Exploring the Charms of Vitré, France: Things to do in Vitre
Nestled in the heart of Brittany, the medieval city of Vitré, which is a listed City of Art and History, is a captivating town that exudes medieval charm and rich history. With its well-preserved architecture, quaint streets, and enchanting ambiance, Vitré offers visitors a unique glimpse into the past.
- Exploring the Charms of Vitré, France: Things to do in Vitre
- History of Vitré
- Best things to do in Vitré
- Old Town Vitre and Historic Streets
- Beyond Vitre
- Breton Cuisine
History of Vitré
Situated on the bank of the River Vilaine, Vitré was established in the year 1000 by the Dukes of Brittany. This is one of the cities of Brittany that has best preserved its original appearance with its houses with massive porch supports or half-timbered buildings (the third city after Rennes and Vannes in Brittany), with its ramparts, its religious heritage, and old streets, Vitré is a perfect example of a town from 500 years ago.
Surprised by the richness of the city in 1598, King Henry IV was quoted as saying “If I was not King of France, I want to be bourgeois from Vitré!”
Excavations in 1863, within the castle or Chateau Vitré unearthed a hundred Merovingian and Carolingian tombs, masonry chests and a Romanesque collegiate church located in the place of the Church Notre Dame.
Vitré was established well before medieval times and was continuously occupied from prehistoric times.
Vitré was the seat of Baron Riwallon de Vitre who was the first Baron of Vitréin the Ille-et-Vilaine between around 1008 and 1040 until 1254 when the seigneury passed into the hands of the second house of Laval until in 1547, then Montfort-Laval until 1605 and finally La Trémoille-Laval until the French Revolution.
Around 1060-1070, the construction of the Vitre Chateau which at that time was a small wooden castle on a motte. This was burned down several times due to its poor location and another stone castle was built in 1047 in the current location a rocky outcrop overlooking the Villaine River.
Best things to do in Vitré
Visit the Chateau de Vitré
A visit to Vitré would be incomplete without exploring the iconic Château de Vitré. This imposing medieval fortress, dating back to the 11th century, stands majestically atop a hill, overlooking the town.
Take a tour through its well-preserved interior, marvel at the grand halls, climb the towers for panoramic views, and immerse yourself in the castle’s intriguing history.
In the 15th century, when the castle was rebuilt, and a gatehouse with a double drawbridge was erected, along with St Laurent and Magdalene Tower.
An oratory was added in 1530, in the Renaissance style. But, in the 17th century, this magnificent castle started to decline, and it had to be abandoned. It was only in 1820 when the city authorities bought it, that the castle was restored and listed as a historical monument. Today, this fairy tale medieval castle is the place that houses a historical museum and the Vitré town hall.
Musée du Château de Vitré
To delve deeper into Vitré’s history, visit the Musée du Château de Vitré. Housed within the castle, this museum showcases a collection of medieval artefacts, furniture, costumes, and artwork. The exhibits provide insight into the town’s past and the lives of its inhabitants.
Old Town Vitre and Historic Streets
Map of Vitre
Wandering through the cobbled streets of Vitré’s Old Town is like stepping back in time. Admire the beautifully preserved half-timbered houses, adorned with vibrant flowers and intricate carvings. Place du Château and Place Saint-Yves are perfect spots to relax, enjoy a coffee, and soak in the medieval atmosphere.
Place Saint Yves
From the 13th to the 16th centuries Vitre was home to a very wealthy merchant class who formed an organization called the Guild of Overseas Merchants. They traded in hemp cloth (canvas) and brought riches to Vitre.
The Embas Gate – Tower of Embas
From Place Saint Yves you can see a small part of the remaining ramparts of the city from the 13th century. The Embas Gate was originally composed of two large towers and was restored during the 19th century.
Hotel du Bol d’Or
Wandering up the rue d’Embas you will spot a gorgeous house tucked in the left-hand side of the street. This is the original location of the Guild of Overseas Merchants.
This hotel was an important relay on the road from Le Mans to Rennes. It is one of the few hotels made of Vitré stone prior to the 17th century. It is not currently open as a hotel however and you cannot visit the interior.
1 rue d’Embas
Now a restaurant this is the only half-timbered building to be listed as a historical monument. The house features exceptional sculpted decorations with twisted columns which were featured architecturally during the reign of King Louis XII.
Rue de la Baudrairie
With numerous medieval facades, this street was home to tanner or curriers in French who were the artisan leather workers of the time. The building has now been converted into housing.
Rue de la Poterie
The eastern part of rue de la Poterie called “petite rue Poterie” features preserved porch houses. Located at the corner of Rue de le Poterie and Rue de Sevignt, is the extremely rare Matson de fisk (Island) house which stands completely on its own and can be walked around.
Hotel Ringues de la Troussannais
Crossing over to Rue Notre Dame you will find the Hotel Ringues an early Renaissance mansion dating back to around 1530. This was built by one of Vitres richest merchants who made his fortune in the trade of hemp cloth.
Set back from the street by the presence of an inner courtyard enclosed by walls, this residence was a new architectural type that appeared in medieval times.
There are two wings connected to each other and served by a massive staircase turret, square plan, which dominates the main building from its height. The device, in local schist stone, is decorated with carved figures of Vitré sandstone.
In France there are several interpretations of the word ‘hotel’ one can mean hotel or hostel and the other denotes a grand building or mansion. Hôtel de Ville which you see everywhere is actually the Town Hall of a City.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame
The Church was built between 1420 and 1570 in the Flamboyant Gothic style this reflects the transition between the end of the middle ages and the Renaissance.
The Guild of Overseas Merchants contributed greatly to the building of the church and included symbols of the ships they used with masts decorating the church. The number 4 symbolized the apostles and the four winds and the M for the Virgin Mary.
The Benedictine Priory
Sitting beside the Church is the Priory which was home to the Benedictine monks from the 12th century. Today the Priory is home to the French Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage dedicated to disseminating France’s cultural heritage.
This is the former library of the Benedictine monks.
The Sainte-Croix Church, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, is another gem worth visiting. Marvel at its intricate stained glass windows, remarkable sculptures, and the serene ambience within. Don’t miss the breathtaking view of Vitré from the church’s bell tower.
Festivals and Events in Vitre
Vitré comes alive with vibrant festivals and events throughout the year. The Medieval Festival in July is a highlight, where the town transforms into a medieval village with costumed characters, jousting tournaments, music, and theatrical performances. The Christmas Market in December is another delightful event, where the town sparkles with lights and festive cheer.
Les Jardins de la Tannerie – Tannery Gardens
Escape the hustle and bustle of the town and find tranquillity in Les Jardins de la Tannerie. This peaceful park, located along the Vilaine River, offers a serene setting for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. Enjoy the lush greenery, the sound of flowing water, and the beautiful flowerbeds that change with the seasons.
Vitré’s surrounding countryside offers opportunities for outdoor activities. Go hiking or cycling along the Vilaine River, explore the nearby forests, or indulge in fishing. The scenic landscapes provide a tranquil backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts to connect with nature.
La Roche-aux-Fees: the Fairies Rock
Just a short drive from Vitré lays La Roche-aux-Fées, an impressive prehistoric monument. This dolmen, believed to be over 5,000 years old, consists of 40 standing stones arranged in a long corridor.
Château des Rochers-Sévigné
The area around Vitré is intimately linked to the Marquise de Sévigné life story. This illustrious 17th-century writer lived and wrote many of her famous letters just a few kilometres away in the magnificent Château des Rochers-Sévigné, owned by the de Sévigné family since 1410.
The Rochers Sévigné Museum
The museum, which opened to the public in 1884. You enter the museum through the former orangery, an elegant building from the 1690s. Madame de Ségivné, in the form of a beautiful plaster statue, stands at the entrance and numerous portraits tell her story, taking you back to the Grand Siècle, from Place Royale in Paris, where she was born, to the place of her death in Provence, Château de Grignan.
After leaving the orangery, stroll through the French-style garden created in 1690 by landscape architect André Le Nôtre. The guided tour of the chapel built in 1671, is where you will see the two rooms containing items the writer treasured.
Tickets for the guided tours cost €6.00. The château is open for guided tours only: 1st April to 30 September: Thursday–Monday, guided tours start at 2:30pm*, 4pm and 5pm (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday).
July and August: Thursday–Monday, guided tours start at 2:30pm*, 4pm and 5pm (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday)*except Sunday: lecture tour at 3pm.
Indulge in Brittany’s culinary delights while in Vitré. Sample delicious local specialities like galettes (savoury buckwheat crepes), cider, and fresh seafood. The town offers a variety of restaurants, cafés, and bakeries where you can enjoy many of Brittanny’s famous foods.
Vitre, France offers a captivating blend of historical charm, natural beauty, and cultural richness, making it a must-visit destination for travellers. From exploring the magnificent Château de Vitré and wandering through the picturesque streets of the medieval town to immersing oneself in the tranquillity of Jardin du Parc and indulging in delectable local cuisine, Vitre presents a plethora of experiences to delight and inspire.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, nature lover, or simply seeking a charming getaway, Vitre’s enchanting attractions and warm ambience are sure to leave an indelible mark on your heart. A visit to Vitre promises a memorable and immersive journey into the past and present of this hidden gem in the heart of Brittany.
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