Just 50 miles south of the ferry port of Caen/Ouistreham, Orne lies in the lesser-known Basse-Normandie, awash with rich pastureland, fragrant apple orchards, dense forest, small villages and market towns.
1. THE VERSAILLES OF THE HORSE
Orne is home to the native Percheron draft horse; steely, wide-set and usually grey or black, these gentle giants were used originally to till the land and have been exported as far as America, continuing to be used for carriage driving and horse riding. The magniﬁcent equestrian stud farm at Haras du Pin is a great day out for all the family; built for Louis Quatorze, there are guided tours of the grounds, stables, blacksmith’s and tack rooms, and weekly equestrian displays in the Colbert courtyard of Percheron and other breeds, with accompanying period music.
2. MARKET TOWNS
A wander through these medieval walled towns reveals a mishmash of period architecture, from half-timbered terrace houses to grander Maisons de Maître, with creamy-yellow limestone bricks twinkling from church steeples to the Maison de Ville. At weekly farmers’ markets locals gather to exchange home-grown provisions as well as the latest gossip. On sale is delicious AOC cider and perry, Camembert and goat’s cheese, black pudding and all manner of seasonal fruit and vegetables.
Two cycle routes, Véloscénie and Vélo Francette, cross through Orne, intersecting at the medieval town of Domfront. The routes can be tackled in their entirety or in more leisurely, bite-sized chunks. There is a good choice of cycle-friendly accommodation with an the ‘Accueil Vélo’ label, which provide amenities such as luggage transfers, packed lunches and bike repairs.
4. THE PERCHE
This bohemian enclave to the south west of Orne is where Parisians weekend in the heart of the 450,000-acre Perche Regional Park. Visitors will ﬁnd a burgeoning slow-food culture combined with stylish B&Bs, traditional crafts and antiques outlets and concept stores which offer a place to eat, drink, sleep and sample local art and culture. At its epicentre, the Manoir de Courboyer provides a full programme of events and craft classes throughout the spring and summer.
Camembert cheese is another indigène of Orne, having been created in 1791 by Marie Harel, a local farmer who sheltered a priest from Brie in exchange for the recipe. The village where it was ﬁrst created is now called Camembert and today’s visitors can still see it being made by hand. There is a local museum charting the rise of AOC Camembert to its prestigious status of being one of world’s best-loved cheeses.
This riverside hamlet in the southern corner is designated one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France and has long been a place of pilgrimage for artists. There are several cafés and art galleries and a picturesque church, as well as award-winning gardens.
7. CIDER AND PERRY
Visitors to Orne won’t be hungry and they certainly won’t be thirsty either. The local tipple is AOC cider and perry (poiré), made from the abundance of apple and pear orchards that have graced the land for centuries. Visitors can enjoy cider tasting at many farms throughout the region; in early spring there are carpets of blossoming trees while in the autumn it’s possible to join the apple harvest and cider-pressing, which is celebrated traditionally with local village fairs.
8. LA ROCHE D’OËTRE
This craggy bluff to the north west of Orne overlooks the wooded valley below and is an ideal base for thrill-seekers, with everything from tree-top adventure courses through to rock-climbing and kayaking. There is an interactive visitor centre and good restaurant, as well as picnic spots and campsites that make the area ideal for either a day trip or a longer stay.
9. BOUDIN NOIR
No visit to Orne is complete without a taste of the local delicacy, black pudding (boudin noir), which is widely sold by butchers and offered in restaurants. The market town of Mortagne is one of the best places to sample it and each March the town holds a dedicated festival to crown the best black pudding-maker from around the globe.
Bagnoles is a spa town whose waters are said to cure rheumatism. It boasts a fabulous lake and array of small shops, cafés and delicatessens. Visitors today can enjoy the walking trails through the surrounding Andaines Forest, forage for mushrooms and stop off at Le Manoir du Lys, one of three Michelin-starred restaurants in Orne.
For more information, visit ornetourisme.com
From France Today magazine