A couple of days family get together on the Loire was spent paddle boarding and kayaking around the tidal waters and picnicking on the beaches when the weather was good and holed up in Tranny playing games when it wasn’t, which was a lot.
When the others left for their ferry we left for Normandy. The day had started well
But soon deteriorated and we had a wild and wet drive north. We were heading to another area we’d never been to ,the Alpes Mancelles in the Parc Naturel Normandie Maine. There was a free camper parkup next to the river Sarthe in St Leonard des Bois
in the centre of it and we arrived in the evening with the rain finally easing. We parked under a massive slab of sandstone cliff that alarmingly had lost a chunk recently but awoke unharmed.
A pretty town filled with flowers,
it had numerous walks marked out around it. We chose a 4 hour geological ramble and set out on a figure of eight through time.
Included in the Natura 2000 list of remarkable European sites because of its geological and topographic diversity it’s been an area that has attracted nature lovers for centuries. To name it Alpes is overstating its height somewhat and it was hardly in the same league as a lot of the stuff we’ve been exploring but it was pleasant enough and the route was studded with signboards and viewing pipes and rock samples to explain the landscape, most of which was due to those volcanos again. The first thing we came across was an ancient stone cross marking the pilgrimage to Mont de St Michel.
Halfway round we stopped at the Domaine du Gasseau, a big chateau with potager or veg garden which we obviously had to look over.
There was also a show of photos taken in local ponds that was charming.
Back on track we climbed up through heathy woodland to traverse an escarpment before descending to the river and Tranny.
Our next stop was St Ceneri le Gerei, listed as one of “France’s prettiest villages. “
It was indeed very pretty but its tweeness had probably driven up property prices and driven out the locals. We certainly came upon a few groups of Brits who had invested in a French dream home.
There was a wonderful garden open to the public , Les Jardins de la Masoniere,made up of 18 different enclosed spaces. The plantings and landscaping had a certain je ne sais pas ,a certain joix de vie. Magnifique!
There was going to be a classical concert held there the following night lit by 1000 candles which would have been magic but we had to go in search of a shower. It had been too long.
We found one miles down tiny back roads at La Ribardiere organic cider farm, which was handy. They had a couple of caravans and people camping, so for a couple of quid we were able to wash and clean and sit in the orchard sipping the produce. No air miles involved.
The sheds were covered in solar panels which was something we’ve seen a lot of in this area of France.
A very quiet Saturday morning on the farm with only the sounds of cows and birds was followed by a short drive into “Swiss Normandy”.
Like the Alpes Mancelles, the name was a bit of poetic license but it was a dramatic landscape on a smallish scale.
We stopped at La Roche d’Oetre where the escarpment peak at the Swiss like altitude of 118m, gives a fine view of the surrounding wooded river gorges. Like on our previous Alpinne experience the hills were all that was left of the oldest mountains in Europe, the Armorican massif. We did the trail.
There’s a pretty convincing head profile in this slab of rock.
The path circled around down through the oak woods and along the river below.
The river meanders were impressive but I couldn’t get a decent view of it and in the end Serena came up with the best display.
We were gradually making our way north towards Cherbourg and the end of our time away. We had one more night on the road and we trusted our parkup guide to supply somewhere nice en route. It didn’t let us down and when we arrived at the Abbey in Cerisy le Foret at the edge of a huge oak forest we were delighted to find a sculpture park had been created there. Every year since the mid 90’s artists from around the world had been invited to an annual festival to carve a piece in public and in 2013 a park was made to house 112 works by 71 sculptors from 34 countries and the municipal camper park was in the middle of it.
There was also a placid pond surrounded by the marble and granite pieces.
And the mighty Abbey above it all.
A fine meeting place of artistic cultures and a very tranquil spot to contemplate the end of our journey.
Which only left the next morning to complete our trip by returning to the sea we had left in Holland on the first day of our Grand Tour.