Mayenne is a small town situated on the Mayenne river, in the north of the Mayenne department. It is roughly halfway between Le Mans and Rennes and is north of Angers.
This is the only town in France which shares the same name as the river and the department its situated in. However, this interesting fact as you can imagine, has led to a fair amount of confusion.
The town is best known for its castle and riverside walks. The surrounding area is known for its cider, its dialect and its British population.
The town of Mayenne has two distinct parts. To the east of the river, the Saint -Martin area is named after the church and west of the Mayenne river, named after the impressive basilica is the Notre-Dame. From a tourist point of view when the river split up the town the Notre -Dame side has the better deal, with the basilica itself, the interesting shops and the castle. Even so many of the locals prefer Saint – Martin.
During World War II Saint Martin suffered heavily from bombing at the end of the German occupation, consequently the buildings have slightly less character than these across the river.
The main must-see attraction in Mayenne is the castle, after having extensive renovations and the opening of an improved museum. The best place for a bird’s eye view across the Mayenne rooftops is the castle ramparts. The castle is of 10th century origins and has managed to largely retain its medieval appearance despite many transformations and renovations up until the 19th century. This included the construction of a theatre in the courtyard.
Walls and doorways from an even earlier castle from the Carolingian period (8th-9th centuries) were revealed in an excavation of the castle, which you can see when you visit.
The museum is brilliant, a beautiful modern-style attraction which fits perfectly within the medieval castle. The information is largely translated into English. The whole building is accessible for these with reduced mobility with a lift being installed. Even if you can manage the stairs, the lift offers panoramic views of the river.
The town centre is centred around Place Cheverus, which is an attractive square and is surrounded by some impressive 18th century townhouses. The Place de Herce is another important square and with it comes a 12th century Duke’s Palace.
Among the different religious monument in Mayenne, one you will want to visit is the Basilica Notre Dame. This originated in the 12th century. However, it was modified many times over the following centuries. There is also the church of Saint – Martin with 11th century origins.
The 17th century Chapel des Calvairiennes from the outside would probably go unnoticed, however inside there is an impressive 17th century marble altarpiece. The chapel is now used for exhibits for contemporary art.
There is a good selection of shops in the town. Some are of the chain variety which you find everywhere and some more quirky. Monsieur Bizeray’s beautiful homemade chocolate shop is not one to be missed.
Set on stilts on the Saint-Martin bank of the river you will find the Mayenne tourist office. Below it you can hire bikes and motor boats in season.
If you are visiting Mayenne on a sunny day, be sure to take a stroll along the river. There are stunning views across the river and bridge to the basilica and castle. There is a towpath which starts from here and goes along to Laval which is 30km south. Here you can also take a boat trip along the river. Along the towpath there are lock keepers’ cottages, some have been turned into quaint shops and during the summer the locks are manned.
To sum up, Mayenne is a lovely place to visit make sure you stop by..