The very heart of the Vendée
La Roche sur Yon was founded by Napoléon over two centuries ago, as the administrative centre of the Vendée. The town has retained a rich architectural heritage and has many unusual curiosities to discover as the Haras de la Vendée, one of the most important stud farms in France. Further along the picturesque Yon valley, are the natural sites of the Moulin de Rambourg and the intriguing “Marmites de Gargantua”.
In the area surrounding La Roche sur Yon you will find a wide selection of activities on offer: cultural events (exhibitions, concerts, shows, ...), leisure and nature (fishing, hiking, cycling,...). And not forgetting of course, a gastronomic experience in one of the many restaurants of the town. There are many reasons to enjoy La Roche sur Yon for 24 hours.
La Roche sur Yon, the historical anecdotes
La Roche sur Yon appears at first glance like a new town, but it was founded by Napoleon nearly two centuries ago. However, its origins dates to the High Middle Ages. As its name suggests, it was established around its castle, on a rock (“la Roche”) overlooking the River Yon. It stayed a small town for a long time, and has preserved from its pre-Napoleonic history, a beautiful Renaissance house as well as the typical “Place de la Vieille Horloge”.
The wars had caused lots of bloodshed throughout the region. Napoleon, who was then in power, wanted to be the great “peacemaker” of the Vendée. So, he decided to transfer the administrative centre from Fontenay le Comte to La Roche sur Yon, as it was a more central location. His engineers designed the new town: a large pentagon, made up of 5 boulevards, grid plan of streets, starting from a large 3 hectares central square, the now famous “Place Napoléon”.
The main monument of the square is the Saint-Louis church. It is the largest religious building in the Vendée. Built in the 19th century, it displays a neo-classical style, and preserves a fine collection of religious works and furniture. Strickling unique, the church combines Catholic and Republican symbols, including a French flag on the north bell tower.
Did you know?
Benjamin Rabier was born on December 30, 1864 in Napoléon-Vendée (now known as La Roche sur Yon) and was one of the forerunners of animal comics. He was the author of "La vache qui rit" (the laughing cow) and the creator of Gédéon the duck character. The English version “Gideon” was a late 70s/early 80s animated UK children's television series narrated by Tim Brooke-Taylor.
The Place Napoléon with its mechanical fairy tale animals
Place Napoléon has undergone a complete makeover and pays homage to Bonaparte's Egyptian campaigns. Decorated with 4 pools adorned with plants and flowers, the square has become a place for a casual stroll, a drink, or a quick lunch. From the embankments, amusing mechanical consoles, reanimate the 13 mysterious animals. Made from wood and steel they look like something straight out of the Egyptian fairy tale. There is a crocodile, flamingos, sacred ibis, hippopotamus… This novel activity is free of charge and available throughout the year, except in January when the vet come to take care of these striking creatures!
Legend has it that Napoleonic scientists made a mechanical bestiary in order to better study Egyptian fauna. Apparently, these creatures have been rediscovered during the renovation work carried out on the square, of course, this is only a legend, but a story worthy of Jules Verne...
Haras de la Vendée, the “horse” in all its splendour
The Haras de la Vendée, is the pride of La Roche sur Yon, and one of the most important stud farms in France. Its primary vocation remains the reproduction and preservation of different species. Here, thoroughbred English stallions, trotters, and superb draft horses, rub shoulders with more rustic local breeds like, the Poitou mule. But the most unforgettable moments at Haras de la Roche, are when the importance of the horse is truly brought to our attention. During guided tours and equestrian shows we see the horse in all its splendour.
The stud farm dedicates 4.5 hectares to this marvellous animal, and provides throughout the year other shows, educational activities, and costumed tours. Here, you can learn how men and horses have shared their daily lives for nearly two centuries: and marvel at the unique expertise of the blacksmith, or the saddler and harness maker.
La Vallée de l'Yon, a beautiful spectacle presented by nature !
Take your visit a little further towards the outskirts of the town where you’ll discover the Moulin Papon dam. Its huge expanse of water allows sports enthusiasts to practice various activities such as rowing, windsurfing or even optimist sailing. It is also one of the local’s favourite spots for taking a relaxing stroll or enjoying a sport session in the countryside.
After La Roche sur Yon, the Yon River continues its journey southward through the town of Nesmy. A short break, at the Moulin de Rambourg, is an absolute must. Dating from the first half of the 20th century, this water mill is open to visitors in the summer as part of the Journées du Patrimoine de Pays and Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (Country and European heritage days). A nearby campsite offers canoe trips on the river.
The river then flows towards the town of Rives de l'Yon, where it provides its most beautiful spectacle. The river has carved into the granite rock, the delightful Chaos de Piquet, a breath-taking natural phenomenon, perfect for those visitors seeking adventure. As you, descend to the riverbed, you will find yourself in a deep valley, where the tales of "Rabelais" were inspired. Here, the water has sculpted into the incredible granite blocks the famous Marmites de Gargantua! A path runs along the riverside, allowing you to indulge in a nature trek before offering yourself a well-deserved break at the Piquet bar/cafe.
The Maison des libellules is also located in the heart of the Yon Valley, in an exceptional natural site, the main place for observing dragonflies. It combines a vast natural garden of 2 hectares and a museography of 400m2. This permanent exhibition describes the fascinating world of dragonflies. Several temporary exhibitions and educational activities complete the cultural awareness. Their basic message is: man can live in harmony and with respect of his natural environment.
Historial de la Vendée, an immersive and historical experience for little adventurers
The Historial de la Vendée, set in the heart of the Boulogne Valley, is a museum that traces the history of the Vendée, from prehistory to the present day. This unusual museum has astonishing architecture and is well known for its vast green turf roof which blends perfectly into the surrounding landscape. The visit is organised around seven different periods. Adapted especially for the children, is the "Musée des enfants", which provides an original museography, an immersive and fun experience. This entire section, embellished with temporary exhibitions, is totally dedicated to these little adventurers.