I enjoyed a cycle tour of La Sarthe a Velo this summer. Over four days of cycling in the Sarthe region, south-west of France, I visited and spotted some great attractions. Here’s a guide:
Day 1: V44 Le Mans to Sable-sur-Sarthe
A stunning building that is dedicated to Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city’s first bishop, who established Christianity in the area around the beginning of the 4th century. Its construction dates from the sixth to the 14th century, and it features many French Gothic elements. During the summer an event called La Nuit des Chimeres sees the cathedral being lit by a fantastic light show after dark most evenings.
76 km/ 48 miles
La Martinière, 72700 Spay
Fun for all the family at this zoo that offers an interactive learning experience as you wander around.
Asnières sur Vègre
It’s a delight cycling through the beautiful villages of Asnières-sur-Vègre, Brûlon and Parcé-sur-Sarthe, which are renowned for their landscaped architectural heritage.
Not to be missed are the wall paintings in the church of St Hilaire at Asnières. Park your bike outside and pop into the cool interior to look at the paintings. Then pop across the road to a tea room that operates outside in a walled garden in the summer. Lovely!
Close to Asnières (about a seven minute bike ride up a hill!) is an extraordinary garden owned by Philippe Gandry. In 2005 he decided to turn former farmland back to its natural state and to create a purely natural garden.
He told me: “I had always had a dream to have a garden that showcased natural growing techniques, without use of chemicals. When I worked in Nigeria as a younger man I saw how they grew vegetables in nature’s way and I wanted to replicate this.
“I have been creating this garden of flowers and vegetables for 10 years and it still has a long way to go. Some parts of the land have recovered, almost, from being over farmed. It is a long process but I believe this is the way all farms and growers will need to go in the end and so I want to show them what is possible.”
Wandering the natural flower and veg beds is a delightfully calming experience. You can also buy produce made from the garden.
The Abbey at Solesmes is the home of the eerie sounding but somehow uplifting Gregorian Chant and reunites centuries of history with its religious music. It’s said that attending a choral service is a deep and unforgettable experience.
Day 2: V44 Solesmes to Le Lude
50 miles / 80 km
Malicorne Espace Faience, Malicorne-sur-Sarthe
Malicorne-sur-Sarthe is like most places in Sarthe. It has a castle (18th-century) and a church (12th century). But it is also famed for its ceramic heritage, stretching back more than 250 years, and particularly “faience”, which is a tin-glazed earthenware such as maiolica.
A museum is located in a former factory and reveals the history of the local industry. There are tours and workshops, as well as the museum. It’s a nice co place to spend an hour or so if it’s hot outside.
La Fleche is the oldest zoo in France (opened in 1946). I am not a big fan of zoos but I know that families enjoy them. The zoo is still well cared for and is located in a beautiful setting amid natural woodland and landscaped gardens.
A true architectural gem of the first French Renaissance, this castle is well worth a visit. The interior is breathtaking and the pretty gardens offer a 360-degree view of the impressive building exterior.
Day 3: V47 Le Lude to Le Grand Lucé
55 miles / 90 km
Vin Gigou, 4 Rue Les Caves la Fontaine, La Chartre-sur-le-Loir
Book ahead for the tour and wine tasting. The estate extends to 15 hectares of vines divided between the two appellations of this southern Sarthe: Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières. It has bee the same family for many generations. I could sample only a little wine, since I still had many miles ot ride that day and in a hot sun but I most enjoyed a new fizzy red wine. Yum!
A privately owned castle that has been renovated and decorated by award-winning designer Timothy Corrigan. The chateau and its stunning gardens have attained the status of French National Landmark.
Day 4: Le Grand-Lucé to Le mans, via northern Sarthe
50 miles/ 80 km
The striking fortress was built in 1005 by Guillaume 1 de Belleme, Earl of Maine. It’s bloody history tells how in 1064, it was conquered by William of Normandy and then by the King of England. During the French wars Ballon again played its part. Henri IV (1553 -1610) took used the fort as his base during his conquest of the west of France.
Abbaye de l’Epau, Le Mans
Founded in 1229 by Bérengère of Navarre, widow of Richard the Lion Heart, the abbey is one of the most beautiful Cistercian gems in France. It was acquired by the Department of Sarthe in France in 1959. Today, the abbey is alost entirey preservedand situated in a park of some 13 hectares surrounded by a wall.
L’arche de la Nature, Le Mans
Located 10 minutes from Le Mans city centre and close to Abbey of Epau, is a natural parkland with river, forest and farmland. There are things to do for al ages including sports fields and a children’s playground.
Cité Plantagenêt, Le Mans
The old town takes its name from the English dynasty of the Plantagenets, whose founder, the future Henry II, was born in Le Mans in the Palace of the Counts of Maine, currently the City Hall.
My trip was supported by Sarthe Développement and Tourist Office of the Loir Valley.
See La Sarthe a Velo
For a range of ideas for holidaying in the Sarthe area visit www.tourisme-en-sarthe.com