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FONTENAY LE COMTE

Steeped in history Fontenay-le-Comte is justifiably known as the prettiest town in the Vendee and one of the prettiest in France being listed in the "Plus Beau detours de France".
Nestling on the banks of the River Vendée the history of the town can partly be seen by the three distinct rings of development that radiate outwards from its medieval centre. It is hard to believe that it was a port prior to the draining of the marshland to the west, it is however still possible to trace the route of the old Roman coastal road from Les Sables D’Olonne to Fontenay-le-Comte. Many of the villages through which the road passes, though miles from the sea, still have streets named quay road and signposts for the port.

Buildings in the Old Centre of Fontenay le Comte
Pont de Sardines
Saturday market at Fontenay le Comte
Vendee river in autumn
Chateau de Terre Neuve
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The three distinct areas of development in Fontenay-le-Comte, start with the walled medieval centre, which is a conservation area where development is restricted. Surrounding that is what can only be described as the Renaissance heart of the town dating from the 15th and 16th centuries and then the modern outer commercial sector. The town boasts superb architecture and narrow winding streets which include many wooden framed houses. It is a quiet and pleasant country town, with many interesting buildings and it is a very pleasant place for a stroll, as you meander through its streets you will see some imposing mansions and townhouses, open squares and impressive fountains. You can walk the ‘mille ans d’histoire’ route, and see for yourself a thousand years of history, and amongst the ancient street names you will discover, along with other gems, two Chateaux of note  and a magnificent Cathedral. The Château Terre-neuve houses a collection of period costumes and furniture and the Chateau Fontenay now houses the Trésor Public for the commune. The Cathedral of Notre Dame has a beautiful West entrance, stunning stained glass windows and a steeple that can be seen from miles around.
The tourist office has a useful guide which ensures that visitors are able to see the very best of the town. Some of the main highlights are the arcades of Place Belliard, the Fontaine des Quatre Tias, the medieval houses along Rue des Loges, the Maison Millepertuis and the half-timbered house a little further along the street. There is a park area around the remains of the castle (Parc baron) at the top of the town, containing a pretty little medieval garden.

Fontenay-le-Comte has had a chequered history, the affix of Comte is said to have been applied to it when the town was taken by King Louis IX from the family of Lusignan. It was given to his brother Alphonse, count of Poitou, under whom it became capital of Bas-Poitou. It was ceded to the English, suffered repeated capture during the Religious Wars of the 16th century, was dismantled in 1621 and was occupied both by the Republicans and the Royalists during the Revolt in the Vendée (1793). It was the capital of the Vendée department from 1790 to 1806 and was only stripped of the title by Napoleon as a punishment for its part in the French Revolutionary Wars.
The Church of Notre Dame seen through the narrow streets
Having enjoyed the historic aspect of the town you can also delight in the more modern pleasures afforded by the numerous excellent restaurants and cafés, and many of these are reviewed along with some of their menus in our restaurant guide. The former train station, situated in the Avenue de la Gare at the top of the Rue de la République, has become a cultural centre and now houses exhibitions, musical performances and many other functions. There are excellent shops and other leisure facilities and Fontenay-le-Comte is justly proud of being called “the cultural and sporting town of France”.  It purportedly provides more cultural and sporting events, per capita, than any other town in France and held the World Crocket Championships on the superb lawns alongside the River Vendée. It also boasts the best Carting circuit in the Vendée and has vibrant clubs for tennis, football, rugby, squash and many other sports, including an equestrian centre. There is a website dedicated to the numerous and varied sports clubs and facilities in Fontenay-le-Comte.
Timber framed buildings in the old quarter
Fine archetecture in Fontenay le Comte
Nature lovers will find Fontenay-Le-Comte an ideal base, as it is the gateway to two unique and wonderful places. The Marais Poitevin is drained marshland, known as the Green Venice of the West. It is criss-crossed with canals and punctuated by pretty little towns which straddle the rivers and canals of the area. You can punt along the canals and obtain a fascinating insight into the flora and fauna of this unique environment. For a totally different experience one can visit the Mervent forest where one can walk, ride or cycle through this beautiful area of forest and lakes The forest has been laid out with over 200 kilometres of well marked footpaths and offers some of the best walks to be found anywhere in the Vendée. The local tourist office has plans of all of these walks together with distances and difficulty. Other trails are marked out for mountain biking and horse riding.
Images of Fontenay
Video of Fontenay
Fontenay-le-Comte is without doubt a jewel in the Vendee crown, history, architecture, culture and sports, Fontenay-le-Comte has it all. Perhaps the best thing however, is that it still retains a small town charm and away from the cafes of the main street it has a quiet understated feeling that is distinctly French Provincial, I absolutely love it. - Tate
 
Return to Attraction page to find more things to do in the vendee.