By Phil Hanlon
The rural department of Mayenne is located within the Loire Valley region in the west of France. With few large towns, most visitors will spend their time exploring the beautiful natural scenery and historic villages in the area. This is an ideal location for those who like their countryside unspoilt and without lots of crowds. That's not to say there isn't plenty for tourists to enjoy; prehistoric caves, Roman ruins and historic castles are all within easy reach.
The medieval town of Saint Suzanne occupies a dominant position on a 70-metre cliff overlooking the Erve River. William the Conqueror once tried, and failed, to take the fortress with a siege after his more successful visit to England. You can still visit the remains of the original keep and some of the town walls are still standing too. Near to Saint Suzanne is the Erves Dolmen, a prehistoric burial chamber built using large stones which would then have been covered by earth. This example is now open to visitors and has been dated from 4,700 BC. You can only reach the dolmen on foot, though there is a small car park nearby and the site is well sign-posted from Saint Suzanne.
The caves at nearby Saulges are well worth a visit, though they are only open in the summer months so tourists do not disturb the bats that hibernate there during winter. The caves run workshops, allowing children to try out prehistoric life and even to have a go at making their own cave paintings. Unfortunately, the cave with the best examples of prehistoric paintings are not open to the public, but the Grotte a Margot has some evidence of ancient artwork on its walls, dating back 20,000 years. The caves are only accessible on guided tours which are usually only given in French, but it is sometimes possible to arrange visits in other languages in advance. The cave is named after a young lady called Margot, who was rumoured to be a witch after she entered the caves alone and was never seen again. There are some steep stairs and even ladders on the tour route, so it might not be suitable for young children or those with mobility problems.
There are some extensive Roman ruins open to visitors near the town of Jublains, including the remains of a fortress and an amphitheatre. One of the best-preserved parts of the colony is the Roman baths, excavations of which can be seen under the floor of the local church. There are often summer concerts held in the amphitheatre or you can take along your own picnic and eat in this historic atmosphere. If you have a car, it is also worth making the short drive outside of Jublains to visit the Roman temple on the outskirts of the town.
The Author writes for Holiday Home Rentals who have a selection of Gites in Mayenne and Villas in France which can be rented direct from their owners.
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