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Laval ~ Town of Art and History

Evelyne Klinger

Arts et Métiers ParisTech, FRANCE

Classified as a town of art and history, thanks to its rich cultural heritage, Laval is the principal city of the Mayenne department in north-western France. Built around its castle, in the 11th century, Laval has still many of its fortifications intact, and the great chateau, with its distinctive round tower, remains an impressive sight. The River Mayenne runs beside the town and much of the life of Laval centres on this lovely river, especially in the summer. All around the town is the gentle, pastoral landscape of the region, whose rolling fields, pretty woodland and tranquil lakes all set the tone for this peaceful, friendly capital city.

Images of Laval

The old castle, around which the town of Laval grew, was built early in the 10th century by Guy II, one of the first lords of Laval. The lords, and later the counts, of Laval, among whom were the Montmorencys and the Montforts, played a prominent role in French history. After the French Revolution the counterrevolutionary Vendéen army, during the Wars of the Vendée at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, twice captured the castle from the Republicans. When the Republicans crushed the insurgents they executed the Prince de Talmont, lord of Laval and general of the Vendéen cavalry, in front of the castle gates.

Images of Laval Images of Laval

Laval has stood here on the banks of the Mayenne, on the threshold of Brittany, between Normandy and Anjou, for almost a thousand years.

The old quarters of the town, which have fine 16th- and 18th-century houses, two châteaux, mediaeval walls and gateways are located on the west bank slopes of the Mayenne River and are surrounded by the modern town on both sides of the river. The old castle of the counts of Laval, a medieval stronghold, has been restored and houses the Laval Museum of Naive Art, the finest collection of naive art in Europe. This is a fitting posthumous tribute to one of Laval’s sons, the painter Douanier Rousseau. The Château Neuf (New Chateau), a Renaissance building also called the Gallery of the Counts of Laval, was restored and enlarged in the 19th century to become the Palais de Justice. The Cathedral of the Trinity with its interesting wall paintings and stone carvings, dating partly from the 11th century, has been considerably reconstructed and enlarged. Then there is the beautiful Basilica Notre Dame d’Avesnieres, notable for its magnificent steeple, and the Perrine Gardens where you will have a beautiful view of the river and the castle. Here you can visit the Alain Gerbault Centre, a tribute to the Laval-born navigator, with the replica of his boat, “the Firecrest”, and then the Douanier Rousseau grave. Also well worth a visit are the imposing Porte Beucheresse, which was the gate out of town towards Brittany, and the Maison du Grand Veneur (Head Huntsman’s House) at the top of the Grande Rue.

Images of Laval

An active country town

Today, Laval still plays the role of a regional market town and administrative centre, but industry has also developed, including the manufacture of machinery, electronics, plastics, and Virtual Reality. Indeed, the town of Laval has developed an academic and industrial technology centre that is at the very forefront of research into virtual reality. Every year the ‘Laval Virtual’ exhibition attracts specialist companies from all over the world. And on the days when Laval Virtual is open to the public, crowds of visitors come to see the latest virtual reality innovations. When you visit Laval’s castle, you’ll see an impressive application of this research: a virtual reconstruction of Laval in 1750.

At Laval you are never far from Nature, and the Museum of Milk will take you right to the heart of the French tradition of milk production. This is the world’s largest milk and cheese museum, and the museum’s ultra-modern, 5,000 square metre exhibition area will give you a full picture of all the different business activities related to milk.

Images of Laval

Mayenne, France

Mayenne is a department in northwest France named after the Mayenne River, and is part of the region of Pays de la Loire. Bordered by the rocks and wooded hills of Alpes Mancelles in the north and the huge Parc Naturel Regional de Normandie et Maine, there is an abundance of wildlife and outdoor pursuits close by. The Mayenne River offers an abundance of activitie. From Ambrieres-les-Vallee in the north to Daon in the south, the meandering Mayenne has 85km of towpaths ideal for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders. Unsurprisingly Mayenne is a fisherman’s paradise with 4,500 kilometres of rivers. Kayaking, rambling, cycling and bird-watching are pleasant activities along the meandering river, woodlands and agricultural countryside renowned for its cheese and apples.

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