Located in north-west France in the Pays-de-Loire region, Mayenne is, in terms of population, one of the smallest French departments. It receives its name from the Mayenne River which passes through the department. It is bounded by the departments of Ome and Manche in the north, by Maine-et-Loire in the south, by Sarthe in the east and by Ille-et-Vilaine in the west. The residents of the Mayenne department are known as the Mayennais.
Mayenne was created in 1790 in the middle of the French Revolution. The newly created department included parts of the former French provinces of Maine and Anjou. Today, Mayenne is a largely rural department with its primary industries being agriculture and tourism.
Mayenne consists of three departmental arrondissements, 32 cantons and 261 communes. The principal towns and areas of historical interest in this department are:
- Saint Denis d'Anjou
The climate of the Mayenne region is similar to that of the Seine basin. Mayenne tends to be humid throughout the year. This is in part due to the hilly nature of the department and the fact that it has a number of ponds and rivers. As such, Mayenne tends to have a lower average temperature compared to the departments which border it. Average temperatures are currently about 3 degrees Celsius in winter and 17 degrees in summer. On average the Mayenne department receives 800 mm. of rainfall each year – approximately 30 mm. above the French average.
As with many French departments, Mayenne is famed for its beautiful châteaux. The 11th century château in the town of Laval is no exception. It was initially designed to defend the town and its inhabitants from rampaging Normans and Bretons during the early middle ages. Today it serves a different purpose: it now houses the Musée d'Art Naif which contains a number of fine works from the 19th century. Visitors to Laval are encouraged to make the short trip to Joublain. Dating back to Roman times, the site which is one of the largest in Western Europe, houses a number of well-preserved buildings, including a magnificent temple and theatre.
Other châteaux include the Château-Gontier – its grounds are located on both sides of the Mayenne River. The château is dominated by the Church of Saint–Jean-Baptiste, one of the most stunning in the region. Other local attractions include the Ursuline Convent which contains its own theatre. Children will no doubt wish to explore the convent's magnificent gardens as well. The nearby château at Craon is a fine example of medieval architecture. It is constructed largely from white stone and its surrounding gardens are widely recognized as being some of the most magnificent in France. The château and its gardens are open to visitors through the year.
Mayenne is the perfect destination for any visitor who wishes to explore rural France. The villages of St-Céneri-le-Gérei and St-Léonard-des-Bois are some of the most beautiful in the Pays-de-la-Loire region. The quaint village of Juvigné has won a number of awards for its picturesque beauty including a European gold medal! The village of Ste-Suzanne, located to the east of the town of Laval is one of the region's most interesting, from a historical perspective. Part of the local château dates back to the 10th century and is famed for having withstood an attack from William the Conqueror. Although much of the original château was later destroyed, it was reconstructed during the 17th century. Today, it boasts an impressive collection of local artefacts.
Despite its largely rural nature, Mayenne possesses plenty of fine museums. To the south of the village of Ste-Suzanne is the town of La Frénouse. The town's museum contains paintings and sculptures by the artist, Robert Tatin. The museum's four hundred or so exhibits are reflective of Tatin's interest in Aztec and megalithic art and are very different to the works found in many of Mayenne's other museums.
Most major hotels cater well to the needs of their younger visitors by offering a wide variety of organized games and activities. The department's numerous parks, gardens and open spaces provide a beautiful environment for children to explore.
Despite its largely rural nature, Mayenne offers some good shopping opportunities. In particular, one should not overlook this department's many traditional markets, which offer excellent deals on high quality gourmet produce as well as vintage clothing, organic food and antiques. Château-Gontier's weekly market is one such example. Held every Sunday, it is renowned for its high quality meat, fish and apple produce. Many local auberges and restaurants purchase their food supplies from this market. So, even if you are unable to visit the town on market-day, you are no doubt likely to sample some of its fine produce at some point during your stay.
Food and Drink
As with many French departments, Mayenne is famous for its wide array of delicious local dishes and fine wines. A good compilation of local restaurants may be found at loire.angloinfo.com.
Mayenne does not possess many golf courses. However, if you do wish to practice your swing whilst on holiday then there are a number of venues you might like to try out. In particular, the Golf Club de Laval, situated by the Mayenne River has 18 and 9 hole courses. It is located approximately 5 km to the north of Laval at La Chabossiere, Changé, 53810.
Hiking and Walking
The Mayenne department is largely rural in nature. In the east, les Alpes Mancelles (the Alps of Mans) are a stunning area characterized by rolling hills and verdant fruit orchards. Tourist companies often arrange hiking excursions to the area. For further information, it is best to consult your hostel or hotel.
Ease of Access
The capital Laval is located 300 km to the south-west of Paris. Bus services are an inexpensive means of travelling across the region. Services in Laval are organized by the TUL (Transports Urbains Lavallois). Its headquarters are located at the Galerie Commerciale le St Louis, 13 rue du Vieux St Louis, Laval. For further information, call 02 43 53 00 00. The main bus station in Laval is situated at the following address: 18 rue Verdun, Laval – and may be reached at the following number: 02 43 53 13 67. Information on bus routes for the town of Mayenne may be found here.
Value for Money
Mayenne undeniably offers good value for money, particularly because of its rural location. Small family run hotels and auberges offer a reasonably priced option to those who do not want to compromise quality when travelling on a budget. As ever, off-peak season travel ensures lower transportation costs.
The Mayenne department offers fantastic opportunities for a relaxed holiday in western France. Its magnificent villages and châteaux provide the idyllic surroundings for a long summer break. Be warned however, that it is a very rural department. If you find the countryside stifling then this is unlikely to be the destination for you!