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Lactopole the world’s biggest dairy museum Yes, it may sound a tad odd, and perhaps it is just a little. But, Mayenne with its glorious countryside is a leading dairy production area and, if you drink milk, butter and cheese you may find Laval's Lactopole Dairy museum a fascinating visit. Did you know an average cow produces around 9000 litres of milk a year? Or that the rind of Camembert is good for digestion? Or that yoghurt as we know it was introduced by Russian immigrants in the early 20th century when you had to buy it at a pharmacy because it was considered medicinal? This is a big museum with around 4000 artefacts - from milk churns to cheese lids. Collecting cheese lids in France is a thing, like some people collect thimbles. Cheese lid collectors are called tyrosémiophiles. There are displays of milk bottles and butter pats, and explanations galore about French cheeses and their origins – there’s even a bibliotheque de fromage (cheese library). The displays are in French, but you can book a tour with an English guide or ask for an English language booklet. Website: The Cité du Lait, Lactopole More to see & do near Laval Sainte-Suzanne From Laval, it’s just over an hour by bus (about 30 minutes by car) to one of the officially most beautiful villages in France, the steep hill top town of Sainte-Suzanne. A fortress has stood here since the 11th century and the town has the honour to claim it is the only place that William the Conqueror laid siege to and didn't succeed. He did try, and he tried hard. For three long years William tried to starve the residents out. He gave up, defeated by its height, and negotiated with Hubert de Beaumont who lived there and then left.
Climb the ramparts and the ruins of the ancient keep to admire the most stunning views over the surrounding countryside. The town is very pretty with floral displays and gorgeous houses. Stop for a local beer, or cider or glass of wine in one of the friendly bars, and if you're there at the end of the day you're in for a free show as Mayenne is famous for its spectacular sunsets. From this hilly position - they’re outstanding. Even in the summer months this plus beaux village, never gets so busy that you can't feel relaxed and enjoy its sights. Cuisinez vous Français 30 mins by car from Laval is the gorgeous 19th century Chateau de la Mazure which offers immersion into the language, culture and cooking of France. Their “Langue et Nature” courses are designed to give you insight into the French way of life. They're very good at helping you learn the language. Website: www.chateaulamazure.com Left: milk bottle collection at Lactopole musuem; middle: view over Sainte-Suzanne; above: in the dining room of Chateau de la Mazure Prehistoric Caves 30 minutes by car from Laval are the famous Grottes de Saulges a complex of 22 caves. Only two are open to the public, and the guided tours make for an intriguing visit. There is evidence of human life going back as far as 70,000 years here and archaeologists have long been exploring the inky black depths. They've made some amazing discoveries, prehistoric paintings, etchings left behind by ancient man, bones of woolly mammoth, bears and other prehistoric animals. There are also reminders of more recent times from Roman occupation to the 20th century when German and later, American soldiers lived in the caves during World War II and left graffiti behind. www.grottes-musee-de-saulges.com
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