In silence, a boat slowly glides along the canal, on a carpet of duckweed, before sinking, little by little, into a tunnel of greenery ...
This is the postcard - which in itself deserves the trip - from Poitevin marsh, the famous "Green Venice" that most tourists find near Coulon, in Deux-Sèvres. However, this bocage jungle represents, in fact, only a small part of this singular territory - labeled Grand Site de France and Regional Natural Park - Who is here 2nd largest wetland in France after the Camargue.
You have to go to meet the Marais poitevin, cross it from the gates of Niort to the Atlantic Ocean, wandering around at will, on its roads, its towpaths and, of course, its canals. Discover its diversity, its contrasting natural beauties, its long history, its products and its heritage. The Marais poitevin is a whole universe to explore.
Above all, take your time… This truly bucolic destination lends itself naturally to "slow tourism". What to see life in green, in peace, far, far, from the tumult of the city ...
The Marais poitevin, a whole story
Without man, the Poitevin marsh would not exist. This territory, where nature seems queen, is, in fact, the fruit of nearly a thousand years of labor, which has given birth to an exceptional mosaic of landscapes.
8 years ago, the Marais poitevin, which stretches over 000 hectares between Niort and the Atlantic, on the borders of Two Sevres, Vendée and Charente Maritime, was covered by the sea. Gradually, the waters receded, giving way to an inhospitable and often flooded swampy area.
The history of the Marais really begins in the 12th century. The monks of five abbeys, located in the region, undertake to clean up the area to exploit the soil, rich in sediments for breeding and cultivation. Dikes are built to protect themselves from the sea, canals are dug and flood gates installed to regulate the water. From the 13C, the region saw its first fertile fields and lands appear.
Henri IV intensified the development work, bringing in Dutch engineers, specialists in polders. The western part is gradually drying up and cereal cultivation is developing there. The eastern zone mops up rainwater in winter and serves as a reservoir in summer. But it remains wild and unhealthy.
Development work will continue in the 19th century, under the leadership of Napoleon I. The canals are widened and a complex system of dams and locks makes it possible to better regulate the water of the eastern part and of the Sèvre Niortaise, giving the Marais Poitevin its current appearance.
Do not miss
La House of the Marais poitevin, in Coulon (Deux-Sèvres): highly recommended visit to learn about the history and operation of the Marais and understand the balance, both subtle and fragile, of its ecosystem. Audiovisual show and very clear model, not to mention the animators who answer your questions!
A Poitevin Marsh, three faces
Few of the territories have such diversity on such a small area. Impenetrable wooded jungle and labyrinth of canals, vast fields of cereals stretching to infinity, wide bay living to the rhythm of the tides ...
In just one about twenty kilometers and 110 hectares, the Marais poitevin has three radically different faces, reflections of a exceptional ecological, geographic and historical diversity.
- The Wet Marsh
It is the most famous part of the Marais poitevin, which extends over a quarter of the territory, mainly between Niort and Marans. An aquatic labyrinth where all the shades of green unfold. Some 3 km of canals, bordered by ash trees, alders and poplars, crisscross a luxuriant vegetation which forms, in places, veritable tunnels of greenery.
Covered in summer with duckweed, the canals cross splendid bucolic landscapes, both restful and mysterious, timeless and teeming with life. By boat or by bicycle, it is a pleasure to explore this " Green Venice »To observe its fauna and flora, by stopping in its ports, gardens and villages.
- The Parched Marsh
The exact opposite of the Wet Marsh. This vast territory of 50 hectares, who extends west of the Marais poitevin around Marans, is completely devoid of trees.
Meadows and grain fields, protected from floods and the sea by dikes, stretch out to the horizon, evoking the plains of Holland. This unique landscape, crisscrossed with large canals and punctuated by a few villages, gives off a feeling of infinity.
- The bay of l'Aiguillon or the Marais maritime
This feeling of infinity is reinforced when arriving on the shores of the Atlantic. The landscape is radically changing again. The fields are followed by salt meadows and the mudflat of the vast bay of Aiguillon, which extends over 7 km in diameter, from the Vendée to the gates of La Rochelle. This is what remains of the Gulf of Pictons which once covered the marsh. A marine universe subject to winds and tides, a migratory crossroads for birds from all over the world.
To visit, to better understand the Marais poitevin
The House of the Master of Dikes in Chaillé-les-Marais (Vendée), where an exhibition traces the history and hydraulic functioning of the territory. Film, reconstruction and activities for children.
Poitevin marshes: exceptional flora and fauna
Labeled Regional Natural Park and Great Site of France, the Marais Poitevin has exceptional flora and fauna. A wealth that should be protected, especially from intensive agriculture. It should be remembered that the breathtaking biodiversity of the second largest wetland in France is based on a hydraulic balance as subtle as it is fragile ...
You have to take the time to explore the Marais poitevin - and more particularly its wet part - to discover its natural heritage: no less than 750 plant species, 250 species of birds, around XNUMX species of mammals and around XNUMX species of fish.
Characteristics of the Wet Marsh, ash trees and alders are planted on the edges of the canals to stabilize them. Poplars, willows, reeds and tamarisk complete the picture, as well as a hundred different plants.
During your walks, you may see a heron ashy or purple, a roe, a wild duck, a Kingfisher, even a stork, a swan or a otter. More certainly, cows, Poitou donkeys, nutria, dragonflies, butterflies and other frogs... As for theeels, once very widespread, it is now rather rare in the canals.
Large producer of shellfish, fish and the famous bouchot mold, the Marais maritime is a source of food that attracts up to 150 migratory birds per year. A superb spectacle to admire in the fall, particularly from the observation deck of the Saint-Clément point, in Esnandes.
Birds of the Marais poitevin ornithological park, in Saint-Hilaire-la-Palud (Deux-Sèvres). In the heart of the Wet Marsh, 8 hectares reserved for local fauna, and especially the birds which roam free there. 70 species represented by some 350 birds. Possibility of boat trips on the canals and catering based on local products.
Deux-Sèvres: in the villages of the Wet Marsh
The Marais poitevin is not just animals and plants. Populated since the Middle Ages, it now has nearly 200 inhabitants, often passionate about their territory.
It is therefore necessary to go to meet them, by exploring the adorable villages of Wet swamp. Located at the gates of Niort, in Deux-Sèvres, Coulon is the best known and the most visited, a real postcard setting. Arranged in a star around its beautiful Romanesque church, the alleys of the village are lined with low, elongated houses, with whitewashed walls and brightly painted shutters. On the banks of the Sèvre Niortaise, piers await visitors.
Near Coulon, the charming village of La Garette boils down to a street. There is a typical habitat - and well preserved - with houses with double access: one overlooking the canal (with the inevitable boat), the other on the street.
À Saint-Georges-de-Rex, the walker will have fun unearthing the four wash houses from the locks that made the Sèvre navigable before taking a quiet stroll to Lapwing, which hosts, each year at the end of July, a picturesque floating market.
In Vendée, heritage treasures
History has left many traces in the Vendée part of the Marais Poitevin, starting with the abbeys, which are at the origin of the development of the region.
Among those, Maillezais abbey, today in ruins, gives off a most romantic atmosphere, especially if you admire it from a boat (nearby pier). Located in the heart of the Wet Marsh, the once powerful and rich Maillezais abbey was even converted into a cathedral in the 14C, before being mutilated by the Wars of Religion and the Revolution.
The ruins hint at the past splendor of this sanctuary, which measured 105 m long with bell towers rising 55 m above the region. While archaeological excavations are continuing in Maillezais, the site is well maintained and the visit particularly inspiring. Shows are organized there in summer.
Another wonder to visit absolutely, Aliénor's abbey, in Nieul-sur-l'Autise, has withstood the vicissitudes of time, preserving its church, its cloister and its convent buildings. Founded in 1068, the Abbey of Nieul became a royal abbey in the 12th century thanks to Louis VII, husband of Aliénor d'Aquitaine. The scenographic tour, very successful, uses new technologies (3D visit of the abbey, optical theater…) to tell the story of the place.
A few kilometers away, on the edge of the Marais, one will not miss under any circumstances Fontenay-le-Comte. Former capital of lower Poitou, this "city of art and history" has an exceptional heritage, especially from the Renaissance. At that time, the influence of Fontenay-le-Comte was such that François Ier had described it as a “fountain, the springing source of fine spirits”, among whom Rabelais, who lived there for a few years of his youth.
OfNotre-Dame church at the promontory of Baron park, going through the place Belliard and Newfoundland castle, a magnificent urban wandering is offered to the walker.
In Charente-Maritime, facing the Atlantic
Going towards the Atlantic, the landscape changes radically, the green Venice giving way to a vast expanse of cultivated plain.
Important stage in the heart of the Marais poitevin, Marans has retained its cachet and port atmosphere. Located a few kilometers from the sea and crossed by the Sèvre Niortaise, Marans, today turned towards river tourism, was an important place of commerce. Its beautiful residences from the 17th and 18th centuries, its basins and its docks bear witness to the intense activity of its port at the time.
You have to leave the road that crosses Marans and stroll through its pleasant alleys and on its quays lined with restaurants, where, already, the presence of the sea is felt. From there, piers allow you to go on the canals.
The walk leads to a beautiful hall Baltard, an amazing église the futuristic steeple made of glass and aluminum and, further on, the Beauregard windmill, dating from the 17th century and restored identically. Guided tour by the miller himself! Important detail for cyclists: it is in Marans that the paths of the Velodyssey and Francette bike.
A few kilometers further on going west, we arrive at the vast bay of Aiguillon, open to the ocean and living to the rhythm of the tides. AT Esnandes, we will not fail to visit the Bay House and his mussel culture museum, to learn all about the culture of mussels on bouchot: the great local specialty, which we will taste in a restaurant by the sea.
Afterwards, beautiful walks are offered to you on the coast, punctuated by squares. From September to January, the thousands of migratory birds, which stop over here, make the landscape even more spectacular. From the promontory of the Saint-Clément point, the oceanic panorama, facing the infinite, leaves you speechless.
South Vendée Tourism
Aunis Marais poitevin Tourism
Regional Natural Park of Marais Poitevin
How to get there ?
- By train: TGV to Niort or La Rochelle, then car or bus rental from Niort to Coulon.
- By road: A83: exits 9 -10 and 11; A10 (from Paris): exits 32 or 33.
How to visit the Marais poitevin?
- By bike :
Drop your car. The Marais poitevin is a cycling paradise: some 850 km of developed trails and marked circuits allow you to travel from Niort to the bay of l'Aiguillon, to cross the territory as a whole or in part.
Cycling allows you to follow the canals in the Wet Marsh and take your time to discover the different landscapes of the region.
About fifty establishments (hotels, campsites, lodges, rentals, etc.) have the “Accueil Vélo” label. Maps available in tourist offices and some rental companies, but also on www.cartovelo.com
Bike rental at La Libellule in Coulon, La Bicyclette Verte in Arçais or Cycles Nadeau in Marans.
- Walk :
The Marais Poitevin offers many possibilities for walks or hikes from all the villages in the region. IGN map recommended. Athletes will not miss the Maraisthon in Coulon (June).
- In a boat :
A great classic, to be accompanied by a guide or alone. There are around thirty piers in the Marais poitevin.
A discovery: the wine of the Marais poitevin
The mojettes, the angelica in jam, candy or liqueur, eel, bouchot mussels with firm and tasty flesh ... We no longer present these typical specialties of the Marais poitevin.
Less known, the wines of AOC Fiefs Vendéens (reds, whites, rosés and sparkling wines) come from vines located in the Marais poitevin territory, in the south of Vendée, in five production areas, covering 500 hectares: Mareuil, Brem, Vix, Pissotte and Chantonnay. These wines, easy to drink and easy to drink, offer excellent value for money. A cellar and a producer to visit: http://www.mercier-vins.com
Or sleep ?
- Le Central hotel-restaurant: 4, rue d'Autremont, 79510 Coulon. Opposite the church, this very well-kept hotel has comfortable rooms, tastefully decorated, combining rustic and contemporary. The excellent table plays the same score, embellishing traditional recipes with tasty inventive touches. A great address, really. Menus € 20,80 - € 44,80. Rooms 66-96 €.
- Bed and Breakfast Du Coq à l'Âne: 12, rue du Moulin, 79210 Saint-Georges-de-Rex. An old stable, a yurt… The imagination is in power in this bed and breakfast. The plus for families: the owner has a Poitou donkey farm! The kids will love it. Also, sale of donkey milk soaps. Doubles 65 €.
- Château de la Sébrandière: La Sébrandière, 85770 Le-Gué-de-Velluire. To sleep in the middle of the Vix vineyard. A beautiful residence with the appearance of a Bordeaux castle, installed in a former priory, and really quiet. Rooms 56-107 €.
Find your hotel in the Marais poitevin
Where to eat ?
- L'Auberge de l'Ecluse: 328, route des Bords-de-Sèvre, 79510 La Sotterie. A picturesque 18th century sailor's inn on the edge of Sèvre Niortaise, in a rustic setting. And, on the menu, all the great classics, from ham and mojette to eel, including snail dodine. Tasty. Menus € 21,70-€ 32,70.
- Auberge de la Rivière: 2, rue du Port-de-la-Fouarne, 85770 Velluire. Do not be fooled by the traditional decor of this beautiful inn on the banks of the Vendée. The cuisine here is daring, inventive, tasty, reinterpreting local classics. Hat! Menus € 25-58.
- Les Viviers de l'Océan: La prée de Sion, 17137 Esnandes. The name says it all: here, you can enjoy seafood, facing the Atlantic, including the famous bouchot mussels. Democratic atmosphere and prices. Count 20 € the meal.