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Marais Poitevin by Tate

Sud Vendee.. Haut Bocage.. Coastal Region.. Marais Poitevin.. Marais Breton.. Bas Bocage.. Plaine.. Marais Olonne..
We were out on tour again in the Marais Poitevin, this time we planned to take a route that neither Trevor nor I had taken before, this was to follow the Sèvres Niortaise on the Deux Sèvres side eastward from Maille for as long as the road stayed next to the river, which we anticipated would take us to Thaire le Fagnoux This stretch of the River Sèvres Noirtaise marks the boundary between the Pays de la Loire and the Poitou-Charentes so we were on foreign soil looking across the river at the beloved Vendee. The truth is that Trevor had travelled a part of this stretch of river before but that had been on the Vendéen side and the trail had ended abruptly in someone’s garden when the road simply ran out.

We approached Maille via Doix a pretty little place that had obviously been affluent in the past, as there are a lot of substantial properties in and around the village. We arrived in Maille and parked up by the river, it was raining, it was grey, it was a shame. We were looking for coffee, but there was nowhere open, there was a beautiful old church, but that wasn’t open either. All of the barges were tied up, none of the normal tourist places were open and there was absolutely nobody about. The weather was however clearing so we lived in hope, but for now we had to live without coffee. We ploughed on to our next stop which was to check out our proposed lunch destination L’Auberge du Vieux Batelier at La Croix des Marys. We looked at the menu and it was a tad expensive and as we had tasked ourselves with searching out value for money, when Trevor said that it got very busy as it was frequented by coach parties, I lost my desire to eat there. We decided that we would continue on our travels and find an alternative. So we turned on to the riverside road and dawdled along taking in the peace and serenity of the broad languorous river. We came upon an incredibly pretty little place called Le Fosse de Loup, there was nothing much there, a couple of weeping willows and a couple of houses, but it was really attractive and typified this stretch of the river. Having reached the point where the road left the river we drove on into Courçon, a little market town with nothing special in it, except that right next to the car park was a bar/café and at last we managed to get ourselves a cup of coffee.

The weather had brightened up considerably and the sun was out, we went back to La Croix des Marys and took the river road toward Damvix, it was an equally enchanting road alongside the river. We came across a large fresh water crayfish in the middle of the road, Trevor got out and I thought he was going to bag it for a snack but the crayfish was no easy match so Trevor did the humane thing and using a stick manoeuvred it back into the long grass by the side of the river, I wish I’d had my camera out as it was a truly humorous scene, the crayfish really did put up a terrific fight. The rest of the journey to Damvix was much of the same with small houses dotted along the riverbanks, parcels of land some with large tents or a camper van setup for the summer and as a backdrop to it all the indolent river sliding noiselessly by. It was beautiful and instantly brought Renoir to mind.

We arrived in Damvix and Trevor’s battle with the crayfish had activated his appetite. Now when Trevor gets the call to eat it’s a must to find somewhere fairly quickly, I think in future we’ll have to pack some biscuits to stave off his hunger pangs. It was under these circumstances that we entered Damvix, a pretty little village on one of the canals, there is a large restaurant barge which departs from the quay but at 41 euros a head it wasn’t what we were looking for. I said to Trevor that I would prefer to continue along the road from Damvix to Arcais in an attempt to find a little restaurant on the canal with a bit more charm, but Trevor’s hunger won the day and we decided to eat at one of the restaurants in Damvix. There were 2 restaurants on opposite corners, we decided on the Deux Saisons solely because they advertised in a limited way the content of their 12 euro formula, whereas the other restaurant didn’t.
I have posted a separate review of the restaurant on the relevant page. After lunch we got back in the bus and travelled some more familiar roads. Incidentally there were several small restaurants set along the rivers and canals; they looked like just the sort of thing I had wanted to try. Some of them looked good but who knows how good or how pricey they would have been, by the look of the cars parked at one or two of them I think we may well have missed a trick, still hopefully there will be another time.

On our way back home Trevor decided that he wanted to find the port at Bouillé-Courdault this is a sink at the end of a long straight canal where barges used to come to unload and turn. Following a false turn that landed us in someone’s field we found the port, parked up and went for a roll (that’s a stroll to you but as I’m on the scooter I call it a roll). The port is unused now and all of the warehouses have been converted into dwellings, these are not great industrial buildings but are more in keeping with normal Vendéen architecture and the whole place is now as charming and pretty as a place can be. There is a Bar/Auberge which looked good, decent parking and shade provided by some lovely old trees. I hope we’ll come back to try the restaurant and find the place as peaceful and unpopulated as it was on the day we visited so that we can once again take in the lovely tranquil atmosphere that is part and parcel of this unique place.

The only thing lacking was a coffee and ice cream so we got back on the road and went to Maillezais, the site of a ruined abbey and one of the hubs of tourism in the Marais Poitevin. We parked in the church car park and went off, as usual Trevor went off on his own with his camera and we agreed to meet by the canal at the abbey where there were a couple of cafes. I wandered down through the town and along to the abbey. The ruins look fairly impressive from outside of the enclosure but there is an admission price and I can’t honestly see the point in paying to look at piles of rubble, so I passed them by and went on down to the canal. I arrived only to be greeted by the scene of people in odd clothing with silver painted faces working on laptops. I was wondering whether there had been something in the food at lunchtime or whether the odd mix was reacting and making me hallucinate. It was so disorienting that I started to go back up to the road, fortunately Trevor appeared and we ventured back down with renewed confidence, at least he saw the silver heads as well so I wasn’t hallucinating. The café being large we were able to sit around the corner from the silver heads and when we ordered our coffees and ice creams I asked the waitress about them, she told me that they were performers in a spectacular that was taking place that evening, phew! Thankfully we weren’t being invaded from above by laptop wielding silver faced aliens and all was once again well in the Vendée.
Tate - 2009

About the author: Tate spends the summers in the Vendee and is passionate about good wine and good food,he now writes exclusively for the website. This article may be reproduced as long as it's kept in it's entirety including this Bio.

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