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The French fishing ports of the Vendée, picturesque and authentic

Posted the 23 March 2021
Culture & heritage

The ancient fishing ports in the Vendée are picturesque and have many hidden secrets to divulge. Traditions and know-how handed down, creating an identity and local specialties, only found in the Vendée. 

The picturesque fishing port of l'Aiguillon-sur-Mer

The Port de L’Aiguillon sur Mer is situated on the River Lay estuary, which borders the Vendee on one side and the Charente-Maritime on the other, and is just opposite the Ile d’Ré. This picturesque fishing port has maintained its authentic character, with its landing stages, its wooden stilts as well as its long wooden poles which are embedded directly into the sea bed. This is known as the “Bouchot” technique, a means of breeding mussels on wooden stakes. A farming method in the L’Aiguillon bay which stretches as far as the eye can see, just incredible.   

From the Middle Ages, mussel farmers have acquired an in-depth understanding about their produce and are capable of satisfying even the most difficult taste buds. Their mussels distinct and unique, but delicate with a taste of hazelnuts.    

A French fishing port, whose style is directly influenced by an Irishman

A local legend tells us that the "bouchot" was invented accidentally by Patrick Walton, an Irishman shipwrecked in the bay of L’Aiguillon in 1235. Endeavouring to feed himself, he tried to catch sea birds by planting long wooden stakes into the foreshore where he then hung his nets, known as “ allouret” (the English allaow for night, and rat /ret for net). He quickly realised that by using this method he caught more seashells than birds, the mussels attaching naturally to his stakes. Thus the “bouchot” technique was born and exists to this day.  

Local Fishermen still sail from this village resort

The picturesque fishing port is home to around twenty vessels (for small scale and coastal fishing). The main fishing techniques used are drag net trawling, but also pots/traps and nets. Various species are fished such as sole, hake, turbot and plaice to mention a few. In the winter these same boats fish for eels in the local rivers as well as scallops in the Charentais inlet.   

This is the only community that has a port but no fish markets, however the fishermen and mussel farmers are authorised to sell their products directly to the public. Hence the presence of “fishermen’s huts” in the port. 

La Guittière, an authentic fishermen’s village resort

The Guittière marshes merits to be part of the "must-see" site for oyster lovers. A well-kept secret among the locals, undoubtedly to preserve its authenticity and reasonable prices. Originally, a village of salt workers, it became home to oyster farmers in 1915. There are over 17 huts along the estuary with an annual production of nearly 500 tonnes of oysters. These have an exceptional flavour, but yet are full of surprises. Professionals on site enjoy sharing their knowledge and savoir-faire.  For instance, we learn that oysters cannot be eaten for at least 3 years and that they travel thousands of kilometres to complete their life cycle. We also discover that it is possible to enjoy oyster low in fat all year round….   

Did you know? 

The La Guittière oyster village is located in the Payré estuary, and is considered as one of the first remarkable sites in the Vendee.  Its unspoilt environment is part of the Natura 2000 network:  one of the protected areas within Europe for threatened species and their habitats. 

Le port du Bec, an ancient fishing port with a Chinese style

The Port du Bec is above all an oyster farming site, but also a unique ancient fishing port, and an interesting “must see” site for visitors. Nicknamed the “small Chinese port” due to the fact that the pontoons are made from wood and intertwined poles, which are similar to the bamboo structures found in China’s sea ports.  

Another fascinating feature of the oyster port is an inevitable gourmet break, with one of the oyster farmers who will only be too delighted to introduce you to the famous "Atlantic Oysters".  

The Port du Bec is known mainly for its oyster farmers, but other professional fishermen and mussel farmers also work from here. This small port may be far from the tonnages landed in the larger west coast fishing ports, but it still plays a significant role. Over 60 tonnes of cuttlefish, 20 tonnes of sole, 26 tonnes of squid… not to mention the large quantities of oyster which circulate here…  

Le Port du Bonhomme, a traditional french fishing port

The Port du Bonhomme is situated on the Island of Noirmoutier. A traditional French fishing port consisting of a handful of oyster huts, a slipway and a cycle path which stretches along the dike. The slipway allows professionals to access the seabeds, where rows of oyster tables have juvenile shellfish at various stages in the growing cycle. The famous "bouchot" Mussels are also grown here - another delicious speciality which needs to be tried. 

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