Vendéens are radical about their revolutionary history. This sentiment is witnessed all along Stage 2 of the 2018 Tour de France, from Puy du Fou to Historial de Vendée and even the history of La-Roche-sur-Yon. It seems that everywhere you look, this past is celebrated in the most unsuspecting ways. This is perhaps best illustrated just outside the tiny town of Les Herbiers. Perched on a hill along the Route de Cholet, not even three kilometers north of town is a site called Le Mont des Alouettes. In the 1500s, eight windmills occupied this spot, the most in a vicinity that boasted twenty windmills in total. Yet due to a commanding view over the rest of the landscape, 120 meters above town, the mont was a strategic location during the Vendée Wars and all but two were destroyed during this period. With the impact of technological advances, dereliction, and then fire, the windmills cease operation in the early 1900s and remained vacant until the city purchased them in 1956 for preservation. Today, these are local landmarks, beautiful to behold and exquisite in motion. They are the subject of local Vendée painter Raphael Toussaint, whose Currier & Ives type scenes portray the mills and their agrarian environment in a romantic and immensely colorful light. Even the 2011 Tour de France finished atop the mont on Stage 1, with Phillippe Gilbert taking the Yellow Jersey. Heading to Cholet, take this route and explore some of the history off the beaten path.
A Castle and Two Michelin Stars
There are few places where history melds with all the senses for a truly unique experience. The Logis de la Chabotterie is one such place. Located short distance from the 2018 Tour de France Stage 2 route and several kilometers from the nearest small town, Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon, the chateau sits on sprawling grounds where peacefulness tempers life’s chaos. Here, the chateau has all the luxury amenities of a full blown resort; a hotel, boulangerie, boutique, spa, hotel, and of course the Michelin 2-star restaurant, all under the creative direction of Chef Thierry Drapeau. Native to nearby Nantes, Chef Drapeau is a Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef, an association dedicated to promoting cultural and culinary diversity. Chef Drapeau honed his skills across France as he moved around from Michelin Star to Michelin Star restaurant. He finally opened his own establishment in coastal Vendée at the age of thirty. Logis de la Chabotterie opened in 2004 and received Michelin accolades after just six months in operation. Then came one Michelin Star in 2006 and the second in 2011. At Saint-Sulpice-le-Verdon, Chef Drapeau proudly serves local specialties “inspired by the wonders that Vendée offers us, seafood, poultry, meat, foie gras, fish, …” and which he grew up loving as a boy. The chateau itself is an ideal place to feel the Vendée spirit. This relatively small manor house was constructed in the 15th century and exhibits a subdued but stately and elegant façade. With gardens played an important part in the Revolution’s Vendée War.
Haras de la Vendée
Since the 2016 Tour de France’s featuring of Saint-Lô in the Manche, I have been infatuated with the grandeur and architecture of Les Haras Nationaux. Once again, the Tour finds itself in one of the twenty-one cities to host these national stud farms during the 2018 Stage 2 finish in La-Roche-sur-Yon. As an institution, Les Haras Nationaux began in 1665 under Louis XIV with a dedicated purpose of raising strong stallions and improve breeding, primarily for military benefits. It took almost another 200 years for a stud to arrive at La-Roche-sur-Yon. Finally in 1846, the Haras de la Vendée opened, albeit in a much less imperialistic France than during the monarchy or Napoleonic era. About fifty years earlier than the Haras National de Saint-Lô, La-Roche-sur-Yon exhibits a similar Neoclassical style of architecture. Its buildings, from stables to the director’s house, exhibit the desire to return to a more simplistic style. In fact, the most striking aspect of the Haras buildings are the prominent quoins on the corners, whether of larger white stone or the seemingly characteristic and timeless red brick accents. The architectural style is complemented by the streamlined military layout with the Director’s House at the center, fcing two elongated stable buildings. This haras does not enjoy the parade space that is common at other locations, nor is it in as good condition. Regardless, the clean lines and pristine environment is evocative of times past and remains a worthy site to seek out. The Haras today is mainly a place of cultural importance in the Vendée as well as a means for uniting different aspects of the horse industry throughout the department. It provides demonstrations, equestrian shows, and carriage rides for locals and visitors alike.