Le Mans old town
You might know Sarthe for one thing – Le Mans. But, there’s much more to this area than motor racing. Glorious countryside, chateaux, vineyards and historic towns galore. Here are our top tips for what to see and do in the department of Sarthe…
Le Mans racing is the biggest draw in Sarthe and quite rightly, there is a museum dedicated to the sport. Discover the history of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a collection of more than 100 vehicles including 11 winners of the 24 Hour Race. Exclusive film and photos bring the tale of this iconic race to life, plus there are working models and animated games.
Around a quarter of a million people visit Le Mans for the racing in June and around 99% of them are unaware of the old town a few steps from the legendary racecourse. Don’t miss out on the medieval town with its cobbled alleys and wonky half-timbered houses, once a Plantagenet stronghold (top photo). And, there are Roman ruins too! On the edge of the old town is the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city’s first bishop. Built between the 6th and the 14th century, it features many French Gothic elements. From July to early September, the town puts on a sound and light show known as Nuits des Chimeres.
5 minutes by car or about 15 minutes by tram from Le Mans city centre you’ll find the Domaine de l’Épau and the Abbaye Royale de l’Épau, one of the finest examples of Cistercian architecture in France. It was commissioned in 1229 by Berengaria of Navarre, widow of Richard the Lionheart, who is buried there. There’s also a delightful café where they make delicious home-made cakes!
The Domaine de l’Épau, next to the abbey, is an area of outstanding natural beauty. It covers 600 hectares and hosts two restaurants and a bar, ideal for a taste of the countryside. There’s plenty to do for the whole family from canoeing to climbing.
The Zoo de La Fleche is home to an impressive 1500 animals and is very popular with kids. The town of La Fleche is interesting to visit and has a lovely Sunday morning market. Close by is the impressive Chateau de la Lude which is still lived in but you can visit the Chateau and gardens. The Chateau at Baugé close by is also worth a visit with its ancient Plantagenet staircase and vaulted ceilings. Baugé is classified one of the “Most beautiful detours of France” for its pretty town, surrounded by wonderful countryside and vineyards. It’s also home to an incredible 17th century pharmacy and hospital museum and yes, it really is well worth a detour.
Chestnut and oak trees, forests, chateaux and grand houses, the river Loir, medieval towns, boulangeries and brasseries – welcome to the Vallée du Loir. We’ve all heard of La Loire with its famous Chateaux and fabulous vineyards but Le Loir, its neighbour is not quite so well known. Literally translated it means the Valley of the Dormouse.
The wines of this area are unique – peppery Côteaux du Loir and crisp Jasnières. You rarely see them outside of the area, so leave room in the car to stock up.
With more than 40 attractions, Papea Parc is the biggest amusement park in Pays de la Loire.
Located near Huisne, there are rides water games a Magic Show, circus and huge park just right for kids that need to let off steam.
Discover more at Sarthe tourism
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France is the most visited country in the world – and no wonder, with a diverse landscape which includes mountains, glorious countryside, beautiful beaches, historic cities and towns and gorgeous villages. Here are the regions of France at a glance…
There are 13 metropolitan regions in France (as at January 2016 when some regions merged to become super regions).
The northernmost region of France made up of Pas de Calais, Nord and Picardy. The capital is Lille and the region has the lovely Opal Coast beaches, beautiful countryside and many memorials to WWI and WWII. Get there by Eurostar (Calais Frethun), Eurotunnel and ferry.
Normandy used to be broken down to upper and lower Normandy. A land of beaches, countryside and famous for its food and cider. Get there via ferry direct from the UK and a few hours drive from Calais. The no. 1 attraction is Mont St Michel, a medieval island town but there’s much more to fall in love with from Honfleur to Monet’s garden at Giverny.
In the northwest of France Brittany is famous for its beaches and pretty country villages. The coast of Brittany is the most popular for beach lovers after the Mediterranean. Ferries go direct from southern England to Brittany.
With Paris at its centre, this region receives the most visits of any region in France. It’s also home to Disney Europe and many of the big chateaux such as Vaux-le-Vicomte. Easy to reach by Eurostar direct to Paris and two international airports.
In the centre of France, this is where you’ll find the famed Loire Valley and the famous Valley of the Kings where the country chateaux of the nobles were built. Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, Blois, Chambord, Amboise. It’s wine country too – the vineyards of the Loire are renowned. Easy to reach via fast train from Paris but this is great touring by car or bike country.
With its stunning western beaches of the Loire-Atlantique and the Vendee departments plus gorgeous countryside, the Pays de la Loire is one of the most underrated regions of France. It’s home to Le Mans and the capital Nantes is just 2 hours from Paris by train.
This is the biggest super region of France consisting of the former regions of Limousin, Poitou-Charentes and Aquitaine. Dordogne, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, vineyards, beaches, countryside – there’s everything you could possibly want from a holiday in France here.
Another big super region, formerly Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees and the southernmost region of France (excluding Corsica). Toulouse, Carcassonne, Nimes, Albi, Montpellier – there’s no shortage of fabulous places to visit here and several international airports for ease of access.
The former regions of Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace joined to become super region Grand Est and what a varied landscape this is. Vineyards galore, historic towns, pictures villages, mountains, lakes and unforgettable countryside. Champagne is easy to reach from Calais, it’s just a couple of hours by car to Reims. There are international airports and fast trains to the major towns including Strasbourg.
No prizes for guessing that the former regions of Burgundy linked up with Franche-Comté to create this new region. Wine, mountains, wonderful cities like Dijon and Besancon, chateaux galore and truly beautiful countryside make this a standout region that’s strangely not that well known to visitors. Connected by fast train to major cities.
In the south east of France the Auvergne and Rhone Alpes regions joined to form one big super region. Mountainous and popular for winter sports, home to the French side of Mont Blanc, as well as home to the foodie city of Lyon.
The most visited of the French regions outside of Ile de France thanks to its many attractions – Provence, Marseille, the Mediterranean to name but a few. Easy to reach by plane or train and great touring country by car and bike. Served by international airports and fast train services.
With its sunny climate and diverse landscape, the island of Corsica lures some 3 million visitors a year. Said to have the best beaches in Europe, historic cities, unique gastronomy and mountainous interior. Reach it by ferry from mainland France or by air.
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Amboise is in the department of Indre-et-Loire, Loire Valley. It’s a town that packs plenty of wow factor with not just one, but two famous castles. Plenty of restaurants, cobbled streets, walks along the river and wine tasting are just some of the things on offer when you visit Amboise.
Nestled on the side of the grand Loire River, the longest in France, Amboise has a mostly sleepy feel though it does get a bit more packed in summer as tourists throng to its castles. It’s easy to walk around but if you want to get your bearings, there’s a petit train in summer months (details at the tourist office).
There are bistros and cafés and a lovely main street over which a 14th century clock hangs. Don’t miss the lovely Bigot chocolate and patisserie, the terrace is just perfect for a spot of people watching!
Most visitors miss the Pagode de Chanteloup. This rather unusual French folly, an 18th century Chinese style pagoda is in the grounds of a former château that was demolished in 1823. Climb the 149 steps to the top for an amazing view of the countryside. It’s set in a park where you can take a boat ride, a great place to relax. It’s a 10 minute drive from the centre of Amboise.
Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life living in this bijou chateau, a grace and favour home offered to him by French King Francis 1 who was a great admirer of the Italian genius. He died here in 1519 and his bones are buried just down the road at the Chateau of Amboise.
Visit this exquisite 15th century chateau today and you’ll almost believe that da Vinci has just nipped out to the gorgeous gardens and might be back soon. The chateau has been restored to look just as it did when da Vinci lived here. There is a beautiful study complete with sketches, paintings and artefacts. His cabinet of curiosities was filled with oddities and somewhat macabre. But, you don’t get to draw the insides of bodies of humans and animals by looking at the outside so it’s not a surprise to discover such bits and pieces.
The room in which he died is often enhanced with the castle cat, Minette, asleep on the four poster bed studiously ignoring tourists.
There are magnificent gardens at the chateau, filled with the designs of Leonardo da Vinci such as his tank and paddle boat. There’s a lovely cafe and restaurant where you can take a break and enjoy the scenery.
The Chateau du Clos Lucé is one of the most atmospheric da Vinci sites in the world and makes for a truly fascinating visit.
This beautiful Renaissance style castle is much smaller today than it was. At one point the chateau was virtually a city, not just a castle. There were wild animals in the moat, it had its own church, law courts and barracks. Today the castle is much smaller but incredibly beautiful. Over the centuries bits were pulled down or destroyed, but it retains an aura of greatness.
You enter via a ramp from the street. The tall walls and turrets dominate the town but give no indication of what you will see once you’re inside the castle gates. From the terrace there are magnificent views over the river and countryside, the restored gardens are truly superb.
Inside the Chateau there are rooms in late Gothic style as well as Renaissance. Some rooms are furnished with tapestries, paintings and furniture. Columns in the state room are encrusted with fleur de lys, a bust of Francis I looks down on all who walk through.
Leonardo da Vinci is buried in the Chapel of St Hubert, wedged against the ramparts. It was built by Charles VIII at the end of the 15th century for his wife Anne of Brittany. The chapel is an absolute jewel, with the sun shining through its beautiful stained glass windows, stunning carved doors and exquisite sculptures, it is sublime.
Why not stay in a chateau yourself in the Loire Valley… we have a great range of gites and chateau stays in the area. Just nip over to browse our fabulous selection of Loire Valley holiday homes – we love to make your holiday dreams come true.
The department of Charente in southwest France, is in Nouvelle Aquitaine, previously known as Poitou-Charentes. It’s one of the sunniest corners of France with roughly 25% more sunshine hours than the UK. It’s a land of vineyards, fields of sunflowers, and small villages and towns. Just 45 minutes’ drive will bring you to the Atlantic Coast. It’s served by excellent motorways, airports close by, plus fast trains to Paris from the departmental capital Angouleme.
We look at some of the main attractions and best things to do in Charente…
The upper town of the city of Angoulême is a fascinating place to visit. The view from the ramparts of its hilltop perch are stunning. The streets of the old district are peppered with bars, cafés and restaurants with tables spilling out onto cobbled terraces.
The city is famous for its Comic Museum, La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’Image. Comics are taken seriously in France, they are accepted as a respected art form. Each year the Comic Museum of Angoulême holds a comic festival that attracts more than 200,000 visitors.
The town is also the street art capital of France and you can hardly turn a corner without spotting a fabulous wall mural, speech-bubble street name or statue honouring a comic artist.
Don’t miss the Cathedral “Tresors” when you go to Angoulême. You’ll need to join a guided tour but it’s absolutely worth it. The art installations in this cathedral were created by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel including a room created from glass and metal which houses the treasures which gave this exhibition its name “Le Tresor”, the treasury. Ancient religious relics, including some rather gory body parts of saints, crowns embellished with jewels and diamonds, altar art, candles and more. It is quite simply dazzling.
Afterwards pop next door to the Museum of Angoulême to learn more about the history of the city and admire the eclectic collection of paintings, furniture, ancient artefacts and more.
Tourist office: www.angouleme-tourisme.com
Cognac is a pretty town with a “City of Art and History” label. It’s easy to spend a day here wandering it’s ancient streets, taking in the sights, relaxing by the river and indulging in the local cuisine. The town has a feeling of peacefulness, prosperity and good living.
If you want to know about cognac the drink as well as the region, the Museum dedicated to Cognac is a great place to start. You’ll discover all there is to know about the creation of cognac and the area in which it is made. There are thousands of objects to bring the story to life as well as a rather fascinating section of posters and labels.
Nip next door to the Discovery centre to find out all about the heritage of Cognac and the Charente area. You’ll get a great overview of how Cognac came to be, the different areas of Cognac production, the vineyards, landscape and villages.
You really have to do a cognac tasting in Cognac, (the Royal Chateau de Cognac is simply superb in the former chateau where King Francis 1 was born in 1515). It’s a great town to wander the old and winding streets, taking a break in one of the many restaurants or bars.
Cognac Tourist Office: www.tourism-cognac.com/uk
Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne (top photo) is officially one of the prettiest little villages in France. Surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside, the town has narrow twisting streets and lots of artisan shops. Don’t miss a visit to the extraordinary, monolithic, underground Church of St Jean and the Romanesque Church of St Jacques, with its stunning façade. If you’re feeling active there are plenty of waterfront activities along the river Dronne from Kayaking to boating. Relax in the lively Place Trarieux where you’ll find some great restaurants.
Aubeterre-sur-Dronne Tourist Office: www.aubeterresurdronne.com
For more to see and do in Charente: www.infiniment-charentes.com
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When it comes to camping near the seaside in France, there’s a huge choice. From pitching your tent in the dunes, to a cool cabin right on the beach, glamping under the pine trees, parking up in your mobile home or renting a chalet. What’s not to love about the sound of the sea lapping against the sand, a glass of wine under the twinkling stars and the fresh air that always seems so much more pure at the coast…
With its beautiful beaches, enthralling coastal scenery and family friendly campsites, Brittany is brilliant for seaside holidays. Explore the Emerald Coast which runs west along the north coast of Brittany from the legendary Mont-Saint-Michel. Or the Pink Granite Coast (top photo), which takes its name from the colours of its unusual rock formations, beaten into fantastical shapes by the weather and the sea.
You’ll discover a land of silky sand beaches, dramatic cliffs, a plethora of islands and secret bays.
When it comes to local produce, it’s hard to resist the famous pancakes of Brittany. They’re not like the pancakes we’re used to in the UK but, made with buckwheat flour and stuffed with fish, meat and cheese, they’re hearty, tasty and scrumptious. From the oysters of Cancale, cider, mouth-watering cheeses and the freshest sea food, indulge your senses in this gastronomic paradise.
Provence is a beautiful region, rich in history, gastronomy and wine, famous for its lavender fields, picturesque villages and vineyards. It’s also a playground for families and perfect for holidays with lots of sunshine. The coast of the French Riviera with its sandy beaches, swish resorts and beautiful old villages and towns is utterly alluring.
Take your pick of superb beach locations from lovely La Ciotat not far from Marseille to captivating Cassis. Or how about exquisite Eze near sunny Nice, famous for the stunning views over the Mediterranean from its hilltop perch, or wonderful Menton where orange and lemon trees grow alongside the main coastal route.
The Vendée, in Poitou-Charentes, on the Atlantic in southwest France is best known for its shining, soft sandy beaches. Around 70 miles of unbroken coastline, peppered with seaside towns are enough to please everyone. One of the best locations for seaside holidays is Les Sables-D’Olonnes, known as the “Pearl of the Ocean”. It’s a large seaside town with an enormous beach 1.5 miles long. This vibrant town has loads to offer. Plus there are lots of fabulous cafés, perfect for a refreshing after beach aperitif as the sun sets. There’s a thriving fishing port and a marina, watching the boats come and go is so relaxing. With five markets, ferry service, museums, the nearby salt marshes, boat trips and absolutely loads of activities – you’ll never be bored here.
Browse our thousands of listings of gorgeous holiday homes by the sea – we love to help make your holiday dreams come true…
The Vendée department is in the region of Pays de la Loire, south of Brittany. With a long coastline and excellent countryside peppered with villages plus home to the Marais Poitevin marshlands, there’s loads for the whole family to enjoy here.
With 18 famous seaside resorts, you’ll never run out of beach activities. 250km of protected coastline and 140km of golden sandy beaches give you plenty of choice for where to lay out your beach towel. Many beaches have blue flag status and you’ll find activities galore including sailing, fishing and surfing – try La Tranche sur Mer which is famous for its Atlantic rollers and regularly holds championship contests.
The most popular beaches include the island of Noirmoutier, with its mimosa trees and picture postcard pretty whitewashed fishing villages, iconic St Jean de Monts in the north, and Sables d’Olonne with its buzzing harbour and lots of shops.
Popular with the French, the Vendée beaches can get busy in the summer but out of season, the vast beauty of the coastline is simply stunning and largely uncrowded.
Puy du Fou is one of the most famous and popular tourist attractions in France. Multi award winning, this is a theme park on a grand scale on several levels. Don’t expect a park full of rides at but be assured the wow factor is off the radar. The shows here are monumental, think Universal studios plus plus plus. From the Romans to the Vikings, and shows which represent historic events up until the 20th century. Ships set on fire, thousands of actors, incredible stunts, stunning special effects, I promise you’re never going to be bored for a single moment when you visit this place. There’s far too much to take in in one day so pick what you really want to see and don’t miss the Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes, the Ballet of the Birds. It includes falcons, vultures and owls which swoop from a large air balloon in the sky and perform above your heads! It’s truly astonishing. Details: www.puydufou.com
Grand Defi is where you’ll find the Parcour Des Arbes, like Go Ape in the UK, but on a much bigger scale. There are family trails and incredible zip slides across a lake, paintballing, pony rides, galactic laser and more. Do as many of the 22 trails and zip slides as you like in a three hour slot (no need to book in advance).
Explora Parc is a smaller trail park and includes base jumps an activities like archery.
The Mairais Poitevin is a sleepy labyrinth of canals lined with poplars and weeping willows also known as the “Green Venice”. It was first created in the 10th century by monks and later refined by the Dutch. Here you’ll find punting, artists and the stone cottages of Arcais with its Angelica liquor and twisting streets. Don’t miss the pretty village of Benet and the waterside town of Damvix.
Head inland to discover the bocage, countryside, of the Vendée. Rolling hills, dramatic lakes and rivers, historic, fortified market towns and unspoilt forest. Field after field of sunflower field mingle with lush vineyards. There are hiking trails and freshwater swimming lakes, and dozens of picturesque towns and villages that beg you to stop for a homemade dish, a glass of wine and the chance to enjoy the gorgeous views.
At French Connections, we have lots of lovely holiday homes in the Vendée, nip over to our listings search pages and find the holiday of your dreams…
The department of Calvados in Normandy is blessed with historic towns, beautiful villages, wonderful countryside and a stunning coastline. Among the many jewels of Calvados are picturesque Honfleur, stylish Deauville and historic Caen. We take a look at some of the best places to visit and things to do in Calvados…
Calvados the department gives its name to Calvados, a sort of apple brandy. This strong drink is created by distilling cider twice, maturing it in wooden barrels and blending it. Enjoyed with a coffee in the evening, it packs a powerful punch.
Discover more about Calvados at the Calvados Experience, a cross between a museum and an innovative show utilising the most up to date multimedia themes. You’ll enjoy a tasting at the end of your visit and there’s a great shop selling Calvados, cider and local products, plus there’s a picnic area and café.
Details: calvados-experience.com/en – you can take the tour in eight languages.
Famous for its racecourse, casino, golf course and long sandy beach lined with beach huts named after American movie stars (in honour of the annual American Film Festival held in Deauville), called the Promenade des Planches. Here you’ll find the rich and beautiful promenading; wealthy, tanned old ladies lying under the colourful beach parasols and smartly dressed visitors enjoying the unique ambience of elegant Deauville.
Wandering around the harbour and up and down the wiggly cobble stone streets of Honfleur is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s one of the finest places in France for simply sitting and watching the world go by from a terrace café with a steaming bowl of moules mariniere and a glass of chilled wine. It’s a buzzing, vibrant, colourful and truly enchanting little place that is quaintly charming and full of character despite the high number of tourists.
The port town of Caen is the capital of Calvados as well as William the conqueror’s last hometown. The old part of the town, Vaugeux district, is small but has some pretty half-timbered houses, lots of cafés, bars and restaurants where whiling away an hour or several isn’t hard. Don’t miss a visit to the monumental Abbeys in the town – the Men’s Abbey was built by William the Conqueror and the Women’s’ Abbey by his wife Matilda. There’s also a museum and Fine Arts Museum in the former Caen Castle. Around six miles from the city centre is the famous Pegasus Bridge, a major landmark and historic site of World War II which played a significant role in the D-Day Landings.
Bayeux is famous primarily for being the home of the Bayeux tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England. Almost 1000 years old, a real life Game of Thrones tale, captured in thread – it really is an extraordinary piece of work. The area around the historic cathedral is great for a wander and the old town is very pretty. Next door to the Cathedral, the Museum Baron Gérard is located in the former episcopal palace and houses an excellent collection which dates from prehistory to the 20th century. Visit the superb Memorial Museum of the Battle of Normandy to explore the history of the D-Day landings through to victory.
French Connections has loads of great holiday homes in Calvados including gites, apartments, cottages, villas and even chateaux and a watermill.