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Marais Poitevin is the largest of the three areas of Marais (marshlands)
in the Vendée. The Marais are what is left of the ancient Gulf of
Pictons a large basin that was scoured out during the last ice age and
which has since slowly been silted up by alluvial deposits left by the
local rivers and the Loire. During the Roman period at least 10
rivers drained into the gulf, but today just the Sèvre Niortaise, the Cure and the Lay
have Atlantic estuaries. During the early medieval period drainage of
the Marais was started by the Benedictine monks, the Dutch were brought
in later to continue the drainage work and built the Drogues (dykes) to
keep the sea at bay. Monks from the Abbey at Maillezais, which was built in 1005 on the site of a ruined chapel, together with monks from the Abbeys of St. Michel-en-Herm, Nieul-sur-l'Autise,
l'Absie and St. Maixant were responsible for all of the early drainage
work. The Monks had great skill as is evident by the construction of the
aqueduct at Maille, which was built between 1654 and 1662 following the completion of drainage work on the marshes around Vix.
Three Departments, The Vendée, Deux Sèvres and Charente-Maritime have
areas of the Marais Poitevin within their borders, which is the second
largest wetland in France covering approximately 0.5% of the total land
mass of France.
The marshland can be divided into two parts, the Marais Mouille (wet marshes known locally as the Venise Vert or Green Venice
and the Marais Dessèche (Dry marshes), between them they have over
24,000km of canals and ditches with a further 600kms of wider canals and
Today the ’Anse de LAiguillon is now more often
referred to as le Baie-de-l'Aiguillon, although it once merited the
designation of gulf. The bay consists of 5,000 hectares of mudflats, it is a stopping off point for migratory birds and has been designated a National Nature Reserve.
There are three distinct regions within the Marais Poitevin. The upper reaches of the Sèvre Niortaise and Vendée rivers, more commonly referred to as the Venise Vert or Green Venice,
supports a thriving farming community. The small fields between tree
lined canals makes this part of the Marais an extremely attractive area
and therefore a popular tourist destination. Some farmers still
transport their cattle from field to field in flat bottomed working
barges; this traditional method of cattle husbandry is however a dying
tradition and one is now lucky to see it in operation.
The Middle section is the largest area of the Marais, it is mainly
devoid of trees the topography being principally determined by
agriculture, these flat lands called Poulders are extremely fertile and productive. Within this area however there are several nature reserves and areas of common land,
which belong to the communes and can be freely grazed. These common
areas measure between 100 hectares and 300 hectares totalling some 2,000
hectares of grazing land.
The final section of the Marais is the land beyond the drainage control zone, this consists of salt marshes and mudflats all of which are washed at high tide by the sea but are however gradually silting up.
The Marais Poitevin is one of the richest natural habitats in France,
attracting naturalists from all over the world. Over 250 species of
birds of which 130 nest in the marshes, 44 species of mammals, 23
species of amphibians and reptiles, 322 species of fish and over 700
species of wild flora have been recorded
The following lists some of the more interesting sites and features that make up the workings of the Marais Poitevin.
Towns & Villages in the Marais Poitevin
Bike Hire on the Marais Poitevin;
Damvix.Equestrian Centre, 2,La Maison des Champs. Tel. 06 80 45 69 98.
Maillezais: Embarcadere de l'Abbaye. Le Grand Port. Tel. 02 51 87 21 87
Le Mazeau: Le Port. Tel. 02 51 52 90 73.
Restaurants; The Marais Poitevin has a whole host of restaurants, many specialising in the local cuisine.
For more details see Marais Poitevin Restaurants
Throughout the Marais poitevin you will find a large number of places
where you can hire a boat to take a close up look at this most
attractive region. For a full details see Boat hire Marais poitevin