Fresnay-sur-Sarthe, Pays de la Loire
Video Tour of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe
Introduction to Fresnay-sur-Sarthe
If you’ve read other posts on the Visit Normandy-Pays de la Loire blog you’ll realise that we’re on the border of Normandy and Pays de la Loire, but the character of the towns in the north of the Pays de la Loire is not markedly different from the southern parts of Lower Normandy. This is true to such an extent that I frequently have to double-check to which region the places I visit belong!
Fresnay-sur-Sarthe (after checking) is in the Pays de la Loire but the architecture is very similar to Alençon, its Normandy neighbour, and they both sit astride the river Sarthe. Another thing these towns have in common is that if you drive straight through them on the main road, you would think they were nothing special. Wrong!! What you have to do each case is to get off the main road and into the old town – many people fail to do so, but that gives the smart visitor the opportunity to discover something special, off the beaten track.
Fresnay-sur-Sarthe is nowadays regarded as the capital of the Alpes Mancelles and is the home of the tourist office for that region (see related article on St Cenéri-le-Geréi).
History of Fresnay-sur-Sarthe
Fresnay-sur-Sarthe is centred around the remains of its castle and keep, whose vertiginous ramparts look down onto the river Sarthe and afford a wonderful panorama onto the weaving cottages, mill and Creusot bridge which crosses the Sarthe.
In the 6th Century a settlement by the name of Fraxinidum is recorded on the site (meaning the town of the ash trees) and a fortification was first built at Fresnay in 877.
A castle with stone ramparts was subsequently erected on the site in the 10th century under the reign of Charles le Chauve (“Bald King Charles”). The castle had an important strategic importance to protect the river crossing at Fresnay.
William the Conqueror twice captured the castle : first in 1063, then again in 1073. Young “Robert de Bellême”, who made a name for himself during the siege, was proclaimed as a knight by William.
In 1100, Henry the First attempted to unite the Maine and Anjou regions. The castle then became one of a chain of defences designed to protect the Maine against Norman (i.e. at that time Viking) attacks, and the city was placed under the protection of the Vicomte de Beaumont. The city was at that time called Fresnay-le-Vicomte. The city finally found a period of peace only at the beginning of the 14th Century.
The strategic importance of the Castle of Fresnay was once again highlighted during the 100 Years War. Successively occupied by the adventurers of Philippe de la Chèze in 1356 then captured by the British troops of Henry V in 1417, it came back into French hands thanks to Ambroise de Loré, future companion of Joan of Arc.
In 1420 the city was again taken by English and they occupied Fresnay for thirty years. As if these troubles were not enough, Fresnay-sur-Sarthe also suffered in the Wars of Religion ; in 1652, it was sacked by the Huguenots and from then on the castle started to fall into ruin.
From the Beginning of17th until the end of the 19th century, linen and hemp weaving were major industries for the town; hemp (“chanvre”) was used for sails. New housing was created in Fresnay in the “Bourg-Neuf” and the “Creusot” districts. Some weavers’ cottages still remain on the banks of the Sarthe, just downstream from the former mill at the Creusot Bridge and visible from the castle ramparts.
19 Av de docteur Riant (near the crossroads in the high town)
Tel. 02 43 33 28 04
The Tourist Office of the Alpes Mancelles at Fresnay-sur-Sarthe can provide you with a route map to explore the old town – the video shows some of the sites along the route.
NB The church Notre Dame is open certain afternoons only from 15h30.
Access to Fresnay-sur-Sarthe from the B&B:
The town is 20 minutes (20km) from our B&B in Lower Normandy
Interested in châteaux and gardens in Normandy and Pays de la Loire? See also :