24 hours in La Roche sur Yon
La Roche sur Yon is laid out in a pentagon shape under the orders of Napoléon Bonaparte. There are numerous things to do in La Roche Sur Yon such as reviving unusual fantasy creatures, a yummy halt at the chocolate museum…. La Roche sur Yon is sure to please history enthusiasts, culture vultures, nouvelle cuisine gourmets, shopaholics, as well as concert and theatre fans!
A circuit around La Roche sur Yon is bound to please all tastes !
Wanting to pacify a region traumatised by the wars in the Vendée, Napoleon Ist decided to build a “model city”, a symbol of reconciliation and economic renewal. Today the town takes the name of La Roche sur Yon. Designed in the shape of a large pentagon, it has 5 boulevards, a grid plan of streets which starts from a large 3 hectares central square. This is the highest place in the city, it is reserved for Place Napoléon. Standing in the centre, the equestrian statue of the emperor, the work of Nieuwerkerke (1854), coexists with 13 mystical mechanical animals created by François Delarozière. A legend tells us that these animals of steel and wood are reminders of Bonaparte’s Egyptian campaigns. Control panels allow visitors to set these unusual imaginary sculptures in motion.
As you stroll around this charming square why not have a drink at the 18B, a brasserie whose name refers to Bonaporte’s military coup on 18 Brumaire in the year VIII. The square is surrounded by buildings with Napoleonic architecture: the town hall (1813), a school (1815), the courthouse (1815) which has since become the conservatory and Saint-Louis church (completed in 1829).
Did you know?
The "Maison Gueffier" a muddy tale!
In 1806, architects recommended building adobe (mud brick) housing for civil servants. Adobe bricks are made from earth and organic materials which are packed in layers in a rectangular prism small enough so that they can dry individually and quickly without cracking. They can then be assembled into structures using adobe mud to bond the bricks. Returning from Spain, on the 8th August 1808, the Emperor made a detour through the Vendée to see how the work was progressing. He was absolutely furious, when he sees these houses being built so economically, consequently fires two or three engineers and, in a rage, sticks his sword into a cob wall and rebels:
"I have poured out gold with both hands to build palaces, you have built a city of mud."
The adobe buildings were then gradually replaced by stone houses. The "Maison Gueffier", the only remaining adobe house in La Roche-sur-Yon, became in 2002 an artistic centre and a writing workshop.
Stopping at Place de la Vieille Horloge to see the Renaissance House and the exhibitions it houses. Why not try a coffee with the flavours of yesteryear at the 1987 Coffee House, with its freshly blended coffee made from a traditional espresso machine. With a colonnaded entrance, a cupola and crystal chandelier in the foyer, you will soak up the charm of this Italianate theatre. Next stop is at the Chocolate Museum, where there are 6 chocolate journeys that take you into the history of cocoa, a delightful experience for young and old. For lunch, why not enjoy a "mogette goret" (pork and beans) or casserole in the restaurant "Les P'tits Ventres de Terre".
Afterwards, perhaps a walk in the Yon Valley at Chaos de Piquet, an interesting site of an old spinning mill where nature has totally taken over. Alternatively, an equestrian show at the Haras de la Vendée (the Vendée’s Stud farm).
For dinner, return to the district of Saint André d’Ornay in La Roche sur Yon. There is a restaurant that the Guide Gault & Millau highlights in its 2019 list as a young talent: Les Reflets. Accompanied by his wife Solen Pineau, Chef Nathan Cretney prepares daily, creative, and healthy dishes, reflecting the flavours of the season.