Medieval Baugé is a real find with its ancient Hospital, an Apothecary that has a real Harry Potter feel to it and a château that came into its own in the mid 15th century. It’s in the secret Loir valley (without an ‘e’). Located just north of the more famous Loire valley (with an ‘e’), the area is a real find. It’s lovely, with 140 châteaux, magnificent gardens, a great cycle route, small towns and a crowd-free trip.

Baugé is a pretty place. It’s located just south of a small town called la Flèche and just north east of Angers in the Pays de la Loire region.

Baugé’s important buildings stand in gravel squares dotted with lawns and flower beds, surrounded by narrow streets of medieval and 18th-century houses. For those after modern comforts medieval Baugé has a great Logis hotel and restaurant as well (details at end).

Chateau de Bauge in Loir Valley with stormy sky and huge chateau with conical towers and rooves and gardens in front
Château de Baugé © Daniel Jolivet/CC-BY-SA 2.0

But first a little history to place medieval Baugé and the secret Loir in the grand scheme of things. (If you want to miss the history bit just scroll down, but it does make a visit to the château and the whole area more interesting.)

A Short Potted History of 1421

Battle of Le Vieil Bauge from a 15th century manuscript with two sides, English and French knights on horseback with one knight struck in front
Battle of Vieil Baugé from a 1484 manuscript Public domain

The Hundred Years War (1337–1453) between the French and the English is still spluttering on. It’s 1421, just 6 years after the massive defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt and the choice of the King of England, Henry V, as King of France. He led the troops at Agincourt and married the daughter of the French Charles VI in 1520.

At the beginning of 1421 Henry was all-powerful. With Caen and Rouen captured, he controlled Normandy. The French Dauphin, Charles VII was disinherited and Henry entered Paris as the new ruler.

A reversal of fortunes as everything changes

On March 22, 1421, everything changed. Henry had returned to England, leaving his younger brother Thomas, Duke of Clarence in control.

Entrance to the chateau d'Angers showing long gravel path leading to gateway filling picture with two huge round towers in walls of black stone with white stone lines
Chateau d’Angers © Chatsam/Wikimedia/CC-BY-SA 4.0

After failing to take the vital and formidably protected town of Angers, the Duke was returning to Normandy where the French Dauphin’s troops were gathering. At Beaufort-en-Anjou he heard of a French force stationed just outside Baugé. Against the advice of his generals, he set off with around 1,500 soldiers, leaving the rest of his force in Beaufort under the command of Thomas of Montacute, Count of Salisbury.

Clarence was facing an army of 5,000, made up of French men at arms led by Gilbert Motier de La Fayette and Scottish soldiers led by John Stewart, Earl of Buchan. The Auld Alliance between the Scots and the French had been signed in 1295 and was renewed in 1326. It bound the two kingdoms together in mutual support against the English. Not great news for the hot-headed Duke and his men.

La Bataille du Vieil-Baugé

The Battle of Vieil-Baugé took place some 2 kms west of Baugé on the banks of the River Couasnon. It was a disaster for the rash young Duke of Clarence who led the attack straight into the Scottish men at arms. The English knights on their heavy horses sank into the mud on the left bank of the river, to be picked off by Scottish archers and foot soldiers.

The English troops who fled to the village were trapped and killed in their hundreds. Among them was the Duke of Clarence who was unseated from his horse by John Carmichael of Douglasdale, then killed by Alexander Buchanan. There was nothing else to do but sue for peace.

Slate stone marking the Battle of Le Vieil Bauge in 1421 english deaths
Le Vieil-Baugé plaque to the French and the Scottish © Skouame/CC-BY-SA 3.0

The English lost over 1054 men; a further 500 were captured. Franco-Scottish losses were minimal.

John, the bastard son of the Duke of Clarence recovered the body of his father. It was sent back to England and buried in Canterbury Cathedral.

Salisbury with an army of around 2000 soldiers plus some survivors from Baugé retreated towards Normandy. The secret Loir valley might be little known today, but it was vital in the all important Hundred Years War.

Green bronzed statue of Joan of Arc looking up at her on a horse in main square in Orleand
Statue of Joan of Arc in Orléans Public domain via Wikimedia

The battle set the scene for the final years of the epic war. In 1429 Joan of Arc took Orléans.

In 1453, the English were finally defeated. France was about to move on and out of the centuries-old conflict that had its roots in the invasion of England by William the Conqueror in 1066.

Visit the Château in medieval Baugé

In 1454, the old fortified medieval Château de Baugé (which the English had set fire to) passed into the hands of René of Anjou (1409-1480), Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence (and King of Naples). He set about restoring it as a hunting lodge.

Château de Baugé looking up at round tower with faces carved into stone
Château de Baugé © Euchaugette Kormin/CC-BY-SA 3.0

Unusually, René actually had a hand in the design of parts of the building; don’t miss the watch tower where the faces of the masons are carved into the stone.

Start with that Battle

Château de Baugé map on wall showing battle of 1412 of Le Veil Bauge
Château de Baugé © Alastair McKenzie

Walk into the main entrance for your tickets (and some good shopping). An exhibition off to one side is aimed at children, but it’s a very good introduction to that famous Battle of Vieil-Baugé. You want to know the difference between the French, English and Scottish knights? This is the place to come.

Bauge chateau exhibition showing English army on huge posters hanging from stone wall
Baugé Exhibition © Mary Anne Evans

The Baugé château is cleverly laid out. You’re inspired as you walk through rooms designed to take you back to good King René’s time. There’s little left from its medieval beginnings apart from the structure. But still you’re drawn into the very different world of the daily lives of the great and the good.

The Forest and the Hunt

Château de Baugé Loir Valley with trees made of wood and inset panels showing hunting scenes
Château de Baugé © Mary Anne Evans

Hunting in the great forests of France was strictly controlled. It was a ritualised pleasure that taught young boys how to handle a horse, travel through a forest looking for prey, work in a group and handle a bow and arrow, a lance, knife, a sword and in the 16th century a firearm.  All skills that were transferred into the battlefields of Europe.

The Great Knights

Château de Baugé Loir Valley full scale model of knight on horseback in roof
Château de Baugé © Alastair McKenzie

Watching this thundering towards you would have put the fear of God into your soul.

Whispering in the Palace

Château de Baugé with bare walls in medieval castle room and light shining on wall
Château de Baugé © Alastair McKenzie

Sit in this room of bare stone walls as the film unfolds, telling the story of the building of the medieval Baugé Château.

René’s Grand Banquet Room

Chateau de Bauge main King Rene reception room with stylised chimney built of wood and table in front
Château de Baugé © Alastair McKenzie

A fireplace dominates one side of an enormous room where tapestries once hung on the massive walls. This was where René exercised – and enjoyed – his power. Here he received his guests, gave judgement and entertained with great feasts. Such a room was the heart of every medieval château.

Château de Baugé
Place de l’Europe
49150 Baugé
Tel: +33 (0)2 41 84 00 74
Open May 25-Jun 11: 2-6pm; Jun 12-Sep 19: 10am-12.30pm & 1.30-6.30pm; Sep 20-Nov 7: 2-6pm
Admission Adult €9; child 7-14 years €4.50; family (2 adults + 2 children) €22
Admission with Hôtel-Dieu & Apothecary Adult €13; child 7-14 years €6; family (2 adults + 2 children) €32

The Hôtel-Dieu (Hospital) in Medieval Baugé

Most large towns in France had their own Hôtel-Dieu, built for the sick and the homeless. Baugé had an excellent Hôtel-Dieu plus a fascinating apothecary, both originally administered by the Sisters of St Joseph.

You get an idea of the size and scope of the hospital when you first go in, where a large plan identifies the different wings and rooms. There’s the old kitchen, a dining room (very bare for use by the nuns) and a chapter room which was used for meetings and the place where the nuns could spend their very little free time.

The Apothecary

Bauge apothecary showing close up of wooden table with pewter dish with papers scattred on it, pewter pestle and mortar behind and shallow iron box with shapes that look like sweets
Baugé Apothecary © Alastair McKenzie

There are two parts to the hospital and you start with the oldest, and vital part, the Apothecary You can only do this with a guide; you’ll see why when you enter the locked Apothecary, one of the most complete and beautiful in France.

Bauge Apothecary Loir Valley with old shelves packed floor to ceiling with beautiful ceramic bottles from the middle ages
Baugé Apothecary © Alastair McKenzie

You’re going back into a world that where medicines were made from plants – and bits of animals. It all felt a bit Harry Potterish though I couldn’t find mandrakes among the pots, glass bottles and boxes that line the walls from floor to ceiling. But I bet they were lurking somewhere in this chamber of secret medicine. Never mind, plenty of other unusual ingredients were there: blood of dragons, crayfish eyes, goat liver, roots, leaves and flowers that kept our ancestors alive.

The Hôtel-Dieu visit

Hotel Dieu hospital in Bauge Loir Valley
Hôtel-Dieu in Baugé © Alastair McKenzie

The first thing you see is a long gallery housing beds ranged along the two sides. The ceiling has been lowered; back in its day it was much higher. Even then it was known that good ventilation would help prevent the spread of diseases.

A written guide in English takes you back to the past as you walk along the room once full of the sick and dying. The hospital was ahead of its time in its organisation and realisation of basic nursing. The nursing sister took the name, age and place of birth of each new patient. Their feet were washed and they were given bed linen, slippers, dressing gowns and in winter the all-important nightcap.

There’s a section about the medical practices of the time which makes you thankful to live in the 21st century.

Bauge Hotel Dieu chapel looking into chapel from hospital side with doorway to altar
Baugé Hospital Chapel © Alastair McKenzie

Patients could watch the services in the chapel beyond. The sisters were there to look after the spiritual wellbeing of their charges as much as their physical states.

The sisters of St Joseph still exist today with the first French colony abroad established in Montreal in 1641. Today there are communities in 15 countries operating hospitals and schools.

A later Apothecary

Bauge 19th century apothecary with solid wooden shelves and cupboards stacked with medicines
Baugé’s 19th century Apothecary © Alastair McKenzie

There’s also another apothecary which intrigued me as it’s connected to my local Auvergne town of Le Puy-en-Velay.

The later 19th-century apothecary was established when science was taking over, substituting new products for the old plant- and animal-based medicines. In 1901 Antonin Merle (1872-1918) bought the beautiful oak cabinets, made in the second half of the 19th century, from another pharmacy in the small village of Arlanc. Merle opened his apothecary in rue Pannessac in Le Puy-en-Velay and for 3 generations the family served the local community.

tel-Dieu & Apothecary
Rue Anne de Melun
49150 Baugé
Tel: +33 (0)2 84 00 74
Open May 25-Jun 11: 2-6pm; Jun 12-Sep 19: 10am-12.30pm & 1.30-6.30pm; Sep 20-Nov 7: 2-6pm
Admission Adult €9; child 7-14 years €4.50; family (2 adults + 2 children) €22
Admission with Château de Baugé Adult €13; child 7-14 years €6; family (2 adults + 2 children) €32

If you’re visiting Baugé, make a diversion to see the delightful Château de Bazouges with its family history and lovely gardens.

Where to stay and/or eat in medieval Baugé

The family owned and run Logis Hôtel, Ô Prestige in the centre of town. It’s particularly known for its excellent restaurant. If you’re there for lunch, try the 3-course Gourmande menu at €33.

More about the area

Baugé Tourist Office covers the town and the local area.

Vallée du Loir Tourisme covers the whole of the region.

If you’re here, check out the Château du Lude. It has a fascinating history and great gardens.

How to get there

We took the DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. It was a 321 km/200 mile drive taking around 3 hrs 5 mins. Baugé is in the Sarthe department in the Pays de la Loire region.

More about Ferries to France from the UK.

We were on a self-driving press trip organised by the Vallée du Loir tourist office. The trip also took in Le Mans, slightly to the north east of the Château de Bazouges.

What to see in the region and the surrounding countryside

Also check out the Region’s Atlantic Loire Valley Tourism website

If you want to see the Loir’s famous cousin, here’s a guide to the complete Loire Valley Tour

Read more about travel to France at the time of Covid-19 regulations.

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