La Roche-sur-Yon is the capital of the Vendée, chosen by Napoleon I in 1804....
The breathtaking Normandie-Maine Regional Natural Park covers nearly 600 acres and spans 4 departments: the Orne (Normandy), Manche (Normandy), Sarthe and Mayenne. It encompasses farmlands, moors, peat bogs, rivers and forests.
25% of the landscape is woodland and forest. The Alpes Mancelles with their Alpine-like vegetation are a ‘must-see’ with picturesque villages, hills and river valleys.
In autumn the woods are buzzing with mushroom hunters. Amateur gatherers should always check with experts or at the local pharmacy that their finds are edible. There are an abundance of flora and fauna. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, rabbits and hares and beware of the wild boar!
The area is steeped in history. Ancient farming techniques like 'Bocage' have left their imprint on the landscape. Practised since Neolithic times, hedges have been planted on raised banks and separated by sunken paths and tracks to create a patchwork of irregular shaped fields.
Mont des Avaloirs in Mayenne is the highest point in western France. It rises to 417 metres and the Belvedere Tower, opened in 1994, gives you a viewing platform that is 18 metres higher still. There are 180 steps, but it is worth the climb – you have a panoramic view over the park, the Forest of Multonne and the Alpes Mancelles. You really feel on top of the world!
Don’t miss the architecture either! Visit Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei (Normandy), one of the most beautiful villages in France. Renowned for the beauty of its landscapes and the quality of the light, it has inspired many artists, including the painters Corot and Courbet. A trip to the beautiful medieval town of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe is a trip back in architectural time. Here you can visit the ‘Musée de la Coiffe’ where you can see local head-wear and hats through the ages!
Several rivers, including the Sarthe, flow across the park towards the English Channel or the Atlantic and you can amble along the banks or mess about on the river. There are lots of activities to suit all energy levels from gentle walks and rambling, to horse riding, canoeing and mountain biking.
> Further information: Normandie-Maine Regional Natural Park