Villages of character in the Vendée
The "Petites Cités de Caractère" distinction is awarded to towns and villages with outstanding architecture and heritage. Apremont a few kilometres from the coast, Mallièvre and Mouchamps in Bocage, Vouvant, Faymoreau, Foussais-Payré and Nieul sur l'Autise in the southern part of the department are all examples of the multiple facets of Vendée identity.
Apremont lies some 20 km from the coast in an attractive green setting. It is crossed by the Vie, a small tidal river with a steep landscape. The castle's two Renaissance towers stand proudly in the heart of the village. The heritage discovery trail takes you around the narrow streets, Gallo-Roman bridge, fine houses and residences and the church (built in the 20th century) and on the watch path overlooking the village.
Perched on a rocky outcrop, the village of Mallièvre overlooks the white waters of the Sèvre Nantaise. The charming village emerges after a bend beyond a fine stone bridge. Here, the remnants of the medieval castle, the lofty residences of the masters and the houses perched on the granite rock set off the high dry-stone walls, the narrow alleys and floral rockeries... The former weavers' village has not forgotten the activity that made it so prosperous.
The quaint little village of Mouchamps in the heart of the Bocage Vendéen, is perched on a rocky outcrop and dominates the Petit Lay river. Its church, the former castle chapel, stands as a final witness of the old medieval site where a fortress was located. Several houses which still have Renaissance features are dotted among 19th-century town houses. In 1929 in Le Colombier, the man known as "The Tiger" was laid to rest close to his father and the Clemenceau family home.
The medieval village of Vouvant with its ramparts is nestled in a curve of the river. The quaint little village is full of legends, its old keep is said to have been built in one night by the fairy Mélusine. The church is listed as a historic monument and has a remarkable entrance with small columns capped by gorgeous sculpted archivolts. Its charming streets lined with houses of varying styles convey the gentle lifestyle of this small village, a stone's throw from the Vouvant-Mervent state forest.
One day in 1827, a short distance from the old village of Faymoreau, a mining town took root in the outstanding wetland countryside. There was intensive mining over a period of 130 years. Today, the town's layout evokes memories of the past: mining cottages with straight façades, carefully tended allotments and fishing stages around the pond. Contemporary stained-glass windows by Carmelo Zagari in the old Mining Chapel pay homage to the men who laboured in the shadows. The museum, which is located in what used to be the glaziers' dormitory, brings out the glorious industrial past of the Faymoreau mining region.
At the edge of the Mervent forest on the banks of the Vendée river, the village of Foussais-Payré bears witness to two golden ages of architecture. Its Romanesque church built between 1050 and 1100 has preserved vestiges of the Hundred Years' War and the Wars of Religion. With its chevet, the priory (now the town hall) is characterised by its fine fireplaces and wooden staircase dating from the 17th century. The Renaissance prompted some impressive buildings: the house of François Laurent (1552), the "auberge Sainte-Catherine", owned François Viète (1540-1603) and the Halles covered market, built in the 16th century. At the entrance of the village of Payré sur Vendée, former lime furnaces evoke the location's industrial activity in the 19th century.
Founded in 1067 by the Lord of Vouvant, the Royal Abbey of Nieul sur L'Autise cast a civilizing influence over the Bas-Poitou region. Today the Royal Abbey is an outstanding testimonial to monastic architecture with its full arching sculpted façade, its chapter house and Romanesque cloisters (the only remaining intact examples in the west). Not far away is the Neolithic camp of Champ Durand which makes its contribution to local memory along with the watermill along the Autise river.