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Overlooking the Orne river, this small peaceful town was nevertheless one of the most important fortified towns in Normandy, and its remains reveal a troubled past, from the Hundred Years’ War to 1944. Its history is also tied up with the skill of lacemakers for which the town, along with its rival ‘sister’ Alençon, is most famed.
A town at the heart of horse country
As one of the Viking warlord Rollo’s frontier towns, it was already protected by fortifications in the fifth century. It was honoured by Eleanor of Aquitaine who received her sons Richard the Lionheart and King John the Landless there. Its fame spread, along with Alençon, through the creation of a lacework industry, although tanning was important to Argentan as well. It received more royal favours for by the 18th century it had no less than four royal tanners, while the King’s army officers also liked to gather there, leaving a legacy of fine hôtels (grand town houses) and chateaux. The local expertise preserving the authentic point d’Argentan lace-making stitch is maintained by the Benedictine nuns in their monastery on the edge of town. Another spin-off of royal patronage was the development of an industry around the horse, which also remains at the heart of the economy in the lush green countryside hereabouts.
- Château des Ducs: This castle was burnt to the ground during the Hundred Years’ War and then rebuilt in the 14th century.
- Church of Saint-Germain: Built between the 15th and 17th centuries, this church is a mixture of Gothic and Classical styles.
- Abbaye des Bénédictines: Benedictine nuns still live here and preserve the authentic point d’Argentan lace-making tradition.
- Maison des Dentelles: A beautiful little museum housed in a fine mansion by the water.
- The Marguerite Tower and the Dungeon: Enjoy a panoramic view of the town and its surroundings!