Beginning of the journey to Vitré. In the 11th century, its strategic position between Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de Loire led to numerous attempted invasions. To protect itself, the city built an imposing fortified castle with preserved medieval attributes, whose towers now house a museum. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, it was an important centre for the production of paintings and opened up to the world. It was during this period that Pierre-Olivier Malherbe from Vitré became the first European to travel around the world. As trade with the New World intensified, the merchants of Vitré founded the "Confrérie des Marchands d'Outre-Mer" whose prosperity was illustrated by the construction of rich timber-framed houses. Vitré has been awarded the "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of Art and History) label and has carefully preserved the traces of this exotic past, which are highlighted by "Vitré Lumières": a daily night-time stroll through streets, squares and remarkable houses. 7 km away, the Rochers-Sévigné castle with its French-style gardens designed by Le Nôtre is worth a visit. This 15th century Gothic-style residence has a museum dedicated to one of its most famous owners, the Marquise de Sévigné, who wrote over 290 of her famous letters here.
Our path then leads us to La Guerche-de-Bretagne. Around the Place Charles-de-Gaulle, there is a concentration of porch and timber-framed houses that bear witness to the commercial prosperity of the town between the 16th and 18th centuries. On Tuesdays, you should not miss the oldest market in Brittany (since 1121!). While strolling among the stalls, one is surprised to imagine oneself 9 centuries ago, surrounded by merchants of cloth and tanned skins. Our visit continues towards the Notre-Dame-de-la-Guerche basilica. Listed as a historical monument, its construction dates from the 13th to the 19th century. Four of the most beautiful stained glass windows in Ille-et-Vilaine can be found there. Another must-see is the village of Champeaux in the heart of the Haut-Breton bocage. Its collegiate church built in the 15th century is considered to be the cradle of the Renaissance in Brittany. You will discover some treasures, such as a double row of classified stalls (16th century) and a richly carved oak pulpit. Outside, there are still some old monks' houses, as well as a well dated 1601, witnesses of a time when life was organised around the collegiate church.
Nature and adventure in the heart of a preserved territory
The Vitré region is at the heart of a varied landscape with many possibilities for exploration. Among them, the lake of Châtillon-en-Vendelais, an ornithological reserve and refuge for migratory birds. Surrounded by hedgerows and meadows, you can take advantage of the observatory to try to recognize some species, before embarking on a pedal boat. Back on dry land for a picnic, then a last look at the lake along the paths. Further south, the Corbière forest, a protected natural area, will give many a change of scene. In the heart of the Chevré massif, this 630-hectare forest was already exploited for its wood in the Neolithic period. An educational trail leads to the pond of Corbière, an old water reserve where you can still see the old mill on the banks. Mountain bike and horse riding trails also await enthusiasts to take a different path through pedunculate oaks, beech trees and maritime pines. Don't forget that the Pays de Vitré has 900 km of hiking trails!
In Saint-M'Hervé, the leisure centre of Haute-Vilaine will delight young and old alike. On this large lake, you can canoe, row, windsurf, pedal boat, catamaran or even paddle. While the grills are crackling on one of the barbecues, the children enjoy the playground. Then our heart is set on orienteering? Mountain biking? Or walking trails? In short, everything is in place for a great day of discovery. As for those who wish to visit the Vitré area in slow mode, they will not be outdone! Two greenways are to be explored from Vitré: one to the south to Moutiers / La Guerche-de-Bretagne (20 km) and the other to the north towards Fougères (26 km).
Cyclists and hikers will be charmed by the diversity of landscapes encountered among forests, villages and railway heritage. Not forgetting the Vélo Promenades® starting from Châteaubourg, Louvigné-de-Bais, Argentré-du-Plessis and La Guerche-de-Bretagne. These four loops (26 km to 36 km) take small roads through churches, mills and railway lines. Those who prefer to walk can choose from among the 75 hiking trails (3 to 30 km), not to mention the major routes that criss-cross the region: the GR37, the Équibreizh, the route to Santiago de Compostela and the GRP des Marches de Bretagne.
In Vitré, a ten-minute walk from the station, the Jardin du Parc offers an oasis of tranquillity. This English-style garden, created in 1867, belonged to the Château-Marie estate, the former residence of the Barons of Vitré built in the 17th century. One can enjoy resting near the bandstand and contemplating the 1907 aviary or the tranquility of the pond. Richly wooded, its 7 hectares are a pleasure for the eyes in any season. More bucolic, the Pré des Lavandières reveals itself as a secret garden preserved by the Vitréens.
Below the castle, it offers a particularly photogenic viewpoint. Sitting on the grass, you can enjoy a break at the foot of a weeping willow, on the banks of the Vilaine. You can even hear the bleating of one of the sheep grazing nearby. On the other side of the river, the old 19th century tannery and the wash houses echo the town's past.
In Val d'Izé, you can linger in the Bois-Cornillé park, which has been awarded the label of remarkable garden. In the heart of this green setting, which combines an English-style park and a French-style garden, nestles a neo-Gothic castle with turrets. Orangery, chapel and even an old prison gate punctuate the 50 hectares of the estate.
Culture in motion
The Vitré region is also home to many events. Among them, the Carnival of the Gais Lurons in Vitré has been held every year for nearly 60 years! It attracts nearly 50,000 people who come to watch the traditional parade of floats with papier-mâché giants. April visitors can stop by the Don Jigi Fest (electronic music). In fine weather, you can stroll through the local market during the Jeudis de l'été, enjoy a concert at the foot of Vitré castle during the Fanfarfelues or discover the street arts in several communes of the area with Des'ARTiculé. Not forgetting the summer, the Fridays of the Parlez-moi d'humour Festival and the evenings of the Effet Samedi. The hardest part will be choosing!
In Châteaubourg, city of sculptors, art takes over the whole town during the Jardin des Arts exhibition. From May to September, the town centre, the public parks and the Ar Milin park become the playground of international artists. All year round, the Parcours des Sculpteurs (Sculptors' Trail) offers a 3km educational walk through the town and countryside to learn about the history of sculpture. And because Vitré also means going back in time by walking on the cobblestones of the old town, don't miss the medieval events organised at the castle and in the town centre: guided tours, costumed battle re-enactments, storytelling walks and treasure hunts... You can also try geocaching, a treasure hunt 2.0 that will delight young and old explorers alike. Riddles and anecdotes punctuate historical discoveries and remarkable monuments. Whether as a family, a couple or with friends, there is no doubt that modern-day adventurers will be seduced.
When is the best time to visit? All seasons are ideal, the oceanic climate is mild and sometimes humid. Make sure you have the right equipment for outdoor activities. From April to August, there are many festivals in the area.
How to get there. By car (Paris-Vitré: about 310 km; A11/A81/A84/N157), by train (Paris/Vitré: several daily connections from Montparnasse station; direct journey in 1h30) or by plane (Rennes airport).
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