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Pays de la Loire is a region of western France, comprising the departments of Loire-Atlantique (44), Maine-et-Loire (49), Mayenne (53), Sarthe (72) and Vendée (85). It has an area of 32,082 km2 (12,387 mi2) and a population of 3,222,061 (1999); the capital is Nantes. Pays de la Loire has a long coast on the Bay of Biscay to the west and is bordered by Brittany to the north and west, Lower Normandy to the north, Centre to the east, and Poitou-Charentes to the south.
The region is cut from east to west by the Loire River. The Loire Valley (French: Val de Loire) is central to the region's economy and its cultural and educational activities. Due to its rich heritage, this region has been declared a World Heritage for Humanity Site by UNESCO, which described it as a "cultural landscape of exceptional beauty."
Pays de la Loire has an abundance of small farms, and the predominant agricultural pursuit is the raising of cattle and pigs and the making of dairy products. Its Atlantic coast is the site of a number of fishing and shipping ports, and ducks are also raised in this area. Iron and uranium are mined in Pays de la Loire, and its industries produce motor vehicles, ships, and textiles. Historically, Pays de la Loire was divided among the provinces of Brittany, Anjou, Maine, and Poitou (now in Poitou-Charentes).
Edited by Ian C. Mills.
Loire-Atlantique, département #44 in west central France, is named after the Loire River and the Atlantic Ocean. Situated mostly in the Armorican Massif, the department covers an area of 2,695 square miles (6,980 km2), with a population of 1,052,183 (1990 census) in 53 cantons and 221 communes (see map). Its capital is Nantes, and sous-préfectures are Ancenis, Châteaubriant and Saint-Nazaire. The highest point is Bretèche-en-Châteaubriant (377 feet/115 m).
The region presents a geological diversity of schists, silica and alluvial soil. This composition lends itself to rich and diversified farming: cattle raised for meat consumption in the regions of Ancenis and Châteaubriant; milk production in Redon; vegetable gardens in the alluvial valley of the Loire; and vineyards cultivating Muscadets and Gamays in the Ancenis hills and throughout the entire regions south of the Loire. The climate of this seaside department is characterized by mild winters and temperate summers.
Maine-et-Loire, département #49 in west central France, was formed mainly from the former province of Anjou. Covering an area of 2,787 square miles (7,218 km2), it has a varied landscape with forested ranges of hills in the south and north, separated by the valley of the Loire. The highest point is Colline des Gardes (689 feet/210m).
The area has many navigable rivers, including the Loire, Sarthe, Mayenne, Loir, and Authion. The préfecture (capital) is the city of Angers, and the sous-préfectures are Cholet, Saumur, and Segré. With a population of 732,942 (1999), Maine-et-Loire comprises a total of 41 cantons and 364 communes (see map).
Among departments in France, Maine-et-Loire ranks fifth in farming, and also boasts some 49,421 acres (20,000 ha) of vineyards which produce 27 different A.O.C. wines. Annually, about 2.3 million tourists visit this region, drawn by the many castles, abbeys, parks, and the fascinating troglodyte caves whose thousands of tunnels now host wine cellars, museums and art galleries.
Edited by Ian C. Mills.
Mayenne, département #53 in west central France, was named after the Mayenne River. Covering an area of 2,012 square miles (5,212 km2), its highest point is Mont des Avaloirs (1,370 feet/417 m). The préfecture (capital) is Laval; the sous-préfectures are Château Gontier and Mayenne. With a population of 278,037 (1990 census), Mayenne comprises a total of 29 cantons and 259 communes (see map).
The department was formed in 1790, following the French Revolution. Its northern section was derived from the western side of the old province of Maine or bas Maine. This area was once populated by a Gallic tribe, the Diablintes, whose capital Jublains has revealed interesting archeological artifacts traces of Gallo-Roman civilization. A wide band of the department's southern area was taken from the ancient province of Anjou, named after the Andes or Andecavi, a Celtic tribe.
Sarthe, département #72 in west central France, is named after the Sarthe River. Covering an area of 2,396 square miles (6,206 km2) with a population of 529,900 (1999 census) in 36 cantons and 376 communes (see map), its préfecture (capital) is Le Mans (pop. 150,605), and sous-préfectures are La Flèche and Mamers. The highest point, in the Perseigne forest to the north, is Massif des Coëvrons (1,120 feet/340 m).
Divided between the Paris basin and the Armorican Massif, Sarthe's topography is composed of Jurassic limestone to the north and to the east; the remainder of the region consists primarily of silurian schists, granite and reddish-brown sandstone. The landscape is sculpted by the Sarthe River and its tributary, the Huisne, featuring steeply sloped woods in the west, small farms surrounded by rows of apple trees, and especially dense forests in the east. The principal livelihood is farming, where the diversity of soils is particularly suited to the cultivation of fruit. Population density is only 220 people per square mile (85 per km2).
The Vendée, département #85 in west central France, is situated on the Atlantic Ocean's Bay of Biscay. Named after the river which runs through the south-eastern part of the department, Vendée covers an area of 2,692 square miles (6,971 km2); its highest point is Mont Mercure (935 feet/285 m). The préfecture (capital) is La Roche-sur-Yon; the sous-préfectures are Fontenay-le-Comte and Les Sables d'Olonne. With a population of 483,027 (1990 census), the Vendée comprises a total of 31 cantons and 281 communes (see map).
The village of Nieul-sur-l'Autise is believed to be the birthplace of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and was part of her kingdom. Eleanor's son, Richard I of England (the Lionhearted) often based himself in Talmont.
With over 100 miles of sandy beaches and a very mild climate, Vendée is today a popular tourist destination, featuring many churches, abbeys, and museums. Nature lovers will appreciate the thousands of marked footpaths, a signposted bicycle route running along the coastal mudflats, and marshes that attract unusual birds. Fishing is popular in the ocean or in the Vendée's rivers and lakes.
Edited by Ian C. Mills.
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