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Activity holiday in Vendée - home to the starting line of Le Tour de France 2018

By Eleanor Perkins

The spotlight fell on Vendée in north west France at the weekend when hundreds of cyclists and spectators gathered at the starting line of Le Tour de France.

And while cycling remains one of the greatest activities the region has to offer, it's certainly not limited to it.

I was invited by SummerFrance to enjoy four days of adventure, staying in the beautiful Les Domaines de Vertmarines villa complex and I can't wait to return.

Vendée in western France is blessed with 250km of coastline perfect for cycling (2578056)
Vendée in western France is blessed with 250km of coastline perfect for cycling (2578056)

What makes a holiday for me is when you hardly have to travel to enjoy it.

This beautiful destination offering natural landscapes, inviting temperatures and an assortment of activities was just a short one-hour flight from London followed by a 90-minute drive from Nantes Atlantique Airport.

As soon as I arrived, twenty-something me couldn't help but think how great it would be as a quick getaway with my partner or friends - perhaps for that next numerical milestone.

Or even more ideal for my siblings and their young families.

Say they wanted to avoid flying, it would be just a short 26-mile trip across the channel from Dover to Calais followed by an approximately five-hour drive.

Each villa at Les Domaines de Vertmarines has a private pool
Each villa at Les Domaines de Vertmarines has a private pool

Les Domaines de Vertmarines' is a real home from home.

Safely secured by electronic gates, the site is scattered with pretty white villas with terracotta roofs.

Both the exterior and interior of each apartment is slightly different but equally attractive.

The homely villas at Les Domaines de Vertmarines are perfect for families
The homely villas at Les Domaines de Vertmarines are perfect for families

Summer France manage a number of the self catering villas in the complex.

There's three different types to choose from: a two bedroom villa sleeping up to four people, a three bedroom villa sleeping up to six people and a four bedroom villa sleeping up to eight people.

I was sharing with the wonderful Diane, who was considering the destination for the over 50 market.

Beating me to coffee machine, we wasted no time in settling in to our comfortable and spacious apartment.

Inside the villa at Les Domaines de Vertmarines
Inside the villa at Les Domaines de Vertmarines

Each one boasts a private garden and pool, which can be heated or covered if specified, along with outdoor parking and a fully equipped kitchen with a washing machine, oven, kettle and toaster.

Despite the facilities, the complex also offers a morning delivery service.

The villas at Les Domaines de Vertmarines can sleep four to eight people
The villas at Les Domaines de Vertmarines can sleep four to eight people

Rather indulgently, we had fresh pastries delivered to our doorstep every morning, ensuring we were properly fuelled for the day's activities. Naughty I know, but what are holidays for!

Our place had two bathrooms with complimentary toiletries, and a garage for the safe keeping of our e-bikes (more of those shortly).

The terrace was my favourite feature of the villa
The terrace was my favourite feature of the villa

But it was the spacious terrace which really grabbed my attention.

Al fresco dining, swimming fun, not forgetting a spot of pétanque - this outdoor space is where many of our memories were made.

In case you wondered, pets are also welcome in all of the villas. Televisions are available for a small fee.

Reporter Eleanor Perkins enjoys a four-day adventure in Vendee (2578108)
Reporter Eleanor Perkins enjoys a four-day adventure in Vendee (2578108)

Coffee finished! We ditched the four wheeled motor which transported us there and embraced a few other modes of transport.

Thanks to its micro-climate which boasts as much sunshine as the South of France, Vendée is a place you can visit all year round. But it's not so hot that you feel like you can't exert yourself.

Hopping on our e-bikes, we began exploring the 16 acres of preserved parkland which surrounds the site. The electric assistance on the bike meant we didn't need to over do it, and could concentrate on our surroundings rather than wondering where the next big hill was!

The bicycles can be hired from the complex's reception. They'll be delivered directly to your villa, with a garage for their safe keeping - and overnight charging.

Hiring an e-bike is the perfect way to discover the region's stunning landscapes (2578102)
Hiring an e-bike is the perfect way to discover the region's stunning landscapes (2578102)

Over the next 36 hours we took to the pathways and roads of Vendée, enjoying part of the Le Tour route where the likes of Chris Froome and others have since passed in the first stage of their approximately three-week endeavour.

The roads are not busy but the forest paths are far more tranquil.

Scattered with pine cones and packed with flora and fauna, combined with the warm sun on my back, it hardly felt like exercise!

Woodland surrounds one side of Les Domaines de Vertmarines (2578106)
Woodland surrounds one side of Les Domaines de Vertmarines (2578106)

There's some 1,800km of cycleways in the region to be discovered so the options are vast.

We also used the bikes to discover to the sweeping sandy beaches of Plage de la Tonnelle to dig for pignons.

Dig for pignons at Plage de la Tonnelle (2578094)
Dig for pignons at Plage de la Tonnelle (2578094)

And took a trip to the charming town of St Jean de Monts where there's a vibrant market plus shops, bars and restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, the fresh crepes at La Suite crêperie and gooey cheese fondant on offer at La Langoust'in were my top picks.

Delicious crepes are the perfect snack after a cycle through the forest (2578100)
Delicious crepes are the perfect snack after a cycle through the forest (2578100)

In Vendée , a new day means a new activity.

Kayaking in the marshes with La Route du Sel in Sallertaine allowed us to combine a touch of sport with history.

The waters were calm and shallow making it a suitable activity for all the family. There's a minimum age of three and disabled persons are welcome if prior notice is given.

The organised trips with La Route du Sel cost €14 for two hours (2578090)
The organised trips with La Route du Sel cost €14 for two hours (2578090)

We added a touch of competition to the task but there's no reason why you couldn't take it easy, winding along the bank of the waterways past the private properties before a half way pit stop at Moulin De Raire - the only windmill in France that has turned non-stop since its construction.

If the glass of cloudy lemonade and sweet crêpes served up after the tour aren't enough to tempt you in, the hilarious miller whose sense of humour is totally unexpected should ensure you don't let this opportunity pass you by.

During the excursion, kayakers can explore a historic windmill (2578092)
During the excursion, kayakers can explore a historic windmill (2578092)

I'm pleased to say the sugary treats worked wonders for my team who experienced far less encounters with the high grass verges on our way back.

La Route du Sel is open all year round from 9.30am until 6pm. A two-hour canoe ride cost €14 for adults and €7 for children up the age of 12.

Jump on a horse at Club Hippique du Havre Vie and explore the forest (2578096)
Jump on a horse at Club Hippique du Havre Vie and explore the forest (2578096)

Whether you're a enthusiastic novice (like most of us were) or a seasoned pro, horse-riding at Club Hippique du Havre Vie is another great group activity not to be missed.

The ride out is a chance for the friendly horses to kick back in the sandy paths while the trainers, who speak good English, show you another side to the forest.

The more experienced can gallop along the sweeping beach and into the shallow sea, weaving in and out of the waves.

Sessions cost €24 per adult and €21 per child (under 10).

Group horse riding is a chance to discover the fauna and flora in the forest (2578098)
Group horse riding is a chance to discover the fauna and flora in the forest (2578098)

After all the exertion, a tasty treat was the only way to end our trip.

A guided tour at L'huîtrière de Vendee led by David Lecossois introduced us to many secrets of oyster culture.

This is where some 13,000 tonnes of oysters are produced each year and we were invited to taste them fresh from the farm.

Each tour by David Lecossois ends with a chance to sample his fresh molluscs from his farm (2578053)
Each tour by David Lecossois ends with a chance to sample his fresh molluscs from his farm (2578053)

With a squeeze of lemon, washed down with a glass or two of local white wine - it was a real treat. And the entire visit cost less than €10.

Guided tours run every Wednesday at 10am and 4pm in July and August, and 4pm in April, May, June and September.

Relaxing drinks in St Gilles Croix de Vie is a great way to kickstart your evening (2578110)
Relaxing drinks in St Gilles Croix de Vie is a great way to kickstart your evening (2578110)

Summer France let you choose when you want to go and for how long, even in high season!

Prices are £132 per person for a week in a four bedroom villa, sleeping up to eight people in August 2018.

Return flights from London to Nantes cost from £50 per person with easyJet.

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