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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.

 

Visit the Marais Poitevin, our Green Venice

Visit the Marais Poitevin, our Green Venice

For a cool day out head to the fascinating emerald waterlands of the Marais Poitevin where you can hire a boat or simply enjoy the relaxing atmosphere…

Marais Poitevin 1 of 11Imagine floating gently along a river, through sunshine and dappled shade provided by poplars, alders and ash trees. The water, covered in duckweed, resembles a moving emerald carpet, and around you otters slip into the water and swans swim majestically by. For lunch, simply tether your boat at a mooring in one of the many villages and choose a lovely little restaurant or a place to picnic.

Welcome to the Marais Poitevin, a watery world of wetlands, man-made canals as well as meadows, dykes and fens, that’s the second largest wetland in France after the Camargue. It has been inhabited since the seventh century, with the monks living in the Marais abbeys, draining the marshes to create the ‘dry marshland’ areas 600 years later. In the 16th century King Henri IV called this unusual part of the world ‘Venise Verte’ or Green Venice and the name has continued to this day.

The Marais makes for a very different day out. The most popular way to see some of it – it is 97,000 hectares in total - is by boat. You can choose from a traditional flat-bottomed boat, called a plate , or a more modern one. Hire a boat to row yourself or let someone else to do all hard work with a guide who will steer you through the maze of waterways.

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If you prefer to stay on land, there are 50km of flat cycle paths through the Marais, making cycling another excellent way to get around. Or you can ride a horse, sit back and relax in a horse-drawn carriage or even a miniature train.

Make sure you spend time in at least one of the villages, many of which were once busy ports. Coulon is considered the capital of the area and has been officially designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Here you can see the typical marshlander houses with their whitewashed walls and brightly coloured shutters as well as the more elegant Renaissance architecture in white stone. The Maison de Marais Mouillés by the river was where river taxes were once collected. Today it’s a museum where you can learn about the history and life of this atmospheric area.

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For more information about the Marais Poitevin head to Pôle-Nature at Taugon where you can choose from a guided or unaccompanied visit. There are also numerous interactive displays to help you discover the flora and fauna (www.polesnature. fr).

Another gem is Arçais with its cobbled streets, old stone cottages and ruined château. This is the place to buy angelica, either in candied form or as a liquer. The latter makes a delicious apéritif.

There’s more…See the Romanesque church at Magné and one of the last working windmills in the Poitou-Charentes at Marans, the 17th century mill grinding its own organic flour which is for sale. At St Hilaire la Palaud visit the nature reserve where you can try and spot the 70 species of bird there. In fact, you’ll want to spend much more than a day in the Marais Poitevin…

THE DETAILS

Boating: look out for the ‘embacadère quality’ sign for assured good service.

Arçais Venise Verte Loisirs: some guides can give tours in English – it’s best to make a reservation with them a few days in advance. Le Grand Port, Arçais; tel 05 49 35 43 34;www.veniseverteloisirs.fr.

Embarcadère Cardinaud: hire a rowing boat or canoe for just one hour or as long as a day. Maps and life jackets are provided and you can also order a picnic. You will need to leave some sort of identity document as part of your deposit. La Repentie de Magné, Magné; tel 05 49 35 85 00.

Cycling: bike hire shops are found in Coulon,Arçais and La Garrette. La Libellule: Place de l’Eglise, Coulon; tel 05 49 69 14 68; La Bicyclette Verte: 36 route de St Hilaire, Arçais; tel 05 49 69 14 68.

Horse-drawn carriage: La Caleche d’Arçais: guided tours in French; 64 rue de la Garenne, Arçais: tel 05 49 35 40 29

Train: the Pibalou train takes you on a 20km trip around Coulon. DLMS Tourisme, 6 rue de l’Eglise, Coulon; tel 05 49 35 14 14; www.coulontourisme.com.

Bird park: the Marais in on the path of many migratory birds and you can see 70 different species at the Parc Ornithologique ‘Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin’. Walk or hire a boat to see some of the wilder parts of the eight hectare park. St Hilaire la Palaud; tel 05 49 26 04 09; www.oiseauxmaraispoitevin.com.

Eating out: the specialities of the region include eels, frogs’ legs and white beans called mojettes.

Ma Gourmadise: a well-known gastronomic restaurant that also runs a cookery school. Its shop will provide you with a picnic. 1 Place de l’Eglise, Arçais; tel 05 49 33 22 93. 

La Pigoulle: good local food. 52 quai Louis Tardy, Coulon; tel 05 49 35 80 99

Tourist offices: in the Marais Poitevin, findone in Coulon, Arçais, St Hilaire la Palud and Mauze-sur-le-Mignon.Niort tourist office will also have plenty of information. Maps showing suggested circuits are available in English. They can also organise visits of a day or more. www.marais-poitevin.com

First published in The Poitou-Charentes Journal