Many visitors to France know little about Mayenne, the northernmost department of the Pays de la Loire. But Mayenne, which has been designated as a ‘Pays d’Art et d’Histoire’, holds many secrets and attractions, and offers visitors a chance to enjoy its rich history and its glorious countryside in relative peace and quiet.
Places to visit and things to do in Mayenne
The Saulges Caves
A nationally classified prehistoric and natural site, the caves at Saulges are natural shelters excavated by erosion into the limestone cliffs of the Erve valley.
They have served as a refuge for Man for tens of thousands of years. There is no other equivalent in the west of France. Recent discoveries have unearthed etchings and fine details representing horses and woolly rhinoceros (the Margot Cave).
The Gallo-Roman Site at Jublians
This is the best preserved site from this period in France, with a temple, theatre, baths and a large fortress.
Walking routes throughout the village demonstrate the different aspects of Gallo life, while an Archaeological Museum close to remains of the fortress offers a virtual tour, models and interactive terminals.
Read more: Nimes Roman Amphitheatre
The medieval city of Sainte-Suzanne
Founded in the 11th century, the hilltop fortress of St Suzanne was one of the only places to resist the onslaught of William the Conqueror.
It has beautiful views of the meandering River Erve, once dotted with windmills, and a spectacular portcullis and the Musée de l’Auditoire, located within the castle courtyard.
It is a museum of the Mayenne, covering the development of human habitation from cave man to modern times, and the natural landscape and flora and fauna of the area.
This monastery is the main religious building from the Middle Ages in Mayenne, founded at the beginning of the 7th century.
It was destroyed during the invasions of Brittany and Normandy, but restored again in 959. Its medieval religious architecture was the precursor to powerful Fontevraud Abbey in Maine.
Inspired by Sainte Suzanne’s successful four year siege, Gilles Raab has created a mediaeval world at Ferte Clairbois, a farm 2km from the village of Sainte Suzanne, and re-enacts the village’s resistance to William the Conqueror.
Ferte Clairbois encompasses a blacksmith, stone keep and dungeons, wooden palisade and jousting arena. The project employs seven actors, six horses and one donkey with performances held every Sunday and bank holidays.
The Carolingian Palace at Mayenne
The town of Mayenne has a medieval castle, the main part of which dates from the 13th century. It was one of many French fortresses facing the invasion of Brittany.
In the 18th century, until 1936, the castle was transformed into a prison, and in the early 1990s, the municipality began a programme of restoration work. An English team, the Oxford Archaeological unit, researched the site from 1996 to 2000.
They discovered the remains of an exceptional Carolingian Palace. Old brick work, including walls several storeys high, revealed that the original site was built between 900 and 920. There are only one or two other examples of Carolingian buildings preserved from the time in the whole of Europe.
The heart of the castle is now a museum highlighting life in the Carolingian Palace and different eras of occupation of the castle as well as collections of objects found on the site or in the department.
There is a rare collection of chess pieces, made of wood, bone and ivory dating from the tenth and twelfth centuries.
As you can see, if you’re spending time on vacation in Pays-de-la-Loire, Mayenne is well worth visiting.