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All about Deux-Sèvres (79) & Vendée (85)

More rural than its neighbours, Deux-Sèvres has much to offer individuals seeking a quieter life. Without a doubt, the Marais Poitevin is the département's jewel in the crown but there are plenty of other gems to be found if you know where to look.

To find out more about the Deux-Sèvres, read our visitor's guide here.

The Vendée département stretches along the Atlantic coast with 140km of glorious beaches and is home to the Vendée Globe round the world yacht race. Inland, Puy du Fou, the world renowned theme park, draws the crowds. Pine forests, bocages (wooded hills) and marais (marshes) can all be found in the Vendée and were the sites of many battles in Vendées turbulant history.

 

Coulon - capital of the Marais Poitevin

Coulon - capital of the Marais Poitevin

Visit Coulon at the heart of the Marais Poitevin - a unique day out for all the family...

Coulon, the capital of the Marais Poitevin

The Marais Poitevin is the merging of land and water that was left as, over the centuries, the Gulf of Poitou receded and Man's drainage skills developed. The natural recession of the sea was aided by silt, mud and clay deposits from the rivers, and was speeded up from the 12th century by the drive of the Dukes of Aquitaine and the drainage work undertaken by monks.

Today, the 'Mouilles' marshes - the water-covered area - span 35,000 hectares and provide a unique environment. The whole marsh is the largest on the Atlantic coast and the second largest throughout France.

Water is the highway, not only for leisure but also for daily business. Vehicle access is limited and farmers often use boats as the only means of reaching some fields. The larger 'barquettes' - the flat bottom punts of the Marais - can easily transport livestock. Locks and sluices control the flow and provide irrigation, while Spirodela Polyrhiza, better known as duckweed, runs riot over the waterway. This weed turns the surface green and gives rise to the name by which this spectacular corner of Deux-Sèvres is best known: La Venise Verte.

Coulon on the banks of the Green Venice

The white stone and red tile capital of this green kingdom is Coulon, which snuggles up to the Sevre Niortaise with its bobbing boats, kingfishers, bread-eager ducks and herons along the peaceful banks. This picture-book riverside village of neat houses and narrow streets wasn't always this relaxed; the river once bustled with cargo traffic. La Maison des Marais Mouilles, the ancient tax collector's house on the river's edge, was a major revenue collector with records showing 2,700 boats passing through during 1840. It now contains fascinating details of the area's history.

Romanesque church of St Trinite in CoulonThe Romanesque church of St Trinite has an unusual external pulpit for preaching to people outside the building and many interesting features inside. It dates back to the 11th century, though it is built on the site of a church founded by the monks of Charroux in around 830. When Coulon was caught up in the Wars of Religion, the church was destroyed by Protestant forces before being rebuilt in 1671.

Restaurants add character to the Quais Louis Tardy, named after a former mayor who was a founder and director of Credit Agricole. Here, you can sample local specialities like grilled eels, snails cooked in pineau, beans and ham, and ‘Farce Poitevin' - which is cabbage stuffed with vegetables. Perhaps not to everyone's taste is the 'Pate de Ragondins· made from the large swimming rodent, though enthusiasts say it tastes like hare.

Hotel Au Marais is the ideal place to stay for exploring the area, while further along the quay. 'La Pigouille' has a reputation for good local cooking and can arrange boar trips from the terrace. The Aquarium de Ia Venise Verte is worth a visit to learn about the freshwater fauna before moving on to sample the beckoning delights of the tree-lined waterways. Boats and canoes can be hired to paddle through the watery wilderness, while a trip with a local boatman helps you to recognise which of the 70 species of birds in the Marais is crossing your path.

Take a boat from Coulon

Exploring on the land is easy, with well laid out paths for walking and cycling; hire bikes are supplied with detailed route maps. For something a little unusual, try the 'Pibalou’ land train, which does a 20km round trip from the centre of Coulon.

There's good fishing for eels, pike and carp, gorgeous picnic spots and so much plant and animal life to see in this other world. But if you are carrying anything green, be careful where you put it down - in the Venise Verte you may never spot it again!

 Coulon capital of the Marais Poitevin

 

Coulon address book

Office de Tourisme, 18 place de I'Eglise. + 33 (0)5 49 35 99 29, 

www.ville-coulon.fr/web.htm

Marais Regional Park: +33 (0)5 49 35 15 20

Hotel Au Marais, 46-48 quai louis Tardy. + 33 (0)5 49 35 90 43,

www.hotel-aumarais.com

Hotel le Central, 4 rue d'Autrement. +33 (0)5 49 35 99 29,

www.hotel-lecentral-coulon.com

Auberge La Pigouille, 52 quai Louis Tardy. +33 (0)5 49 35 80 99

La Terrasse de Ia Roseliere, 120 quai Louis Tardy. +33 (0)5 49 35 91 60

Restaurant Quai Sud, 7 rue de Ia Pechoire. +33 (0)5 49 24 64 35

Aquarium de Ia Venise Verte, 8 place de I'Eglise. +33 (0)5 49 35 90 31

La Bicyclette Verte (cycle hire), 36 rte de StHilaire, 79210 Arçais. +33 (0)5 49 35 42 56,

www.bicyclette-verte.com

 

WORDS: Ron Cousins

PHOTOS: Kathryn Dobson

First published in Living Poitou-Charentes Oct 2008 © All rights reserved