Just south of the Loire are the Vendéen Marshes or the Marais Poitevin. A huge region, some 110,000 hectares, of both wet and dry marsh dotted with dykes, canals and drains. I had wanted to explore the region for years and have at last managed a brief visit. Based in a chambres d’hôtes in a 12th-century priory we had the perfect opportunity to explore.
The wet marsh or le Marais mouillé, is still farmed in very traditional methods. Small fields, either for hay or grazed by white cattle, are surrounded by drainage dykes lined with poplars and pollarded willows. Flat bottomed punts, batai’s, are still used to travel the dykes as there are limited roads. There are also hundreds of batai’s available for tourists to hire either with or without a guide. The dry marsh, or le Marais desséche, is more intensively farmed. Some of the houses are on the far side of the dyke to the road; this pretty house had it’s letter box on the road side so the dyke had to be crossed by boat to collect the mail.
The dykes in the wet marsh are alive with the sound of amorous frogs, sometimes so loud they drown out the bird song! How can such a tiny creature make such a huge noise?
Birds are plentiful with rarities present in pleasing numbers. On one walk we saw white storks, purple herons, golden orioles, green woodpeckers, goldfinches and black redstarts – A very colourful selection!
Of course being marshland it is wet here, and the wet has to come from somewhere. We have seen some pretty spectacular deluges but they are mostly short-lived and the strong sunshine rapidly dries out the ground – you can see the steam rising from the sodden fields which leads to great humidity.
Our first evening was a treat – a local restaurant gave us a fantastic meal of ‘Marshwiggle’ food. Snails followed by frogs legs and eels. Truly local food!
We were also lucky enough to see a couple of Poitevin asses. These two hairy donkeys were somewhat lugubrious but oh so charming with their dreadlocks and floppy bottom lips!