Just 80 km south of the Caen / Ouistreham ferry port, the Orne sits in lesser-known Lower Normandy, inundated with rich pastures, fragrant apple orchards, dense forest, small villages and towns.
1. THE VERSAILLES OF THE HORSE
The Orne is home to the native Percheron draft horse; Steels, broad and usually gray or black, these gentle giants were originally used for plowing the land and were exported to America, continuing to be used for carriage driving and horseback riding. The magnificent equestrian stud at Haras du Pin is a great day out for the whole family; built for Louis Quatorze, there are guided tours of the park, stables, blacksmiths and saddlery cabins, and weekly equestrian exhibitions in the Cour Colbert de Percheron and other breeds, with period music.
2. MARKET CITIES
A stroll through these walled medieval towns reveals a mishmash of period architecture, from half-timbered terraced houses to the grandest Maison de Maitre, with creamy yellow limestone bricks glistening from church spiers to the Town House . At weekly farmers’ markets, locals gather to exchange local groceries and the latest gossip. On sale, delicious AOC cider and perry, camembert and goat cheese, black pudding and all kinds of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Two cycle paths, the Véloscénie and the Vélo Francette, cross the Orne and intersect in the medieval town of Domfront. Routes can be tackled in their entirety or in quieter, bite-sized chunks. There is a good choice of accommodation suitable for cyclists, labeled “Accueil Vélo”, which offers services such as luggage transfer, packed lunches and bicycle repairs.
4. THE PERCH
This bohemian enclave in the south-west of the Orne is the place for Parisian weekends in the heart of the Perche Regional Park, which stretches over 450,000 acres. Visitors will experience a thriving slow-food culture combined with stylish guesthouses, traditional craft and antique shops, and concept stores that provide a place to eat, drink, sleep and taste. local art and culture. At its epicenter, the Manoir de Courboyer offers a full program of events and craft classes throughout the spring and summer.
Camembert is another indigenous d’Orne, having been created in 1791 by Marie Harel, a local farmer who housed a priest from Brie in exchange for the recipe. The village where it was first created is now called Camembert and visitors today can still see it made by hand. There is a local museum that traces the rise of Camembert AOC to its prestigious status of being one of the most beloved cheeses in the world.
This riverside hamlet in the southern corner is designated as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France and has long been a place of pilgrimage for artists. There are several cafes and art galleries and a quaint church, as well as award-winning gardens.
7. CIDER AND PERRY
Visitors to the Orne will not go hungry and they will certainly not be thirsty either. The local drink is AOC cider and perry (Pear), from the abundance of apple and pear orchards that have adorned the land for centuries. Visitors can enjoy cider tastings at many farms in the area; in early spring there are carpets of flowering trees while in autumn it is possible to participate in apple harvest and cider pressing, which is traditionally celebrated with local village fairs.
8. THE ROCHE D’OÈTRE
This craggy cliff to the northwest of the Orne overlooks the wooded valley below and makes a great base for thrill seekers, with everything from adventure trails in the trees to rock climbing and kayaking. There is an interactive visitor center and a good restaurant, as well as picnic areas and campsites which make the area ideal for a day trip or a longer stay.
9. BLACK BOUDIN
No visit to the Orne is complete without a taste of the local delicacy, black pudding, widely sold by butchers and offered in restaurants. The market town of Mortagne is one of the best places to taste it and every March the town holds a dedicated festival to crown the best black pudding maker around the world.
Bagnoles is a spa town whose waters are said to cure rheumatism. It has a fabulous lake and an array of small shops, cafes and delicatessens. Today visitors can enjoy hiking trails through the surrounding Andean forest, search for mushrooms and stop at Manoir du Lys, one of the three Michelin-starred restaurants in Orne.
For more information visit ornetourisme.com
From France Today magazine