Back on track for this second cycling day on the Véloscénie! Which is certainly one of the most awesome bike tracks in France, going from Paris to the Mont-Saint-Michel all the way through delightful Normandy. While travelling on it, you’ll never get a day without surprise! Yesterday, we started our three days’ trip at the stunning castle of Carrouges and cycled all the way up to art-deco Bagnoles-de-l’Orne. Today’s new journey will take us to Mortain, through 53km of forests, fields and hedgerows. As we jump on our bikes, ready to ride after a nice breakfast, we are far from imagining that today we will have THE massive crush of the trip…
The Andaines forest
Rain, rain, rain… We seem to recall that September used to be dryer! Fortunately, this month is still quite warm, so we don’t mind those short showers (too much). Except that as photographers, this is quite a challenge. How are we supposed to create beautiful images from this sad weather? Sad? Wait! Isn’t the Andaines forest even more beautiful under the rain? The leaves greener and tender? The moss shinier, sparkling with hundreds of diamond-drops?
We love this wonderful atmosphere, the green canopy flying above our heads as we cycle along the road, the delicate songs of the birds in the wood, the earthy smell of mushrooms which reminds us of our fabulous diner at the star-restaurant Manoir du Lys, yesterday… The trees, beeches and oaks for the most part, are truly majestic. It is not hard to imagine all kinds of legends taking place here. Wasn’t it home of the great Lancelot once? We laugh and race on the empty road. So happy we even forget that it is raining!
Beware, heart crush! Between this medieval city and us, it was love at first sight. Domfront: the place to be! The young official guide at the tourism office of Domfront, dynamic Anne-Laure, shows us around this jewel little town and its surroundings. Built high up the hill, Domfront is a labyrinth of narrow streets bordered by ancient timbered houses. What is left of the old 11th century donjon overlooking the valley can only be called romantic ruins now. Still it’s not hard to get visions from the past there, when French and English were fighting bravely over this land.
Another must-see in town: the church of Saint-Julien de Domfront. Built in 1926 in reinforced concrete, this church is a puzzling anachronism in this medieval place and most travellers will shoot dubious glances at this curious building while passing by. Until they step in… Indeed, the inside is truly breath-taking. Be ready to be amazed! Built on a byzantine shape, the church display over our heads a gigantic cupola that seems to be shining with an inner light. That is because of the wonderful golden mosaics that adorn the dome. Please pay a particular attention to the art-déco details, which are utterly charming. The Christ pantocrator behind the altar seems to watch over you from wherever you are in the room.
But the best part is still hidden from our eyes. Anne-Laure, smiling cryptically, leads us in a dark corner of the church where stands a low wooden door. She opens it for us, revealing a narrow spiral staircase going up. The way to the bell tower! Here we are going up and up and up… until we reach the top of cupola, just where the bells rest. Quentin, squeezing his arm through a small opening in the concrete, manages to take a sky-pic of the nave. Is that the angels view?
We are not yet at the end, there are still a few stairs to climb to reach the higher platform, from where you can get a 360° look around. Stunning is the word you will be looking for at this point. The changing weather is like live-painting on the country, which is changing colours every 2 minutes. The painting is moving… and moving. There is no other way to put it! If you pass by, and also want to get up there, nothing more easy, knock on the tourism office door and see how it can be arranged for Anne-Laure or another guide to get you there. It only cost 3€!
Now you’ve seen all this, you don’t want to leave Domfront yet. There are still many things to be discovered around. Anne-Laure takes us now up to a hill full of ancient legends, called le tertre Saint Anne. We won’t spoil you but… a few of this legends involve nasty maleficent dragons! The stroll up the hill is very pretty and quiet, climbing up on narrow paths through a wild forest. Heather, rocks and ferns makes it all look like Cornwall. At the top, we discover a new panorama over Domfront and its donjon.
As we go down, we stumble upon a quite rare testimonial of History in Normandy, also very well preserved: an old roman church from the 11th century called Notre-Dame-sur-l’Eau.
Domfront still has a few other secrets to share, but it’s 12 o’clock now and we are starving! We set our choice on one of the best addresses in town: the Bistrot St-Julien. Yummy hearty fresh-made meals are served there for a very good value. Just what we need before getting back on our bikes!
Organic terroir and cuisine
The sun is shining at the beginning of this afternoon. La vie est belle! One problem, though… We are very late for our appointment with Chrystelle! This amazing lady is owning, with her two business partners, the farm of La Motte. There, they are producing organic cider, pear cider, applejack and such… They also have a beautiful place to rent there, kind of a manor to be fair, for quiet holidays at the farm. On top of all that, Chrystelle is also proposing organic cooking lessons with the products of her farm and of the nature around. Her recipes are original, organic, gluten free and super good! She often uses ingredients such as wild flowers, algae and a wide variety of fruits and veggies.
Unfortunately, when we meet Chrystelle, it is too late for us to cook with her… This is a pity, but let’s hope we’ll meet again soon so we can tell you more about this nice initiative!
And here we are cycling again… But we are not going far. Nearby the farm of La Motte, you can find the poiré museum. Poiré (or pear cider) is a local specialty and people in the neighbourhood are very proud of this unusual yet delicious beverage. In the poiré museum, you can of course have a little poiré tasting. It is also a very nice park (planted with pear trees of course) where you can meander around following a fun and interactive path learning everything about pears, apples, and how to make alcohol out of them while playing cute videogames on tablets.
It is specially recommended to visit during spring time, when the park is blossoming, or during end of summer/autumn, when the trees are covered with fruits.
A few more kilometres to ride through the country and we arrive in Mortain as the sun goes down. We settle down for the night at the Hôtel de la Poste.
Tomorrow, we’ll be in the Mont-Saint-Michel!