Scot continues his journey along the voie vertes in the beautiful Perche region, he discovers the importance of the apple and encounters a wonderful warm rural French welcome.
I had a lethargic morning which included a wholesome and healthy breakfast, and with my clothing now recovered from the previous day’s watery onslaught I was in a positive mindset. The first task was to make my way to the tourist office for a meeting to learn more about the town and La Perche region. The amiable staff escorted me around the bustling market, the locals out en mass, the noisy interactions of commerce indicative of rural France. The stall holders proud of their local produce especially the cider makers with apples being a indicative part of the landscape in the Perche. Freshly picked, baked, dried or pressed – they’re the pride of the Percheron palate. Every year, recipes are exchanged over the garden hedge and the sweet smell of oven-hot pies fills the air.
After a delicious lunch with Carole I was desperate to get out on my bike, the plan was to pedal back along the Veloscenie towards Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe combining two loops called “Sur la voir des cadrans solaires”, which would take me from Saint Langis les Mortagne to La Mesnière and then the “Escapade me au fil de l’Eau” up to Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe. Thankfully Carole had offered to transport my cumbersome rucksack to my overnight stop.
I retraced my route back westwards, I passed several working farms with the fertile countryside dotted with Percheron horses and the occasional ramshackled cowshed. The ancestral forests of the Perche date back to the times of Louis XIV and are home to collection of dramatic wooded hillsides, overgrown meadows, adventure promoting paths and trails borded by hedges and rolling landscapes dotted with apple-tree orchards, it is simply idyllic.
After several hours in the saddle I finally arrived mid-afternoon in the sleepy Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe. My accommodation, the Hôtel de la Poste (31 pl. of the General de Gaulle, 61170, Le Mele-sur-Sarthe; 02 33 81 18 00) is in the heart of the town and dominates the main square. The town is provincial France at its best, deserted with a concentration of bars and restaurants, after a stroll around the centre, which included several coffee stops I returned to my room to watch the final stages of the Tour de France which was taking place, not in France but in Germany, how surreal.
Gourmets and gourmands alike will not be disappointed by the regions culinary offerings which reflect the Perches fascination with the apple. My dining experience that evening was at the hotel restaurant and what a glorious mix of contemporary and traditional, I was teased by a plate of veal kidneys with a delicious local cider jus, followed by a hearty apple tart.
Once again I had enjoyed another great nights sleep, todays morning ride was a short distance back along the Veloscenie towards Mortagne-au-Perche before continuing onto Boissy-Maugis following the green signs for Remalard.
The trail was even quieter than the previous few days, the solitude is remarkable, it’s no wonder that monks chose to retire and build their monasteries in the deeply spiritual surroundings. As expected my only company was the local animal life especially the birds, the region is rightly proud of two species, the honey buzzard, a bird of prey that eats wasps and bees and the black stork.
Carole had advised me that on my arrival at Boissy Maugis and the old little train station to take the green way “Dites-le avec des fleurs” (While you’re staying in Orne, make sure you visit its towns and villages in bloom with their famous yellow and red signs. All these locations, from the tiniest to the biggest, bend over backwards to warmly welcome you to a protected environment) which heads north west towards La Chapelle-Montligeon and Courgeon and then loops back to Boissy Maugis.
I had not been pedaling long when I was confronted by a magnificent building protruding through the heart of meadows and woods. Situated in the small enclave of La Chapelle-Montligeon is the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montligeon, it is a neo-Gothic masterpiece built mainly with sand from the Loire, the limestone white stone of Poitou and Charente and the granite of Alençon and Brittany, it has rightly been given the the nickname “Cathedral in the Fields”.
Today, the Basilica is a sanctuary of the Catholic Church. It is a world centre of prayer for the deceased, which has attracted pilgrims from across the globe for more than a century. I had to explore, so leaving my bike at the entrance I wondered aimlessly around the gardens, it was deserted and I found myself reflecting on my life and my battle with my faith, if I in fact every possessed any!
Inside there is so much to see, its vibrant stained glass windows are renowned and my personal highlight is the Statue of Our Lady which overlooks the high altar and is the work of the Italian sculptor Giulio Tadolini. The image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as a child symbolises eternal life. The drama the image holds is bewitching with two female characters sat at her feet, both in submission evoking an expression of thanksgiving.
After my religious enlightenment I pedalled just over eight kilomteres to my overnight stop at “La Fosse” B&B in Maison-Maugis where I was met by Mrs Chartier who offers an alternative rural France experience. Her house is located down a bumpy gravel lane and is set amongst several traditional stone built properties. Most people, especially the British seem to have the misguided opinion that the French are rude and inhospitable, this is rarely the case. The French culture is all about equality, both guests and hosts have roles, and your welcome is dependant on your approach, behaviour and respect you show to their establishment. My host was a prime example, Mrs Chartier accepted me like an old friend. I had found my perfect idyll, once again no cars, no people just peace and tranquillity.
I departed from the B&B relatively early and once again headed towards the outskirts of Boissy-Maugis. I had no real plans for the day, I was simply following my wheels. Over the past few days I have encountered Rémalard dominating the signs so a visit was probably overdue. I took the greenway south east.
My motivation was one of retail therapy, I felt the urge to get some local gifts to take home. In no time I found myself in the beautiful confines of Rémalard. With just 1,275 inhabitants, it provides a surprisingly artistic ensemble, boasting a selection of art galleries, a theatre company, artists, craftspeople, a cultural centre, plus the usual restaurants and bars.
Unfortunately it was Monday, and as with most of rural France everywhere was shut, the only life emanated from the bars/restaurants which (thankfully) offered the odd craft explosion. I grabbed a selection of confectionary and simple trinkets, and then relaxed amost the locals sipping coffee and just soaking up France as its best.
Time passed with ease, morning quickly became afternoon and after indulging in a light lunch and several tours of the village, I set off back towards my rural retreat for my final night in the Perche.
I enjoyed a lazy morning and a tranquil breakfast sat in the garden with beautiful views of the countryside and a mass of the house yoghurt and a steaming pot of coffee. I was sad to say farewell to my lovely host, I was definitely going to miss the complete isolation and the simple way of life.
I headed back down the hill towards the outskirts of Boissy-Maugis and the green way, my destination was Condeau, I was following the signs for Condé-sur-Huisne (approx 15km).
I deviated off the green way in the village of Condeau to the roadway following the direction to Villeray, after several kilometres I breezed into the grounds of the magnificent grounds of Château de Villeray. I had an appointment at Spa Pom which was built in the former stables of the Château.
The experience was original and timeless, I am not usually a spa person but the staff and stunning comtemporary surroundings made me at ease and I (surprisingly) fully immersed in the whole therapeutic indulgence.
For more information see