The lovely medieval village of Lassay-les-Chateaux, north of Mayenne, boasts a total of 3 chateaux; 2 are now ruins but the third, in the centre of Lassay, is open to the public and is a wonderful example of fifteenth century French architecture with well conserved interior and working drawbridge.
Enjoy Lassay’s medieval walks and gardens, award-winning rose garden and picturesque views of the turreted chateau flanked by willows reflected in the village lake.
Ask at the local tourist office about walks taking in the 3 chateaux as well as a Matisse walk.
Mayenne’s position as a port of strategic importance on the river from which it takes its name means historically it has been at the heart of many conflicts - including WWII. Happily, the fine buildings signifying Mayenne’s one-time status are still intact for us to enjoy.
Visit the town’s impressive eleventh century Eglise de St Martin, Notre Dame Basilica with its statue of Joan of Arc, and historic Chateau. The feudal town of Mayenne grew up around the old castle which has lovely views of the river from its ramparts.
Today, Mayenne can offer excellent shops, twice weekly markets on Monday and Saturday, open air concerts in summer and you’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing a good restaurant.
Mayenne tourist office organises a town tour daily at 1430 during July and August covering the main sights. Don’t forget to hire a boat to leisurely explore the river and its surroundings.
The heritage town of Laval, situated in the heart of the Mayenne department, is home to an eleventh century castle where visitors can see remains of the medieval town walls and town gate.
Visit the Cathedral and botanical gardens plus the museum dedicated to Henri Rousseau, one of the town’s most famous celebrities. Laval also has an international collection of naïve art.
Market day is in the town centre on Tuesdays and Saturdays near the Palais de Justice. Or, for a different perspective, take a river trip. Look out for one of France’s last floating laundries (le bateau-lavoir Saint-Julien). For more information, and to get the most from your visit, tel (00 33) 2 43 49 44 12.
The town of Chateau-Gontier grew up around its imposing fortress. Visit Chateau-Gontier’s Romanesque church of St Jean Baptiste to view its beautiful eleventh century frescoes and feel free to take a walk amongst the colourful flowerbeds of the Jardin du Bout du Monde (world’s end walk) where the path descends towards a pretty quay beside the river.
The old town has many half-timbered houses and the Thursday calf market, the largest in Europe, has been held in Chateau-Gontier since the seventeeth century. For over 30 years Chateau-Gontier’s 40 acre park of Refuge de l’Arche - a charity with an international reputation - has been a refuge for unwanted, old or ill-treated animals from around the world.
See over 150 different species living happily and peacefully. Tel: (00 33) 2 43 07 24 38.
The famous Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-l’Epine in the delightful market town of Evron was built between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries and displays both Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The Basilica’s simple exterior gives no hint of its stunningly ornate interior. Adjoining it is the convent of ‘Our Lady of the Thorn’. Visitors on Thursday mornings can also take in Evron’s large market.
The earliest known history of the castle of Saint-Suzanne begins under the Vicomtes de Beaumont. William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror) was defeated here after laying siege to the castle for 3 years without success. Climb the massive pink sandstone keep at the castle entrance - part of the original remains.
In 1604, Guillaume Fouquet de la Varenne purchased the castle of Sainte-Suzanne from Marguerite de Navarre and, a few years later, built the residential quarters which are a perfect example of contemporary provincial architecture (currently under restoration).
Open everyday 1 May - 30 Sept; 0900 - 1800 and from 1 Oct - 31 Dec; 0930 - 1230 and 1330 - 1730 except Mon. See website
The village of Sainte-Suzanne is typical of Mayenne’s ‘France profond’ (deepest France) villages with its impressive town hall and very large church.
Just south of Laval is La Frenouze, the amazing former home and museum of painter and sculptor Robert Tatin who died in 1983. With the help of his fifth wife, Lise, he created by hand a magical universe of cement and ceramics covering 1,200m² including an 80m avenue of 19 giants paying homage to artists such as Goya and Leonardo da Vinci.
Follow the paths of the sun and the moon and see fantastical snakes and monsters. Open daily 1000 - 1900; 1 April - 30 Sep and 1400 - 1800; 1 Oct - 31 Mar (closed Jan).