Outstanding natural sites
Protected natural heritage.
Approximately ten kilometres south of Les Sables d'Olonne, in Talmont Saint Hilaire, is the Payré estuary. Protected from the ocean by the Pointe du Payré cliffs and the Veillon dunes, the estuary is home to an impressive array of flora and fauna. Moving along the Payré river, you find 800 hectares of marshland and the traditional oyster port of Guittière. Take some time out on the superb beach in Veillon, with its sand dune spit almost 1 km long its rugged cliffs set against a magnificent forest. Remember to take a picnic, there are shaded picnic tables under the pines and holly oaks!
In south Vendée, located around the towns of la Tranche sur Mer and la Faute sur Mer, is the Casse de la Belle Henriette national nature reserve which covers almost 340 hectares. The lagoon is a remarkable natural feature with over 360 species of plants and is a migratory stopover.
The Pointe d'Arçay nature reserve is almost an island, bordered on one side by the river Lay and the other side by the Atlantic Ocean. Although not open to the public, it is still possible to discover its exceptional flora and fauna in July and August on free guided visits organised by the ONF (information and booking at the tourist office).
The rugged Vendéen cliffs between Saint Hilaire de Riez and Saint Gilles Croix de Vie, have some outstanding coves and superb ocean views for walkers. Marvel at the Cinq Pineaux (sea stacks) and the Trou du Diable ("Devil's Hole") eroded rock formation in Saint Hilaire de Riez and the Puits d'Enfer ("Hell's Well"), a cleft in the rock in Château d'Olonne...
In Tablier, on the banks of the river Yon you can walk on the Rocheréault granite, and take time to relax in the exceptional lush natural setting found along its footpaths. As you walk look out for the old water mill at the bottom of the valley.
The Mervent-Vouvant forest covers 5,000 hectares and is the largest forest in the Vendée, the rivers Mère and Vendée run through it. The steep rocky landscape is home to dense vegetation, it is the perfect area for horse riding, walking, and cycling.
The Marais Poitevin is made up of 112,000 hectares of intertwined canals and countryside. It is divided into three zones: the coastal zone, the dry marsh and the wet marsh also known as "Green Venice".
The most notable of the state forests in the Vendée are: the forest of Pays de Monts (2,000 hectares), Olonne sur Mer (1,200 hectares) and Longeville sur Mer (1,225 hectares). Until the middle of the 19th century, there was only one sand spit on the coastline. In order to protect the villages at risk of being buried by sand whenever there was a violent storm, an imperial decree in 1810 ordered the planting of pine trees. However, the first seedlings were not planted until 1850. Much later other species would be added to these forests, such as holly oaks.