LA CHAPELLE-JANSON (Pop: 1,430)
La Chapelle-Janson is the birthplace of the Groussard brothers. Joseph rode nine editions of the Tour de France and won a stage in 1959 before holding the Yellow Jersey for a day the following year. His most memorable feat remains his victory in Milan-San Remo in 1963, although he also has a Grand Prix du Midi Libre and two Paris-Camembert to his name. He finished his last Tour in 1965 in lanterne rouge. He is one of three riders with Jacky Durand and Jean-Pierre Genet to have held the yellow jersey and finished last in the Tour during their careers. His younger brother Georges was less successful, but he held the Yellow Jersey for ten days in the 1964 edition, which he finished in fifth place.
Castle of Montflaux
Seat of a small manor house mentioned in the 14th century, the castle was built around 1635. The stylistic unity of the building, which has a classical 17th century layout (facade on a symmetrical courtyard with two wings, long facade on garden framed by two pavilions in low relief), gives it a certain majesty by the severity of its architecture, as well as the simplicity of the material used and the decoration. It can be visited from April to June on reservation and in July and August in the afternoon.
SAINT-GEORGES-BUTTAVENT (Pop: 1,420)
Village of Fontaine-Daniel
Fontaine-Daniel is a clearing in the wood of Salair, 4 km from the city of Mayenne, where Cistercian monks from the Abbey of Clairmont settled in 1205, Sold as a national asset in 1791, the imposing abbey was acquired by entrepreneurs who set up a spinning mill in its place. The transformation gradually established a harmonious balance between the historical buildings, the natural environment made of rivers and forests and the industrial establishment.
MAYENNE (Pop: 13,000)
A former Carolingian stronghold, hence its well preserved castle, the second city of Mayenne thrived thanks to the linen cloth trade until the 19th century. Since then, the sub-prefecture of the department bearing its name has been able to bounce back thanks to a diversified small industry and by making the most of its religious heritage and the mansions inherited from the time of Mazarin. The city was seriously damaged in 1944 in fighting for its liberation. The act of bravery of an American soldier by the name of Mac Racken allowed the allies to prevail. One of the bridges of the city bears his name.
Castle of Mayenne
The chateau, more than a thousand years old, is one of the best-preserved civil buildings of the Middle Ages in Europe. From the castle can be discovered a magnificent panorama on the river Mayenne and the eastern neighbourhoods of the city. The large courtyard, now turned into a park, was endowed in the late nineteenth century with a superb Italian theatre, pole of cultural life in Mayenne. The castle houses a museum that, through an interactive route, allows the visitor to discover the remarkable Carolingian remains and the history of the castle for a millennium. It also presents exceptional collections of objects found during excavations conducted since 1996: coins, household objects, religious objects, military furniture, funeral furniture and toys. Also on display is an extraordinary collection of tokens: a tray with 52 tokens of tric trac (backgammon) from the tenth to the twelfth century, dice and chess figurines, all in bone or ivory.
AVERTON (600 people)
Averton is the birthplace of Alain Meslet, winner of a stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Élysées in 1977. He broke clear in the final circuit to wins with a 49-second lead and become the first Frenchman to win on the Champs-Elysees circuit. That year he finished Tour in tenth place and best young rider. The Mayenne rider, who also has a Grand Prix du Midi Libre to his credit, competed in five Tours de France between 1976 and 1981.
ALENÇON (Pop: 26,000)
A former duchy and administrative centre, renowned for its lace, Alencon suffered from staying isolated from the main road and rail links which favoured its neighbours Le Mans and Laval. The implantation of Moulinex in 1937 earned the town some respite but the absence of a direct TGV link with Paris harmed it once again. The plastic industry and green tourism are the new assets of its recovery. From its wealthy past, Alencon retained the imposing Chateau of the Dukes and dozens of mansions and townhouses of great historical interest like maison à l’Étal, or House of Ozé (14th century), housing the tourist office, or the 16th century prefecture regrouping the town’s Museum of Fine Arts and lace, music school and library. Among the several Alencon-born celebrities stand out Saint Therese of Lisieux, singer Daniel Balavoine, Comedian Lorant Dutch but also former FDJ rider Anthony Geslin, who took part in six Tours de France. Alencon hosted six Tour de France stages, the most famous of them a time trial won by Miguel Indurain in 1991.
Named “the queen of laces” in 1851 at the first World Fair in London, Alencon’s lace has a history spanning centuries and dating from the 17th century at least. In the 1650s, a lacemaker from Alencon, Marthe La Perrière (c. 1605-1677) introduced a point lace technique from Italy, the Venice Point. She improved the technique, creating a refined lace know as Point of France and later Point of Alencon. Aware of the financial impact of such a technique on the European markets, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), the finance minister of King Louis XIV, granted Alencon the right to open a lace manufacture. In the mid-18th century, the lace industry employed nearly 10,000 workers. Today, the national conservatory of Point d’Alencon preserves a technique and know-how listed on the immaterial World Heritage by UNESCO in 2010.
VILLENEUVE-EN-PERSEIGNE (Pop: 2,250)
In 2015, the commune brought together six Sarthe towns (La Fresnaye-sur-Chédouet, Chassé, Lignières-la-Carelle, Montigny, Roullée and Saint-Rigobert-des-Bois).
Bicycle Museum "La Belle Échappée"
Located in the Normandy Maine Regional Nature Park, at the Fresnaye-sur-Chédouet, the "La Belle Échappée" cycling museum traces the history of cycling and the Tour de France, from the 19th century to the present day. Many items are on display over 600 m2: old bicycles, jerseys, accessories as well as videos and images.
MAMERS (Pop: 5,300)
The "capital of the rillettes, where was created the Brotherhood of Knights of the Sarthe Rillettes in 1968, has other assets to promote, such as its 19th century grain market, its former convent of the Visitation and its cloister, which today welcome the administrative services, but also an astonishing replica of the Eiffel Tower perched on a roof. Mamers was the city of Joseph Caillaux, former president of the Council (1991-1912) whom history probably forgot because he was the instigator of the income tax. The murder of the director of Le Figaro newspaper, Gaston Calmette, by Caillaux’s wife Henriette, who felt defamed by an article, made headlines just before WWI.
BELLÊME (Pop: 950)
Built on a hill, Bellême is a picturesque medieval city. The 15th century porch opens on Rue Ville Close with its colourful facades and mansions of the 17th to 19th centuries. Overlooking the village, remains of the castle walls are still visible. The Place de l'Europe (former Castle square) also offers a beautiful view on the flat-roofed roofs and the Saint-Sauveur church. In the distance, the landscape of the Pays Bellêmois unfolds. Bellême is also a sport-friendly town with an 18-hole golf course, a swimming pool, a mini-golf course as well a hiking and mountain biking trails.
North of the city, the forest of Bellême is one of the most beautiful in France with its remarkable century-old oaks. In autumn over 1,100 species of mushrooms can be found in the woods.
NOCÉ (Pop: 730)
Manor of Courboyer
It is home to the House of the Regional Nature Park of Perche. Of the 700 or so mansions built after the Hundred Years War in the Perche region, only a hundred remain today. Built at the very end of the 15th century, the Courboyer Manor is one of the few to be open to visitors, and one of the largest. It has been listed as a historic monument since 1981. Today, the manor of Courboyer rises proudly in the middle of 65 ha field. Along the footpath running around the house lie meadows full of Percheron horses, saddle horses, Norman and Cotentin donkeys, Norman cows, but also orchards, ponds, a river, gardens and beehives. Three of the five levels of the mansion are open to visitors. Exhibitions relate to the park (biodiversity, heritage, organic agriculture...) and display a collection of objects once belonging to the family of Fontenay, the former lords of Courboyer.
NOGENT-LE-ROTROU (Pop: 10,000)
Capital of the Perche region and a sub-prefecture of Eure-et-Loir, Nogent-le-Rotrou owes its name to Rotrou III the Great (1100 - 1144), who played a major role in the medieval history of Perche. With the extinction of the Rotrou family in 1226, the county of Perche fell into the French royal domain. After the Hundred Years War (1337 - 1453), Perche went through a period of prosperity when wealthy merchants built manors surrounded by farmland. Nearly 400 mansions were built on the hills of the Perche at the time. The manor of Courboyer-Nocé dates from this period. Famous personalities made the reputation of Perche: poet Remi Belleau was born in Nogent-le-Rotrou in 1528. Maximilian of Bethune, Duke of Sully and Marquis de Nogent-le-Rotrou rests in the capital of Perche. Paul Deschanel, a MP for Nogent-le-Rotrou was briefly the French President, before resigning for health reasons. Another emblematic figure of Perche is the Percheron horse, renowned for his height, strong bone structure and muscles. These characteristics were retained in 1883 to create a studbook, genealogical records marking the birth of the Percheron breed.
THIRON-GARDAIS (Pop: 1,020)
Holy Trinity Abbey of Thiron-Gardais
Despite the damage caused by its dismantling during the Revolution, the former abbey of the Holy Trinity of Thiron retains significant elements of monastic architecture from the 12th to the 17th centuries. The important dimensions of some buildings (54 meters long and 12 meters wide for the nave) and the influence of the order of Thiron, who founded eleven abbeys and more than a hundred priories, make it an important building. While the monks lodgings built in 1114 by St Bernard of Ponthieu disappeared, the abbatial church, the barn, the dovecote, the college, the pharmacy and the warden house remain. Episodes of the Roman de Renart medieval epic take place in the abbey.
Receive exclusive news about the Tour