Laval in Western Loire is a pretty city on the Mayenne river where a charming château sits on a rocky outcrop, and some remarkably well-preserved Gallo-Roman baths can be found nearby.
Built in the 11th century under the House of Laval, one of the most powerful families in Maine and Brittany during the Middle Ages, Laval is a fairly young city in France. Laval château was first built over 1000 years ago by Guy I of Déneré on the Place de la Trémoille, but was rebuilt in stone in its current location, on a rocky outcrop, in the 12th century. You can climb to the top of the 13th century keep for some great views of the city. Laval's ramparts were also built to protect the city at the start of the 13th century and were once over 1,100m long and flanked by 27 towers, 3 gates and 2 posterns although only a small section and 1 gate, the Port Beucheresse, survive today. In the 16th century, Guy XVI and XVII created the Château Neuf, a beautiful Renaissance mansion that was used as a courthouse during the Revolution.
The city also has much beautiful religious architecture such as the riverside cathedral, which was elevated from its church status in 1855 after extensive renovations that have left it with a mixture of architectural styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque stylings. Amongst the several churches in Laval, the Romanesque Basilica of Our Lady of Avesnières stands out, as well as the Abbaye de la Coudre, a convent of Cistercian nuns that was begun in 1859 and where the nuns today invite the public to join them in their services and sell their handmade chocolates, cakes, jams, sweets, and a cheese matured in the abbey cellars, the Trappe de la Coudre, in their shop. Inside the castle you can explore the world of Naïve Art at the Musée d'Art Naïf. Showcasing works by Henri Rousseau and his followers, it is a unique collection in Europe with art created from wood, stone, cloth, recycled materials and media installations. Laval's other primary museum worth visiting is the Lactopole, the world's largest dairy museum featuring a huge variety of collections and exhibits on the evolution of dairy processes, equipment and tools across the centuries and from across the world. The CCSTI Laval is also worth a visit if you are interested in science, technology and industry, and is particularly focused on water and the environment.
Just outside of the city, at Entrammes, Gallo-Roman baths were discovered beneath a church where they were kept in remarkably good condition and are well worth a look around with a tour. Out on the river Mayenne, Laval is a popular stop for those indulging in river tourism on boats and barges along the river and lots of river cruises, some with gourmet meals onboard are available. There is also much to do on and around the river with canoeing, and hiking, horse riding and cycling along the 85km of towpaths and old railway lines that follow alongside the river. Enjoy nature in a smaller space at the Jardin de la Perrine, a beautiful botanical garden with children's playgrounds, ponds, and a rose garden to explore. Or, go a short distance out of Laval to the northeast and find the stunning ecological and tourist site, Echologia, where the biodiversity of this wonderful area of countryside around 7 lakes is being preserved and the site, including its industrial heritage at an old limeburning village, is being rehabilitated.
Try some of the delicious local produce at the markets that take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in various areas of the city. Taste Port Salut, a mild semi-soft cheese that is popular in France, from its original place of production at Entrammes abbey. Other cheeses to try includine the Trappe de la Coudre, made by the nuns at Abbaye de la Coudre and the newly produced and handmade Entrammes cheese, made from raw organic cow's milk. With its location on the Mayenne river, fish is also popular in Laval, especially pike, tench, carp and trout. Wash down your meal with some locally-produced cider.
Region: Western Loire
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