Fresnay-sur-Sarthe, Dec 2023


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Wednesday after arrival, I made my first day trip in the Sarthe. I was out uncharacteristically early, catching a 7:35 am bus, because I wanted to see the weekly market, which has typical hours of 8 am to 1 pm, and buses don’t run more than a few times a day. The bus stop in Fresnay is right at the Place de la République where the market is held. The first thing I noticed was a pair of posters announcing concerts. Promising! The market was just getting set up, and I took a look at the fish being set out. There were some rather large rouget (red mullet) with eyes looking quite fresh.

Striking out for the post office

La Poste, Fresnay-sur-Sarthe

But I had another mission, and that was to get some euro cash. I wanted to find the post office, because the Banque Postale doesn’t charge any commission. Both Schwab and Fidelity, my two debit card options, reimburse all fees, but I like to avoid them. I asked a fellow on the street where the post office was and he pointed me in its direction. I still had a lot of trouble finding it. First I found the back lot, and a woman there sent me around the block – but I saw no post office entry. I found someone else to ask, and learned it was inside the lobby of a regional services building. See the fourth picture in the set above? That’s where one enters. The red-and-white brick and stone building on the left has a sign, but being well set back from the street in this lot, you wouldn’t see that till you walked up to it. Which, if you’re like me, you wouldn’t do without quite a bit of guidance. In the end, there was no bank function, but the clerk told me where to find a couple of banks. I did find a Credit Agricole and its ATM was a breeze.

The property I’d seen listed for sale

Now, cash in hand, I was ready to explore more – and to find my first coffee of the day. There was a bar just beyond the market and I went back there. Friendly spot; I’d be back in several times that day. But now I was off to see, just from the outside, a house advertised for sale by owner, it seemed. I couldn’t arrange a viewing, but I was given the exact address, certainly needed because the listing had just three interior photos. A small place with just a paved courtyard in front, it was indeed right in the heart of the medieval town, as advertised. I liked the neighborhood. The property for sale had little promise, with that front court and no garage, but it has three bedrooms and is going for just 66K.

The Sarthe! yes, the river runs through town

After taking photos, I went to walk along the Sarthe. I found the riverfront very appealing, with the river churning because of the weir, and with little park areas, a good footbridge, and houses along the banks not shabby.

Seeing the rest of the center of town, and another house for sale

Walking on, I found another house for sale. It had three stories, and a gated courtyard with a garage and a few small garden beds. It looked quite fine, and I took a couple of photos although I imagined that even here it would be out of range. I’ve seen that the town website claims Fresnay attained the status of being France’s second-favorite village back in 2021, so while small and a bit out of the way, it’s hardly unknown or ignored, and it’s not a difficult commute to Paris. I soon came across the real estate office with its listing, and while I was studying the ads in the windows, a woman inside knocked on the window to get my attention and gestured eagerly for me to come inside. That was a first! How many times have I studied agency window ads with no one paying me any mind; stepped inside to have no one greet me; or have someone take my number with a promise to call me the next day, yet no call ever? So, sure, I went in, even though she was smoking. Those of you who know my absolutely mad aversion to tobacco smoke will appreciate how much effect her friendly gesture had!

The agency visit and my first house viewing

Friendly indeed, my new acquaintance told me she’d joined the agency fairly recently. Previously, she’d bought and restored a manor house which she opened as a bed and breakfast, only to soon have major damages from guests with children who thoroughly abused the place, even leaving water running till it damaged the refinished floors below, that room’s ceiling, and a couple of walls each floor. She fled that project. Now, she has an art gallery attached to this real estate office, and she showed me around and told me about the Chinese woman who grows her own indigo to make the dye for the cloth she makes and turns into fabric sculptures. The works were outstanding, the story fascinating. Then her colleague offered to show me the house I’d noticed, which is listed at 134K, and off we went. I liked it very much, with its two front rooms adequate though small, its big attractive and modernized kitchen, its four bedrooms and two full baths, … all very appealing, except for the corner upstairs with mold and mildew and some small apparatus meant to dry it a bit. Why would that not have been addressed in an otherwise apparently well-maintained property? If you’re curious, here is the listing, with a number of photos.

Back to exploring friendly Fresnay

I continued exploring the town, and liked all of it. I bought a pastry in a bakery, and I went back to the bar for more coffee. What was striking was that it was the friendliest place I’ve visited in France. Without exception, everyone who spoke to me was smiling, warm, helpful or patient: the four people who helped me find the post office, the people I spoke to briefly in the market, the bakery and the bar, the real estate agents, the man running the little grocery where I bought regional newspapers and a package of beets. And everyone I passed on the street either beat me to saying “Bonjour” or smilingly returned mine. Extraordinary, really, in the consistent apparent contentment and friendliness of the populace.

Size matters?

There are some 3,600 residents in the whole “agglomeration.” On my house-hunting map, I had recently grouped properties by the size of community they’re in, but my numbers were completely arbitrary. I have the impression that, in France, a town of 2,000 or a bit more seems usually enough to support a weekly market, so I made the low 2000s a cut-off point for a group beyond hamlet size. But at that time, I had no idea at all of what a community of 2,000 or 3,000 actually looks (and feels) like. So, this was a very educational day for me, and a felicitous one in many ways. I decided that a town of this size, around 3,000, can be a good choice for a new home. Perhaps a small town like this where all neighborhoods seem fine is better than a city with some very drab or undesirable areas. There are some movie showings, some concerts, and all the essential businesses. For medical care, a hospital in Alençon is 25 minutes away, or in Le Mans 40 minutes. Fresnay itself seems to have a psychiatric facility and an old-age home; I hope to need neither.


I would definitely consider a property in Fresnay. It’s been an auspicious start to exploring small towns of the Sarthe!

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