About The Heart of Normandy
If your idea of a successful foreign holiday involves notching up an impressive daily tally of castles, cathedrals and museums, this section is not for you. The heart of Normandy is more about scenery than sights, and this area has some truly lovely countryside in the ‘mini Switzerland’ of the Suisse Normande and the undulating hills and forests of the Perche, to picturesque small farms and orchards in the Pays d’Auge.
Follow the River Orne south from Caen, and the open farmland of the north gives way to wooded hills, sloping pastures and the Vallée de I’Orne. It may not be Switzerland, but the river carves a winding course through the soft limestone, which throws up some impressive promontories, including the Rochers des Parcs and de la Houle near Clécy, the Pont Erambourg, and the dramatic Roche d’Oëtre south of Pont d’Ouilly. This is definitely a place to stay for a few days, and in addition to the scenery, there are plenty of outdoor activities from rambling to rock climbing – see Activity Holidays, this section.
The Perche region is less well known, but an equally attractive area to visit for a relaxing break. The cool, deep green depths of its forests, shaded by magnificent ancient oaks, are contrasted with rolling pastures strewn with the crème de ld crème of Normandy’s stud farms. This is horse country, and while the August yearling sales in Deauville are the stud farms’ big event, there are plenty of horsy opportunities for the visitor: you can attend horse shows, visit stud farms, take riding lessons, or explore the region on horse back, see Riding Holidays, this section.
The D26 through the Vallée de la Vie towards Vimoutiers is one of the prettiest stretches of road in France. Crumbling farmhouses with orchards full of blossom in spring; trees and hedgerows laden with fruits and berries in autumn. This is the Auge, and the land of the Three C’s: calvados, cider and cheese, where camembert is a recent (19thC) addition to the groaning, gourmet cheese board, and le trou Normand (a small glass of calvados downed in one) is a necessary digestive aid between courses.
Caen-Tours train services stop at Argentan, Sees and Alencon, and bicycles can be hired at all three stations. Caen-Flers bus services stop at Thury-Harcourt and Clécy. From Flers, there are buses via Bagnoles-de-l’Orne to AlenÍµcon for connections to Mortagne-au-Perche. Buses from Alencon to Lisieux head north via Argentan and the Vallée de la Vie. Trains connect Lisieux and Caen.