On the border between Normandy and Maine, Alençon is a small town steeped in history with many fine heritage buildings. It stands on a plain surrounded by wooded hills including three forests : Ecouves, Perseigne and Multonne. Multonne is home to Mont des Avaloirs, the highest point of western France at 416 metres. A ‘generality’ under the Ancien Régime, Alençon became the capital of the département of Orne but its outskirts are in Sarthe and Mayenne is only 15km away. A former garrison town with regiments of hussars and infantrymen, the firm Moulinex was born there and at the end of the 20th century, the town turned towards plastics processing. Apart from the district around the station, the town was spared the bombings of 1944 and its fine buildings remain intact. Alençon is a good place to live and is in the Normandie Maine Regional Natural Park which covers part of Orne, Sarthe, Mayenne and Manche, whose headquarters are at Carrouges (14th and 17th century castle).
World Heritage Lace and its museum
Lace connoisseurs will have recognised the name of Alençon, the birthplace of one of the finest types of needle lace. Alençon lace was known as the « Queen of lace, lace of the Queen ». It has a very special style combining elegance and delicateness. The grand Seigneurs of the Ancien Régime sometimes had to sell a farm and its land to be able to afford a collar of Alençon lace. The National Lace Workshop perpetuates the tradition and teaches lace-making techniques. Alençon lace is on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Alençon also cultivates the memory of its ancient dukes who distinguished themselves in the History of France. A chatelet (small castle) and several high towers have survived from the original huge medieval castle. Until recently it was used as a prison and will shortly be opened to the public. The castle overlooks Place Foch which is also the site of the Hotel de Ville (town hall), an architectural gem from the Louis XVI era, and the ‘Empire-style’ courthouse. A short distance away a strange circular building with a glass roof attracts the eye : it is the old corn exchange, now a venue for shows, fairs and exhibitions.