Château-Gontier - Frome's French Twin Town

Our French twin town is situated between Laval and Angers, in the region of Mayenne, on the river Mayenne. With a population of 18,000 it is a beautiful, interesting town which can make a good centre for touring the region and the Loire valley. It was founded around 1007 by the Count of Anjou when he built a castle to defend a strategic river crossing on the borders of his domain. He put the castle in charge of one of his officers, Renaud Gontier, hence Le Château de Gontier, later to be condensed to Château-Gontier.

 It is a flower-decked town which has received many prizes, including the highest national -'town in bloom' prize regularly since 1992, giving them the right to display "Ville Fleurie" on the town signs. There are even huge seasonal floral displays on the principal roundabouts, for example in autumn using autumn colours and harvest produce.                                                                                    



 On one bank of the river is the restful Murrhardt Garden, and on the other the colourful Frome Garden, with topical floral mosaics and a St Aldhelm plaque presented by Frome's mayor of that time to mark the 25th anniversary of our twinning. At this point the river is very wide and navigable, the town stretching along both sides with two grand bridges joining the two parts.The Mayenne is a tributary of the Loire and many boats travel along it, eg holiday boats (private and hired), tourist pleasure boats and a floating restaurant. Many water sports are practised on the river, including canoeing, rowing, sailing, wind-surfing and water-skiing, as well as fishing. Alongside the river is a swimming pool with a sliding roof and a sun-deck. 

Among the many sports found in the town and area are: football, tennis (there is a regular exchange between the clubs of the twinned towns), basketball, badminton, horse-riding, roller-skating, aikido, moto-cross, as well as archery and table tennis clubs which have exchanged visits with Murrhardt. Pony trotting events are held regularly. There are also various musical societies including choirs which have exchanged visits with Frome and Murrhardt choirs.

Just as in Frome, there are many old streets and buildings, the oldest being the church and priory of St Jean-Baptiste, built in the 11th century, with others spanning the centuries: churches, chapels, hotels, inns, a pillory square, parts of the original ramparts, as well as narrow streets of half-timbered houses. Even the hospital is housed in the refurbished Saint-Julien church, built in the 13th century, using the main door of the church with its beautiful stained-glass windows as a grand entrance. Les Ursulines Convent, around 350 years old, has been transformed into a cultural centre, with a school of music, dance and visual arts, together with a theatre/ conference hall. The Tourist Information office is now based here. Opposite stands the Chapelle du Genêteils with exhibitions by local artisans, who have made several exchanges with the 'Made in Frome' association.

Château-Gontier is very important in the farming community. The biggest veal market in Europe is held every Thursday, followed by a sheep market, considered to be the most important in west France. There is also a street market on Thursday mornings and a permanent covered market in Les Halles. Like Frome the area has many small industries, such as electronics, metallurgy, textiles, cheese, animal feed, plastics and a green recycling plant. Surrounding the town are many beautiful, flower bedecked old villages worth a visit, making it a good region for the tourist. The Mayenne region holds the record for the greatest number of inhabited castles and manor houses in France. Amongst other places to visit are vineyards, mushroom caves, the Port Salut cheese plant, plus the Refuge de l'Arche - an animal sanctuary where sick and injured animals are nursed back to health and released back into the wild. This is open to the public and featured on a John Craven TV programme some years ago.

Regular festivals include

:La Chalibaude - free open-air arts festival in June, 

Nuits de la Mayenne shows - in July/August,

 St Barbe festival - (patron saint of firemen) in December

La Corrida - a mass race through the streets, for all-comers, up to 10k, at the end of December,

Course hippiques - pony trotting events in May & September

To conclude, Château-Gontier is an attractive and friendly town and a great centre for touring this region of France; we recommend it. There is a wide variety of accommodation available from hotels to the camping site to be found as one enters the town on the Laval Road. For further information contact the Office de Tourisme, Couvent des Ursulines, Place André Counord, 53200 CHATEAU-GONTIER or  visit their website .  Their twinning committee, Comité de Jumelage et d'échanges internationaux Château-Gontier, can also be contacted through their website.

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