Head for one of the Vendée's fabulous (often Blue Flag) beaches, which are the main attraction here, with their excellent opportunities for watersports (windsurfing, dinghy-sailing, jet-skiing and yachting) and shore-based sports, including sand-yachting and kite-surfing. Notre Dame de Monts, Noirmoutier en L'Ile, St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and La Tranche-sur-Mer are Famille Plus resorts marked out for their family-friendliness. St Jean-de-Monts and Les Sables-d’Olonne are also popular.
For more aquatic thrills and spills, check out the Atlantic Toboggan waterpark at St Hilaire-de-Riez, with wave machines, giant slides galore, pedalos and more.
Venture inland, into the rolling countryside and forests of the Bocage Vendéen, home to the themepark Puy du Fou, with lavish historical shows in place of rides, plus reconstructed historic villages and themed accommodation. The Bocage is also the gateway to the Marais Poitevin area of the Poitou Charentes with its green network of canals.
Get on your bike – largely flat, the Vendée is one of France’s best regions for cycling, with many forest, marsh and seaside tracks (ask for the 'Les sentiers cyclable' leaflet in tourist offices). A good place to go is the tiny Ile d'Yeu, which can be explored in one day. You may recognise its ruined castle, which inspired the château in Herge’s L'Île noire, one of the Tintin books. Ferries there leave from Fromentine or St Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. There are also mountain-biking routes in the woods and dunes of St Jean-de-Monts, and a Vélorail – 2–5-person bikes fitted onto an old railway track – at Commequiers.
Take the cobbled causeway (or, at high tide, the bridge) to the pretty Ile de Noirmoutier, most famous for its salt but also home to a number of nature trails and a water-park, Ile d’O (formerly Océanile). From the castle you can take a ‘Hippobus’ across the marshland, or there’s a ‘petit train’ around the island and plenty of cycle tracks. The island also has a small aquarium, Sealand.
Explore the medieval Château de Tiffauges, dubbed ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’ after one-time resident and serial killer Gilles de Rais or ‘Barbe-Bleue’. Today you can view a collection of war machines from the Middle Ages and an alchemy centre, and watch various historical reconstructions. Or visit the Château de la Guignardièrenear Les Sables-d’Olonne, which has a history trail for kids, imposing interiors and parkland full of ponies, deer, ducks and swans.
Take in yet more history at the Logis de la Chabotterie at St Sulpice le Verdon. This country house with sound effects and commentaries on life here before the Revolution has a visitor trail, gardens with horse-and-carriage guides in summer, and guided door for kids by costumed actors.