There’s scarcely a square inch of France that hasn’t been fought over, but the Vendée – in the west – has a particularly heroic past. It doesn’t appear that way initially. A long Atlantic littoral cedes to woods and undulating farmland untroubled by mountains or great rivers. No drama, then. Not now. But 225 years ago, it was here that local peasants, furious at Republican excesses, revolted. They first won, then lost, then were slaughtered in an ethnic cleansing episode over which modern France doesn’t linger.
Following the exceptional story around this deep green land is riveting. But, on a summer break, you need light as well as shade. That’s the job this year of the Tour de France, which starts from the Ile-de-Noirmoutier, off the Vendéen coast, on July 7. The cyclists then pursue the coast south, as you should, too. These are endless beaches, shelving so gently that you’re in sight of New York before getting out of your depth. My pick would be Veillon-Plage, south of Les Sables-d’Olonne. For day two, the Tour swings inland. Follow it again, into the boscage pastureland.
Here the Vendéens braved the revolutionary army. The story is told in the outstanding museum at Les Lucs-sur-Boulogne. Not far away, at Grasla, Les Brouzils, they’ve recreated a forest settlement where locals took refuge from republican savagery. And across at Les Sulpice-le-Verdon, the Chabbotterie manor house remains much as when Vendéen hero, General Charette was arrested there in 1796. The Puy du Fou history theme park at Les Epesses weaves Vendéen experience into a 96-acre pageant covering most of the past in extraordinary live shows and tableaux.
How to go
Train, London to La Roche-sur-Yon, from £104 return (0844 848 5 848, voyages-sncf.com). Or ferry to St Malo or fly to Nantes or La Rochelle. Oliver’s Travels has a cracking, 12-sleeper Château Flacellière pavilion, from £1,544/week (oliverstravels.com; 0800 133 7999). Or try vendee-gites.com, 0033 251 279799.