At the start of spring, the tall trees are turning green again and the pink flowers of apple trees are emerging in the orchards. More than ever, the Perche is a harmoniously undulating green countryside, where bocage, forests, rivers, ponds, small towns of character and picturesque villages alternate. The “quiet roads” (these are marked tourist circuits) which crisscross it allow you to discover it without hurrying.
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Located at two o’clock West of Paris, it’s an ideal destination to unwind for a weekend or more, and why not to telecommute in peace? Parisians, and many others, have understood this who, for a few years now, have settled there or acquired second homes, giving new dynamism to localities injured by the rural exodus.
A shared passion for my hike
Jean-Noël Malherbe has spent his entire career there as an English teacher. When he retired, he devoted himself more than ever to his passion, hiking. To share it, he created the rando-perche.fr site which offers routes for walkers, cyclists and even horse riders. In mid-April, while the forests are still hesitating a little between winter and spring, Jean-Noël Malherbe is proposing to take the “tram line” from La Chapelle-Montligeon. This town is known throughout the world for its sanctuary created in the 19th century.e century by Abbot Buguet. This dynamic country priest had built a huge neo-Gothic basilica and opened, among other things, a printing press to help the local inhabitants out of poverty by giving them work and housing. Today, the printing press is closed, but its premises, renovated, accommodate craftsmen.
The hiking route begins, on the side of the sanctuary, with a steep path that should not be discouraging: the path then winds calmly through the oak and beech groves, crosses the hamlet of Courthenou, then plunges into the forest. de Réno-Valdieu and ended up following the old route of the narrow gauge railway which, from 1913 to 1936, covered in 2 hours 40 minutes the 54 km separating Mortagne-au-Perche from La Loupe, conveying thousands of pilgrims.
On foot, by bike or on horseback
If the old tracks have been removed, the masonry embankments, a bridge and a viaduct are still there, buried in the greenery. The difference in height is modest, the route without difficulty so that it takes at most 2 hours and 30 minutes to cover the 9.3 km of this loop around La Chapelle-Montligeon. The forest of Réno-Valdieu is no exception: all the forests of Perche invite to beautiful walks on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike. The GR 22, 35 and 235 cross this territory, while cyclists will take the “Perche” section of the Véloscénie. These forests are also suitable for horse-drawn carriage rides pulled by some of these sturdy Percheron horses which, for centuries, have been the glorious symbol of this territory.
In Saint-Martin du Vieux-Bellême, for example, Gérard Beauté willingly drives holidaymakers and, on occasion, newlyweds in a car pulled by two mares, Roxane and Quianty. The help of his teammate, Gilles Joseph, is not too much to lead the two enormous beasts not always willing to move forward together, in the sunken paths lined with hawthorn and between the huge oaks of the forest of Bellême where they worked , formerly, more than 2000 people (clog makers, pit sawyers, charcoal burners, stevedores, masters of harnesses, etc.).
The past power of the Counts of Perche
This time is no more. Bocage and forests nonetheless continue to make the charm of Perche, just like its pretty villages with houses here in Roussard sandstone, there in flint, but most often in limestone enhanced with an ocher or pink coating made with ferruginous sand. If, in Nogent-le-Rotrou, the imposing Romanesque keep still testifies to the past power of the Counts of Perche, several small “towns of character” formerly entrenched behind their ramparts, also tell a part of the history of this province durably marked by the Hundred Years War as by the wars of religion. And also by religious piety. This is the case for La Perrière, Mortagne-au-Perche or even Bellême, a village which, in the more recent past, benefited from the largesse of another local child named Aristide Boucicaut. He was the owner of Bon Marché, a Parisian department store.
During the Renaissance, the Perche saw the growth of magnificent mansions. There are about a hundred left. One of the most beautiful is in Courboyer: its outbuildings house the Maison du Parc naturel régional which is a mine of information. Covered with churches, abbeys, priories, this very rural land also invites contemplation and meditation. Under the leadership of its new rector, Don Paul Denizot, the Notre-Dame de Montligeon sanctuary continues to pray for the deceased and to welcome (excluding a pandemic, of course) pilgrims, young people and families. At the Abbey of Notre-Dame de la Trappe in Soligny, the monks still lead their lives of prayer and work. With the harvests of their orchards, they make succulent fruit pastes sold in their shop.
Innovations for all tastes
These men of God are not the only ones to perpetuate ancestral gestures. In this land of orchards and livestock where there has been a proliferation of rural lodges, rooms, charming hotels and good restaurants, local producers still cultivate tradition but no longer hesitate to innovate. With the arrival of ” rushed “ (nickname given to the new inhabitants), new ideas have irrigated this territory and new outlets have opened up: on his property in Comblot, Grégoire Ferré offers apple juice, cider and perry, all organic. In Courgeon, at the Ferme de l ‘Etoile, the Samoëns sell dairy products, meats, cold cuts, pâtés and prepared meals. In Bellême, the La Chapelle soap factory specializes in soaps made from natural products.
And in Mortagne-au-Peche, famous for its black pudding fair in March, succulent goat cheeses are sold on the market every Saturday morning. Second-hand dealers and craftsmen have also found in the Perche a territory which marries tradition and modernity wonderfully. This is evidenced by La Perrière, the Maison d’Horbé which serves delicious brunches in a sumptuous setting where chic flea markets and delicatessen coexist. Definitely, the Perche has become a land of surprises.
* Find out more, find accommodation: ornetourisme.com. In Bellême: perchenormand.fr/tourisme. In Mortagne: tourisme-mortagne-au-perche.fr. And also: parc-naturel-perche.fr
* To meditate or visit the basilica of the Montligeon Chapel: montligeon.org
* To choose a hiking route: rando-perche.fr
* For a carriage ride: association-belleme-attelages.business.site
* To buy local products: La Maison d’Horbé in La Perrière: lamaisondhorbe.com. Chez Grégoire Ferré in Comblot: lamaisonferre.fr The farm of the star in Courgeon: fermedeletoile.fr. And also: Notre-Dame de la Trappe Abbey in Soligny: latrappe.fr. And Savonnerie de la Chapelle in Bellême: savonneriedelachapelle.com
* A guide to read: Le Perche. Backpacker’s guide. 112 p. € 4.90.
For more information, see: voyage.blogs.la-croix.com