waves, and, to finish, the Azores high and its storms…, with the best competitors due to return around 7th March 2025. The 40 sailors involved have a year and a half left to fine-tune their monohull, find the funding to face the “Everest of the Seas”, optimise their strategy and, for the luckiest ones, hope to beat Armel Le Cléac’h’s record, which is quite a challenge !
If there’s one place you can’t miss in the Vendée, it’s Le Puy du Fou! Repeatedly voted the world’s best amusement park, it offers a veritable plunge into history. Stroll through the alleys of 4 reconstructed villages, from the Viking era to the Belle Epoque. Take in breathtaking shows, including Cinéscénie, the world’s largest night-time show, which traces history from the Middle Ages to the Second World War, in a romance blending real events and French legends. It’s an enchantment played out every evening by 4,200 extras and extraordinary technical resources.