Typically quaint French villages in the Vendée
France has many quaint French villages which have the distinction “Petites Cités de Caractére” (Small Cities of Character). This is awarded to small towns and villages with a remarkable architectural and landscape heritage. The Vendee has several villages which are listed as part of this label. Mallièvre, Apremont or Vouvant to name but a few…..just waiting to be explored!
Apremont and its chateau, a Renaissance strong hold
At just a few kilometres from the Atlantic coast, Apremont is a quaint French village, tucked into verdant green valleys. The Vie river meanders through this petite cité de caractère. The two towers of the Renaissance château stand majestically overlooking this delightful village.
A Circuit to discover the villages heritage will lead you through its many narrow streets. The walk takes you via the washhouse and the Gallo-Roman bridge. The church sits at the heart of Apremont, numerous dwelling houses huddled around it. Continuing along the ramparts of the Apremont château, you have a beautiful view over the entire village.
Mallièvre, an ancient weaver’s village full of charm
Perched on a rocky granite outcrop, the remnants of a medieval castle stand proudly dominating the village of Mallièvre. Classed as "Petite cite de Caractere" the small town which overlooks the Sèvre Nantaise river. Its tall dry-stone walls, floral rockeries and narrow alleys are very characteristic of quaint French villages.
This former weavers' village has not forgotten its origins which made it so prosperous. From the 17th century, the art of weaving was developed in the cellars of the local houses. A visit to the La Maison du Tisserand enables you to see a loom in working order. The voice-over narration of an old weaver explains the last few hours of this difficult trade.
The houses belonging to the "Maitres de Tissage" of Mallièvre show the prosperity of these cloth manufactures. It shows also the progression of the textile trade in the second half of the 19th century. And equally bear witness to the golden age of weaving in Mallièvre. Standing some ten meters high, they have a slate roof with 4 sides. The chimneys are made of brick with the owners initials visible on the side. While a vine is planted on the front of the weaver's house, the facades of the mansions are adorned with wisteria, a symbol of wealth at the time.
After the visit, the bucolic paths bring you back to the greenbanks of the Sèvre. Mallièvre is also known a stopover for pilgrims following the road to Compostela (called in English "Way of St. James").
Mouchamps, birth place of the Clemenceau family
Perched on a rocky promontory the quaint little village of Mouchamps dominates the Petit Lay river. Its church, the former castle chapel, sits on the site where the old medieval fortress once stood. Mouchamps also bears the mark of the powerful Lusignan lords, who were Kings of Cyprus, Malta and Jerusalem. During the Reformation, this quaint village gave its support to the Huguenots.
Incidentally, the church also reveals the existence of a Protestant community from the 16th century. Several houses retain elements of the Renaissance and stand side by side with 19th century bourgeois houses. These elegant dwellings underline the economic vitality of Mouchamps, its agriculture and crafts. At "le Chaussée" the wash house bears witness to the everyday life and stories from the village.
Mouchamps can proudly claim her deep links with 2 celebrities:
- René Guilbaud, a brilliant naval officer, who became an aviator and aviation pioneer, went missing at sea in 1928. The Martel Brothers monument was erected in 1930, as a tribute to this brilliant Commander.
- Clemenceau or “Le Tiger” (a former French Prime Minister) and his family's property “Le Colombier”. Georges Clemenceau was laid to rest here close to his father in 1929.
Pouzauges France, an ancient fortified town
Pouzauges is an ancient fortified town which clings majestically to the hillside in bocage region of the Vendée. This "Petite Cité de Caractére" has an architectural heritage steeped in history. Its medieval town centre has numerous narrow winding streets and alleyways which follow the layout of the old fortress.
Pouzauges was born from the merger of 2 parishes, both with a remarkable historical heritage:
- Pouzauges, the “upper town”or ville haute: has commercial influence, Protestant and rather bourgeois. It has many charming streets and alleyways, beautiful mansions and a few Art nouveau inspired buildings. The town also serves as a lively backdrop for the old 12th century medieval castle, from which the view is breath-taking.
- "Pouzauges le Vieux" is in the valley, Catholic and more rural, it hides a true medieval gem: the Church of Notre Dame and its exceptional 12th century frescoes.
Vouvant, a quaint french medieval village
The picturesque medieval town of Vouvant is the only fortified village in the Vendée. It sits on the edge of the Vouvant-Mervant national forest. Enclosed within its ramparts Vouvant stands comfortably in the hill top overlooking the river. This quaint French village is filled with legends such as that of the old keep. Built, it is said, in one night by the fairy Mélusine, thus its name "Tour Mélusine". The other precious jewel is the Romanesque church, listed as a Historic Monument. The edifice is magnificent, still telling stories as if acting out scenes for a stone comic. Its remarkable West façade show many carved characters. From monsters mixing with saints to poor human souls fighting against temptation.
The portal in particular is worth the visit:
- jamb figures on each of its sides,
- surmounted by a superbly sculptured tympanum,
- exquisit arches and archivolts depicting various scenes.
This charming town has many narrow streets and alleyways, lined with houses of various styles. During the summer, the town becomes a painter's village thanks to various exhibitions. A Painters Circuit presents many of the artists who occupy the heart of the village.
Faymoreau, ancient mining village full of memories
The old town of Faymoreau is an unusual mining village set in the magnificent bocage landscape. It is said that one day in 1827, a modest clog maker discovered a coal seam while digging a well. At just a few steps from the town. From that day Faymoreau was born and became an organised, structured mining town. For 130 years, mining activity was intense. Today, the remnants of the mine complex reveal many memories of this unusual place. Linear settlements, cultivated workers' gardens and fishing pontoons at the edge of the pond all bear witness to bygone days.
In the old Chapelle des Mineurs (the Minors church), contemporary stained-glass windows by Carmelo Zagari pays tribute to the underground workers. Installed in what was once the glassmakers' dormitory, the museum tells the history of coal mining and the industrial past of the Faymoreau village.
Foussais-Payré, superb Romanesque and Renaissance architecture
The quaint French village of Foussais-Payré illustrates two golden ages in its architectural heritage. Its Romanesque church built between 1050 and 1100 bears the traces of the Hundred Year war and the Wars of Religion. The Renaissance has also left behind some prestigious buildings in Foussais-Payré:
- the house of François Laurent house (dating back to 1552),
- the Sainte Catherine inn, owned by François Viète, mathematician and algebra inventor (1540-1603),
- the Halles built in the 16th century.
Nearby the old Priory, currently the local town hall, has also conserved beautiful distinctive fireplaces and a 17th century wooden staircase. And the last but not least, the old 19th century lime kilns recalling the industrial activity in the area.
Nieul sur l’Autise, between the plain and the marshlands
Nieul sur l’Autise is situated in South East Vendée and it is listed as a "Petite Cité de Caractère". Founded in 1068, its Saint Vincent Abbey constitutes an exceptional testimony to monastic architecture. The churches facade shows the main portal and 2 blind arcades each flanked with semi engaged column. These are crowned by historiated capitals. Semi-circular arches and archivolts are sculpted, a typical characteristic in the medieval architecture.
Not to mention the delightful chapter house, the masterpiece is undoubtedly the Romanesque cloister, the only one preserved and fully intact on the West coast of France. In 1141, the abbey was granted the status of Royal Abbey by Eleanor of Aquitaine, then Queen of France.
Nearby, the Neolithic camp of Champ Durand contributes to the fame of this historical village, as does the water mill, which sits on the banks of the Autise river. Lovers of old stones and history will be delighted to visit Nieul sur l’Autise, and lavish in the richness of its architectural and landscape heritage.