Fresnay Sur Sarthe (Pays de la Loire), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Fresnay sur Sarthe is a charming little town of some 3,000 inhabitants which straddles the River Sarthe in an area known as the Mancelles Alpes (which, despite the grandiose name, are little more than a series of pretty green grassy valleys). We were heading north to Alencon and, just after Le Mans, we decided to stop for a spot of lunch and to stretch our legs. Fresnay sur Sarthe looked like the perfect spot.

Having parked the Van, we ambled across the bridge over the River Sarthe and up to the medieval centre of the town. It sits on a rocky outcrop above the river alongside the ruins of a small 14th century castle.

The Fresnay sur Sarthe town bridge with what remains of the old castle walls.

There is little left of the old castle but it’s grounds have been transformed into a very pretty public garden which offers pleasant views over the lower part of the town.

Since at least the time of William the Conqueror the castle has been the scene of many battles and, certainly, the castle (and the town) changed hands between the English and the French numerous times during both the 100 Years War and the 30 Years War but, it was during France’s Religious Wars in 1562, that it was almost totally destroyed by the Huegenots.

The River Sarthe from the castle walls.

A small square adjacent to the castle, the Place de Bassum with it’s traditional stone market hall and an unusual fountain featuring a lion and an ash tree with three crowns, is the accepted centre of the town. We ate a light brunch outside one of the cafe bars in the centre and then simply soaked up the sun for a while over a couple of glasses of coffee.

Left: The approach to the medieval centre of Fresnay from the lower town. Centre: Place de Bassum with it’s unusual fountain. Right: A closer view of the fountain.

The castle entrance and the view down towards the bridge from the castle walls.

Whilst wandering Place de Bessum, we couldn’t help but notice various motor racing paraphernalia, particularly black and white chequered flags, displayed in almost every shop window. Moreover, there was an open air art exhibition in the castle grounds which again featured motor racing – some rather good paintings. And then, most impressive of all, nearly all of the streets fanning out from Place de Bessum were bedecked with literally hundreds of black and white umbrellas. Curioser and curioser! With a little help from Google we discovered that the town was one of many in the immediate area which, on 10 and 11 June, would be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hour Sports Car Endurance Race – Just two weeks hence. Now that would be something to witness but… we have a wedding to attend in the UK.

Almost every street surrounding Place de Bessum looked like these (and it was nothing to do with Newcastle United qualifying for the European Champions League for the first time in their history).

It was almost time to get back on the road. We’d missed the weekly farmers market up on the square near the Church of Notre Dame but there was still time to wander that remaining part of the town. I’ll leave you with just a few more photos…

Two rather poor photos of the 12th century Notre Dame (the narrow lanes and alleys precluded any decent photos) and a photo of a very nervous Beanie who has never before seen such a large amount of strange smelling ice. This ice was dumped by the fishmonger at the farmers weekly market.

… and back down to the lower town and the River Sarthe.

We’d have liked to stay on. The town appeared full of character and there were at least two nice looking restaurants. A half decent looking municipal campsite too.

obiter dicta: I’ve mentioned already that I am well behind with this blog. It is now 11 July and we visited Fresnay sur Sarthe on 27 May. Sorry about that but there is so much going on at the moment back in the UK. I will soon catch up but, meanwhile, in case you are interested, Ferrari won the 2023 Le Mans race for the first time since 1964 and with a British driver at the wheel – James Calado. The favourites, Toyota, were a close second.

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