Comprises the departments of Loire-Atlantique (44), Maine-et-Loire (49), Mayenne (53), Sarthe (72) and
Vendée (85) and bordered by Brittany to the north and west, Lower Normandy to the north, Centre to the east, and Poitou-Charentes to the south. Pays de la Loire is an extensive region of western
France with many contrasts. From its 300 kilometres of Atlantic coastline with sea-breezes, long sandy beaches, enchanting bays, numerous fishing and shipping ports and the islands of Yeu and
Noirmoutier to the lush, green, countryside through which flows the magnificent river Loire.
This is a part of France that has always been a popular with kings and nobles, who built their elegant châteaux throughout the region. Many have been restored and are inhabited by their owners, who open them to the public. Some stately homes accommodate overnight guests in their comfortable apartments.
Exploring beyond the busy valley, you can drive deeper into a undulating and quiet backwaters where châteaux, abbeys and mansions reveal the testimony of a rich past. But don’t forget traditional cities like Angers, Saumur and Nantes where you can visit the many castles, châteaux and museums and loose yourself among their picturesque winding narrow streets leading to provincial markets and busy shops.
For those with an interest in equine pursuits a visit to the "Cadre Noir" at Saumur, headquarters of the world famous National Horse and Riding School is a must!!
Divided by the Val de Loire (Loire River) from east to west the region has an abundance of small farms, and the predominant agricultural pursuit being the raising of cattle, pigs and ducks, plus the making of dairy products. Add to that the astonishing variety of wines that range from dry to sweet and from still to sparkling, soft, fruity, rosés, light red wines with a delicate bouquet and characteristic flavour. Have you ever tasted Muscadet, Gros-Plant, Gamay red or rosé, Champigny, Cabernet or sparkling dry Saumur?
The Historical Bit
Pays de la Loire is made up of the following historical provinces:
* A part of Brittany, with its old capital Nantes contained within the Loire-Atlantique department. This is only 20% of Brittany. The other 80% of Brittany make up the region of Bretagne.
* Anjou: is largely contained within the Maine-et-Loire department. The whole of the former province of Anjou is contained inside Pays de la Loire.
* Maine: is now divided between the Mayenne and Sarthe departments. The whole of the former province of Maine is contained inside Pays de la Loire.
* A part of Poitou: is contained within the Vendée department. Most of the old province of Poitou is inside the Poitou-Charentes region.
* A part of Perche: is within the northeast of Sarthe department. The rest of Perche is inside the Basse-Normandie and Centre regions.
* A small part of Touraine: southeast of Maine-et-Loire department. Most of the former province of Tourraine is inside the Centre region
The Ancient Provinces
Anjou (pronounced ahn-zhoo) is an historic region and ancient province of western France. Straddling the
Loire Valley, it is bordered on the west by Breizh and on the east by Touraine. Its name is derived from the Andes or Andecavi, a Celtic tribe dating back to 52 B.C. who were conquered by the
Around the 5th century it became an administrative district under Frankish rule and eventually under the countship of Anjou, which seems to have been practically identical to the diocese of Angers. By the 9th century Anjou was being menaced by the twin dangers of Breizh and Normandie. In the early part of the 850’s, Lambert, a former Count of Nantes, had with some assistance from Nominoé, Duke of Breizh, succeeded in occupying the western part of the province as far as Mayenne. Then came the Fulks, who ruled the region until 1129, when Geoffrey V the Handsome or "Plantagenet," became Count of Anjou.
The Angevin or Plantagenêt line of English kings originated in 1154, when the Count of Anjou, Henry, son of Geoffrey the Handsome ascended the English throne as Henry II. English kings ruled Anjou for the next 50 years. The county of Anjou was finally added to the French crown in 1480. In 1790, Anjou was divided into Maine-et-Loire and parts of adjacent departments with its administrative centre at Angers, the former provincial capital.
The north of Anjou is geologically part of the Massif Armoricain of Breizh, plateau of Precambrian schists, and the characteristic Breton landscape of hedgerows and small fields prevails. The climate of Anjou is slightly milder and less rainy than that of Breizh. The principal agricultural products are wheat, fodder crops, and beef. Here the rivers Mayenne and Sarthe converge to form the Maine River, which flows into the Loire.
Vegetables, flowers, fruit, and vineyards are important in the sheltered Loire Valley. The vineyards extend southward over the rolling sedimentary plateau of southern Anjou. High-quality rosé wines and the sparkling wines of Saumur have the widest reputations of a great variety of wines produced in the region. Angers on the Maine and Saumur on the Loire in the east of Anjou are market centres for wines and other produce.
Maine (pronounced men)
is one of the ancient provinces of France, traversed by the Loire River and with Le Mans as its traditional capital. By the 5th century Maine was a Gallo-Roman district, and from the 9th to 11th
century it was ruled by hereditary counts. In the 12th century Maine passed to Anjou, which held it until 1481, when Maine came under the control of the French crown. Maine was a French province
until 1789, when, during the French Revolution, it was divided into the departments of Mayenne and Sarthe and parts of Loir-et-Cher, Eure-et-Loire, and Orne.
Perche was created in 1115 when the Comte of Mortagne was combined with the seigneuries of Nogent and Belleme. Formerly a county, it was united with the French crown in 1525. Before the Revolution it was part of the Province of Normandie. In 1799 when the 34 provinces of France were changed to 96 départements, Perche was included mostly within the Départment of Orne but small parts of Perche lie within the current départements of Eure-et-Loir, Eure, Sarthe and Loir-et-Cher.
It is largely hilly country, the Perche Hills having summits of about 1,000 feet (300 metres). Perche is a district of mixed farming, especially dairying, and was once famous for its breed of draft horses (Percherons). Mortagne-au-Perche and Nogent-le-Rotrou, the chief market towns, were at different times, capitals of Perche province.
Poitou is the former country of the Gaul tribe of Pictons or Pictaves. In 778, Charlemagne
appointed Abbon Count of Poitou. In 990, Count Aldebert appointed himself Duke of Aquitaine. Poitou then followed the fate of Aquitaine, and was given by Duchess Aliénor to her two successive
husbands, King of France Louis VII (1137-1152) and king of England Henry II Plantegenet (1152-1189).
In 1203, King of France Philippe-Auguste confiscated Poitou from John Lackland, along with all his other French possessions. For a short period (1249-1271), Poitou was granted to Alphonse de France, St. Louis' brother and husband of Countess Jeanne de Toulouse, as his apanage. Poitou was occupied by the English from 1356 to 1369, then granted to Duke Jean de Berry as his apanage, and reincorporated to the royal domain in 1416. Charles VII was proclaimed King of France in Poitiers in 1422 before being crowned in Reims in 1429.
During the Ancient Regime, Poitou was both a gouvernorat (military province) and a généralité (fiscal province), but those two entities did not strictly overlap.