Rolling hills around the Puy du Fou
The Bocage is the North Vendée’s green and verdant land, shaped by man since the Middle Ages. Its steep undulating countryside offers not only spectacular panoramic views but a contrasting landscapes: meandering rivers, wooded valleys and fields outlined by hedgerows. A rich historical heritage is also ever-present in this region. The most emblematic of course is the historical park of Puy du Fou®.
Many attractive towns, picturesque villages and isolated farms make up the north Vendée region, which is also known as the “Bocage”. Perched on the open hillsides, these quaint French villages have a distinctive architectural style characteristic of this area: stone granite walls and Terracotta coloured roof tiles. So french!
The North Vendee has 2 distinctive landscapes
- the highlands or “haut bocage”, bordering the Angevin Empire (defining the lands of the House of Plantagenet in the 11th century) has a very hilly landscape. Its undulating countryside provides a striking backdrop for the Sèvre valley and the world-renowned historical theme park, Puy du Fou.
- the lowlands or “bas bocage” are made up of verdant green valleys, gentle rolling hills covered by forests. Numerous rivers flow through the region, including the Vendee’s main river Le Lay.
From the Haut Bocage, a rocky summit has numerous panoramic views
The Haut Bocage is a region of rugged granite outcrops and steep undulating hills. Some of the highest viewing points in the Vendée can be found here and the views are simply breath taking:
- Le Mont des Alouettes (232m): offers a awesome panoramic view over the hills and valleys of the surrounding countryside. The Mont des Alouettes has a 16th century chapel and 2 of the 8 original windmills have been preserved. Standing on the highest hills, the windmills are very characteristic to the bocage. They bear witness to the ancient agricultural activity of the region as well as the ingenuity of the inhabitants. The Vendeans used them as coded language during the War in the Vendée.
- Puy Crapaud (269m): a well-deserved panoramic view. To reach it, you need to follow a small winding road lined with trees. From the summit you will discover, not only a view of the bocage but also the old mill which was, for a time, transformed into a restaurant.
- Saint-Michel-Mont-Mercure (290m) - is the highest community in northern Vendée. From the top of the church tower, the most beautiful 360° panoramic view awaits you, under the protective gaze of the Archangel St Michael.
- The Castle of Pouzauges: This medieval castle holds a strategic position on the steep and rugged hilltops of Les Gâtines in the northern Vendée. The Keep stands proudly, watching over the town, and demonstrates the power that local landlords once had. From the castle, the view is magnificent, looking out across the countryside. With such an amazing backdrop, it’s an ideal spot for a family photo.
- The “Terrier Marteau” twin windmills are unique in the Vendée and overlook the town of Pouzauges. One of the mills is still producing bread and brioche, made from the flour ground on site, what’s more samples are available during visits. And yet another beautiful panoramic view that is worth the trip!
Did you know, it’s almost like an Irish microclimate!
The Vendée’s hilly landscape constitute the real first barrier opposing the oceanic westerly winds. Here, the clouds cool as they gain altitude, consequently rainfall is more frequent in the springtime. Many other factures are also involved, and help the North Vendée to retain its verdant green countryside as summer approaches, similar to Ireland!
An astonishing concentration of charming local heritage, to seek out
The Vendean Bocage is made up of remarkable network of sunken lanes which cross the surrounding hills and valleys. It is also an important feature for many hiking trails in the region. The rolling hills of the “bocage” landscape offer numerous possibilities for those looking for outdoor activities i.e 350km of long distance walks, 1,300km of short distance paths and 400km of cycling routes.
The North Vendée landscape is also dotted with countless historical features quite easy to discover during a stroll beside the river or in the forest. It is not unusual to come across wash-houses, mills or even standing stones which date back to prehistoric times.
Furthermore the greatest concentration of local heritage, directly linked to the landscape is in the Sèvre Nantaise valley. Many water mills have been built along the river since the Middle Ages. They were mainly used for flour milling, but also for the production of paper, tanbark (used for tanning leather) and fuller (a step in woollen cloth making).
The North Vendee's Chateaux and strong holds
The territories between the Duchies of Poitou, Anjou and Brittany have long been recognised for their strategic importance. As far back as the Middles Ages, fortresses have been built on this high land in the Vendee.
Dominating the surrounding landscape, these large medieval dungeons are visible from afar with their massive silhouettes. They are the guarantors of local history: the imposing fortress of Tiffauges owned by the menacing Gilles de Rais (Bluebeard) or the Castle of St Mesmin sitting on the edge of the Vendee, with its knights and princesses are both well known.
The remarkable towns of Mallièvre, Montaigu and Mortagne-sur-Sevre are built high up, surrounded by ramparts “keeping watch” over the valleys. The castles of Chateaumur and Pouzauges have taken advantage of their hilltop position to erect formidable fortifications and dungeons.
Each french village church has its own heritage treasures
The french village churches in the bocage have a typical countryside feel. Numerous 18th and 19th century churches can be seen on the distant hilltops. Slender bell towers, made of slate or stone, rise up ever higher ... this phenomenon is the result of the "bell towers war". Each village wanted to have the highest, most beautiful bell tower and of course to do better than the neighbours!
Many of the villages are built around their churches. Their silhouettes are characterised by tiled roofs in warm colours, with a few slate roofs reserved for beautiful bourgeois houses. Small quaint French village with such a cosy atmosphere !
The french village churches in the Bocage have an interesting heritage and should not be overlooked:
- From the Romanesque period, there is the old church of Pouzauges with its 13th century murals. Not forgetting the fascinating Priory of Grammont, founded in the 12th century by Richard the Lionheart. Home to monks who have taken the vow of silence , prayer, solitude and self-sacrifice.
- From medieval times, the church of Boupère is exceptional. It has been fortified with watchtowers, loopholes, gunboats and a walkway. The majestic Abbey of La Grainetière has a military architecture, some relics still remain untouched by the wars in the Vendée.
- The town of Saint Laurent sur Sèvre has an incredible religious heritage. Known as the « holy city of the bocage » it is at the heart of "Suisse Vendéenne" (the Vendean Switzerland). The city was made famous thanks to Father Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, an apostolic missionary who founded missions here. In 1996, Pope John Paul 2 visited the town to meditate and pray.