Living in the Vendee

We left beloved lower Normandy about three months ago. Our move to the Vendee was harrowing in more ways than one – how harrowing may be represented in the fact that I’m only now writing this blog post.

We had three trips before our stuff was moved and all the people and the animals and the bikes. By our last trip, my husband’s parents and Lillie were already in place. The cats and our two biggest dogs and the rest of our stuff were packed in like sardines. They were so anxious to be able to go with us that they were in their spaces on their dog beds without even having to tell them to get in the car.

The problem was the cats. Felix, my baby, never likes to be far away from me anyway, so I took him on my lap. Maggie we’d put behind us facing the front so I could easily keep an eye on her.

Oh boy … OH BOY. It’s been confirmed that she doesn’t take well to driving in the car.

My sweet little Maggie Mae was so sick! What should have been a 3.5-hour drive to the Vendee, turned into 6 harrowing hours for her – and for us and consequently for the dogs and Felix the Cat as well. The vomit and shit just wouldn’t stop coming.

Projectile vomit shot out from the carrier but you know the holes aren’t quite that big so … you can imagine the condition my poor little girl was in by the time the trip was over!

We stopped over and over to wash it all out (fortunately easy to do at the interstate gas stations in France) and she voiced vehement protest any time we put her back in. Stampson didn’t want a loose cat in the car but I put my foot down eventually and wrapped her in a few of my nice towels like a burrito. I held her the rest of the way in my arms with a hand in the other carrier to comfort Felix who is content as long as he can feel some part of me.

I’m not gonna lie. We were dead by the time we arrived!

Interestingly Maggie’s demeanor has changed. In our first six months in France she was very much on her own, not really spending much time with us. Now she hangs out all day long. Is it because she felt cared for? Because she feels better in this house?

So we’ve been here now, in the rolling hills of the Vendee, Pays de la Loire. I told my in-laws on our way to visit one of the “younger” more elegant castles that they should brace themselves: the chateau output in this area borders the obnoxious. We ended up counting at least 20 on a 1.5-hour drive, surprising even me! In fact just in a 10-minute circle around our cottage there are several, two of which are visible from the driveway.

This area is one of the oldest in France. The chateaux are different and not of the type I’d seen anywhere else. They are called donjons: very tall and rectangular, almost without windows or even slits to shoot through. The lord and lady of castle lived at the very top. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to visit them. As soon as we got here, everything shut down for the winter!

The coast is about an hour away. There are a few islands called Ile d’Yeu, Ile d’Olonne, and further south Ile de Re. The latter two have causeways to connect the islands to the mainland, but Ile d’Yeu is only reachable by ferry. The coast here is called Les Sables D’Olonne and quite attractive because while touristy, there are no high-rises by the coast, not really. The big cities have a few, but not in an obnoxious way.

In winter it’s tranquil with lovely long walks along the water’s edge. In high-season the number of inhabitants swells by the thousands as European tourists strike down in tents and caravans, and fill the gites (vacation or short term rentals) to the brim.

As a vacation spot for overseas visitors, the Vendee is a great platform to get a good rate on a vacation rental – especially if you can split the expense with friends or family – from which to reach the most beautiful chateaux in the Loire Valley (believe me no shortage and they are inexpensive to visit), to have a day trip to Bordeaux for some shopping or sightseeing, to visit the beach or visit the islands which are pristine havens of tranquility. There is a medieval theme park for kids and adults, very unique in its kind, winetasting, dining cheap or not … a lovely spot.

Is it as enchanting as Lower-Normandy? It is in its own way. We’re still madly in love with the peninsula but here we’ve seen so many things we’d never seen before. Like abbeys, some still active, so old you can run your hands over the ancient stones and stick a finger in the musket ball holes where they were attacked by the Protestants in the religious wars. Not too long ago we found a little gold medallion slipped between the cracks of an ancient abbey church near our house! We marveled over it, somebody’s prayer, and then tucked it back in place hoping that whatever the person wished and prayed for, has become a reality.

We’re mostly working the winter away, but we do enjoy it here. Our home is very comfortable and we have awesome Irish and English neighbors with whom we share this beautiful 600 year old farm. More about that next time in ‘Living with Jay and his People’!