The little-known department of Orne in Normandy is a year-round destination, a short, green hop across the channel by rail or sea. It’s easily accessible within two hours by car from the ferry port at Caen and two hours by train from Paris. From vintiquing to gastronomy, there is something for all families, historians and crafters.
Luxury property in The Perche Ornais
Domaine de La Lochetière, in Normandel, is a brand new luxury B&B, with a separate gite and high-quality cuisine located between Mortagne and L’Aigle in the middle of the Forêt du Perche. The owner Sylvia Merel moved here in 2005 and has completely renovated the property, opening to guests from December 2018. The property dates from the eighteenth century and comprises intricate stone, brick and wood-work. With a stunning contemporary design, there are three sumptuous suites which can be taken together or individually. The building is fully equipped and heated by geothermal power. There is an indoor hot-tub with a view over the centuries-old oak trees and the sculptured 4.5 hectares of grounds. Sylvia will offer carriage driving lessons, e-bike rental and guests can also enjoy horse-riding and walking from the door. La Lochetière offers B&B from €110 per room per night; and gite rental from €950 per week.
Lodge in the Wilderness
New for 2019 is a Wilderness Lodge on a six-hectare site in the heart of the Ecouves Forest, adjacent to the petting zoo Parc animalier d’Ecouves. The Wilderness Lodge overlooks a beautiful plain with exotic animals including camels, water buffalo and horses to wake up and say hello to. The self-catered lodge is made from a wooden frame, on one level, with a living room and fireplace, fully fitted kitchen and large terrace. It sleeps four people comfortably, with a bathroom and separate WC. The 12-hectare petting zoo has over 450 animals roaming free, with rare breeds including American bison, ostrich, camels, zebra, yaks and deer. Guests can spend three hours in the morning with the park rangers looking after and feeding the animals as they you go. Parc animalier d’Ecouves offers the wilderness lodge from €300 per week, three hour feeding from €60 pp.
75th anniversary of the end of World War II
Discover the site of the final Battle of Normandy – The Falaise Gap – close to the Mont Ormel Memorial and museum which has a new exhibition for 2019. Mont Ormel was a turning point in the war when the Allies stopped the German forces in their tracks and went on to liberate Paris. See the panoramic view out over the fields where the battle took place and startling photos and footage of the landscape as it is today and as it was then with bodies and tonnes of German military equipment strewn throughout the countryside. Follow the ‘Août 44’ circuit which has several explanatory panels explaining the key sites of the encounter. Entrance costs €5.50 per adult and €3.50 for children
In the Perche Regional Park, Nicolas Laurain invites guests to draw inner strength and find peace from the forest. He leads walks in the woods to tune into the positive vibrations of centuries-old trees, renowned for their relaxing, soothing, anti-stress qualities. Connect to the earth through the tree roots and to the sky through the branches, wrap your arms around a trunk and breathe calmly to feel the inner strength of nature. A two-hour walk with forest guide, Nicolas Laurain, costs from €30pp in a group of two to eight people. Walks depart at 8:30am on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
La Manufacture Bohin
La Manufacture Bohin – the only needle-making company in France – was founded in in 1833 to make sewing needles, and now offers a wonderful museum and exhibition space that has been open to the public since 2014. They produce sewing needles, drawing pins, record needles, paper clips and safety pins. An original documentary from the 1930s shows the manufacturing process from start to finish which has remained unchanged. It’s possible to view the machines in action: only six operators are qualified to use these machines. There is a display of contemporary needle artists including Willard Wigan, Pushpin Art and Yarn Bombing. Open from February – November, closed on Mondays, there are English guided tours and translations. Entrance is free of charge.
Chez Nous Campagne
A concept store with a charming mix of brocante, tearoom and contemporary art, just a few kilometres from Mortagne-au-Perche, filled with objets d’art from ceramics to jewellery and contemporary furniture with art exhibitions decorating the walls. Tea rooms serve detox salads and warm chocolate brownies and a Juice Bar capitalises on the organic apples and pears which are abundant in Normandy. Open from Thursday to Sundays, it is already attracting a certain Parisian crowd. Chez Nous Campagne offers B&B from €130 per night based on two sharing.
La Renaissance is a restaurant with rooms owned by Chef Arnaud Viel and his wife, Cecilia, which opened in 1998. Arnaud was awarded his first Michelin star in February 2016. Menus are seasonal and delicious and draw largely on the area’s production of apple and pear cider, and cookery courses are available too. Rooms in the hotel are stylish and modern. La Renaissance offers rooms from £85 (based on two sharing), with breakfast from £10pp.
Getting here: Brittany Ferries (0871 244 1400) offers return channel crossings to Caen or Cherbourg (just one hours’ drive) from £112pp for a car and two passengers. www.voyages-sncf.com offers return train fares from £110pp.
For more information on exploring the area, see www.normandy-travel.co.uk. Cover photo, ©D.Commenchal .