Why the Alpes Mancelles?
The name means the Le Mans Alps, ‘mancelles’ being the female, plural adjective of ‘manceau’, meaning from Le Mans or the area around Le Mans. The description is deceptive as there are no glaciers, no ski runs and no avalanches in Les Alpes Mancelles.
Legend has it that the name "Alpes Mancelles" originated in the 7th century, when two brothers (Cénéri and Cerenède) left Rome to return to Gaul. The two brothers crossed the (real) Alps and decided they wouldn't stop walking until they encountered a landscape similar to the Alps and they decided to settle down in the "Alpes Mancelles", hence the name.
A more likely (but less romantic) explanation is that the name originates from the late 19th century when the French were beginning to discover the delights of tourism. In the 1870s, there was something of a craze in France for renaming places to make them sound more attractive which resulted in their being at least 10 French ‘Switzerlands', ranging from the Suisse Normande to the Suisse Niçoise. Les Alpes Mancelles was simply a variation on a theme.
The Alpes Mancelles straddle the border between the province of Normandy and Pays de Loire region. It is an area peppered with quiet villages punctuated with hills and river valleys – a natural landscape, partly woodland, partly heath. The Alpes Mancelles is a particularly picturesque area, lying within the Parc naturel regional Normandie-Maine, from just south of Alençon (Orne) at Condé-sur-Sarthe following the valley of the river Sarthe south as far as Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.
The highest point in western France, the Mont de Avaloirs (417m) lies within the Alpes Mancelles in Mayenne department. There is a viewpoint and orientation chart at the summit (reached after an ascent of 108 steps) and on a clear day it is said that visibility extends to 100 miles with the Mont St Michel visible from the top. Information can be found on the many walking trails in the area. One of these connects to the quiet hamlet of Sainte-Anne-de-Champfrémont and others connect to the Corniche de Pail or the little town of Pré-en-Pail.
All along the road between Pré-en-Pail and the village of Villepail (south of Mont de Avaloirs), on the Corniche de Pail, the countryside is magnificent, a protected natural area extending to 450 hectares interspersed with heaths, bogs, woods and meadows.
At Saint-Pierre-des-Nids, the viewpoint at Toyères offers exceptional views over the valley and the meandering river Sarthe as it starts its journey south to join the river Mayenne and, ultimately, flow into the river Loire. Bordering the river Sarthe to the south are the towns of firstly Saint-Léonard-des-Bois then Fresnay-sur-Sarthe.
Saint-Léonard-des-Bois is nestled on a bend of the river Sarthe in the middle of a protected natural area. Viewpoints at Haut-Fourché and Narbonne offer splendid views over the village and the river Sarthe. In the 16th century Saint-Léonard-des-Bois was something of a proto-industrial community and its occupants were heavily engaged in iron-founding. The river acted as both the source of water for the industry and the artery for outbound trade.
Fresnay-sur-Sarthe is designated a petite cite de caractère. The old town is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river Sarthe and contains a warren of old streets and alleyways. Impressive views over the river below can be had from the ramparts of the old castle.
Over the border in Orne department, Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei, is classed as ‘Un des Plus Beaux Villages de France’ (one of the most beautiful villages in France where the beauty of the countryside and the quality of the light has inspired a number of artists.
Alpes Mancelles Tourist Office
19 Av de docteur Riant, Fresnay-sur-Sarthe
Tel.: 02 43 33 28 04
Canoe Hire on the River Sarthe
Canoe hire is available at several locations along the upper Sarthe and some can be booked online. Please see our directory listings for more details.
Have you paid a visit to the Alpes Mancelles? Why not leave any comments, suggestions or advice for fellow readers below.
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