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Haut Bocage     Review by Tate

Sud Vendee.. Haut Bocage.. Coastal Region.. Marais Poitevin.. Marais Breton.. Bas Bocage.. Plaine.. Marais Olonne..
The Haut Bocage - Part 1

It was a beautiful spring morning in late April here in the Vendée and I must admit I didn’t expect that by the end of the day I would have fallen hopelessly in love. The day had that fresh bright light that makes photographers drool along with the promise that the temperature was likely to rise to the low to mid twenties. Trevor arrived with the latest additions to his bow, a bicycle and a map. We were headed into the Haut Bocage, an area that was largely neglected, even by the Vendéens and certainly that few holidaymakers know about let alone find. Our principal aim was a visit to the Vallée des Poupets.

Our starting point was Pouzages in the North-East of the Vendée, having filled up with diesel in the local Super U we headed off towards Les Epesses, but almost immediately we turned off down a country lane on the way to La Flocellière. The countryside was much like Devonshire with small fields in an undulating landsape. From La Flocelliere we carried on to Châteaumur
home of the smallest castle in the Vendée, and from there on to Les Châtelliers-Châteaumur with its panoramic views of the surrounding area. Next stop was Mallièvre a town renowned for being the former home of weavers. Its steep narrow streets wind their way down to the Sèvre Nantaise, and in doing so pass some of the purportedly 50 individual water sources and the ancient Maison de Tisserands which houses an exhibition of life in a weaver’s cottage. Our main reason for visiting Mallièvre was to photograph the river with its pool and weirs and the beautiful eight arched bridge which crosses the river. It is true to say that this trip was to be centred on this stretch of the Sèvre Nantaise which forms part of the boundary between Deux Sèvre and the Vendée and Loire Maine and the Vendée. In my opinion the Sèvre Nantaise which winds its serpentine way through the Haute Bocage is the most beautiful river in the Vendée. It slips silently in broad languid bows, into large still mill ponds and  babbles over the boulders and weirs. It passes under superb stone bridges, bisects the lush green countryside and glides through arched canopies of trees. Nowhere is this beauty more evident than our next stop. The Vallée des Poupets is simply a magical place, a well thought of Auberge, which I hope to review at a later date, a weir topped by a stepping stone crossing from an old mill and a large flat picnic area sits alongside a campsite and an open air auditorium, with a large covered stage and tiered seating, which hosts music festivals headlined by artists such as Lenny Kravitz and the Cranberries. One would think this would be incongruous but somehow it all seems to fit. All of this is alongside a lovely stretch of the meandering Sèvre -Nantaise with a five kilometre riverside walk into St Laurent-sur- Sèvre. Trevor and I plan to revisit the area, I will drop Trevor in St Laurent-sur- Sèvre and he will cycle the route alongside the river I will have a quick look around St Laurent, a town steeped in religion, and will then meet up with Trevor again at the Auberge at the Vallée des Poupets for lunch, I can hardly wait.

As we had decided on saving lunch at the Auberge for another day we went quickly on through Treize-Vents and St Laurent-sur- Sèvre to lunch at the Auberge in Rochard. There was a small flaw in our plan however, we had not left a lot of time to find lunch and on our arrival we found the Auberge at Rochard closed. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised us, even though the weather was more like July it was in fact late April. We were now between a rock and a hard place and looking for somewhere to eat became a priority before Trevor started gnawing the car seats or worse. Accordingly we made a mad dash through Mortagne-sur- Sèvre and Pont de Grenon looking for lunch without success, there were plenty of restaurants, but none were open. We arrived in Tiffauges and there on the hill opposite the castle which was the home of notorious Bluebeard was Le Relais des Arches, and halleluiah, it was open. We had a decent enough lunch, for anyone interested I’ve written a separate review of the meal in our restaurant guide. With lunch over we wandered off without the need of urgency that we had felt before lunch, and made another gem of a discovery, Les Trois Provinces. I never believed in love at first site until we crossed the stone bridge and I fell instantly in love with this enchanting little village. Turning off the road at the end of the bridge there is an Auberge, which annoyingly enough was open and looked like it might have been a great place to have had lunch, alongside the Auberge the road then leads to a few houses next to the mill pond and an old broken down mill. The village lays at the confluence of not only three current Departments, the Loire Atlantique, the Loire Maine and the Vendée, but also the three ancient provinces of Poitou, Anjou and Brittany, hence its name. Sitting at such a crossroads the area has had a turbulent past, having become at one time a buffer zone between the three provinces. During this period it was exempt from both tax and conscription. With those days long gone this has become a sleepy, timeless place, the brooding silence of the large forebodingly dark millpond is juxtaposed with the rocky babbling natural weir and the quiet imposing stone facade of the mill, ripe for renovation, which still retains its wheel although, it is in need of repair. It was hard to tear myself away from this captivating place, but we were intent on visiting the 12th century ramparts and old part of Montaigu which we reached via La Bruffiere and Treize Septiers. We drove through the old part of town and parked in the car park of the castle which overlooks the Jardin des Ramparts. Having looked around the top of the ramparts Trevor went off on his bike saying he would meet me next to the church, where he went I do not know, but I managed to wander around the old streets and discover amongst other things a music conservatory. As arranged we met at the church and I would have liked to go up the main street of the old town and find somewhere to have a coffee. Trevor had however discovered a small drawback with the bike, he had already tried going the wrong way up the street on his bike only to be shouted at so instead we crossed the street and went down through more steep narrow streets to the bottom of the ramparts where we discovered a lake and an Auberge. We would have loved to wander around the beautiful gardens which we had seen from the ramparts above, unfortunately the swinging gates at the entrances designed to keep the cyclists out also precluded me from accessing the gardens with my mobility scooter and so somewhat saddened by our exclusion we skirted the park and made our back to the car park. By then we had both had enough and so we fired up the engine and wended our weary way home.

This was a delightful day in an area which for me was previously totally unknown and was in fact surprisingly beautiful. Like so many places I was pleased to have visited out of season, because as with most places I’m sure that this area is better if you don’t have to share it with too many people. Going out of season does throw up some problems as there are many places that are not open, but I can live with that. If you can’t visit out of season then you should still try to visit this unique and beautiful part of the Vendée. We will most certainly be returning to this area and be visiting other parts of the Haut Bocage, so look out for Part 2. In the meantime I highly recommend that you make a visit to see for yourself. Tate - 2010

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Valley du Poupet with the Moulin du Poupet
Moulin du Poupet, weir on the river Sevre Nantaise
Valley du Poupet, Weir with stepping stones.
Weir and bridge atTrois Provinces
Weir at Rochard
Rochard and the river Sevre Nantaise
River Sevre Nantaise at Rochard, Vendee
Sevre-Nantaise River at Poupet
Moulin du Poupet
Valley du Poupet
Valley du Poupet cycle route
Montaigu, Park to the Ramparts