La Basse Cour: B&B near Alencon, Normandy
Normandy B&B : Alpes Mancelles
The Alpes Mancelles
Alpes Mancelles Tour
The Alpes Mancelles are a few minutes to the west of our bed and breakfast and just south of Alençon; they form a picturesque, undulating region which some say resembles an alpine scene - hence the name, we suppose. It doesn't look much like the Alps to us, but maybe we lack imagination!! Regardless, it is a delightful area of picturesque villages, hills and little river valleys clad in woodland, heather and broom.
Start your visit at the Alençon Tourist Office located in the Maison d'Ozé, next to the Notre Dame church in the pedestrianised old town centre. This superb residence was once the townhouse of the noblemen of Saint Paterne. It is said that the two houses are linked by underground passages which were used as escape routes by the Huguenots during the Wars of Religion. At the tourist office you can pick up a Guide Touristique with a tourist trail of the town, taking in the principal buildings and sights. The main free car park in the town centre is next to the Hotel de Ville and Palais de Justice.
Leave Alençon heading west towards St Malo on the N12 via St Denis sur Sarthe; at Lentillère just before the hotel turn left then right on a small forest road towards Mont des Avaloirs.
A belvedere marks the summit of the Mont des Avaloirs (417m/1368ft), one of the highest points in western France and visible on the road from Ancinnes to Alençon. The summit is heavily covered with vegetation, which blocks some of the view, but it is possible to see the Alpes Mancelles and Mont Souprat from the belvedere, where there is a table d'orientation.
From the belvedere continue on the same road to a crossroads and turn right to Pré en Pail; turn left through the town on the N12 then after the roundabout turn left onto the D20, the Corniche du Pail. The corniche road climbs out of the valley and on a clear day in spring or late autummn provides lovely views over the Mayenne basin to Mont Margatin (NW), the belfry of Domfront church (NW) and the Andaines forest (N). 9 km from Pré en Pail there is a vieawpoint on your right. From there retrace your route half a kilometre back towards Pré en Pail and turn right on the D218 to Gesvres and then left on the D121 to St Pierre des Nids. Turn right to Saint-Céneri-le-Gerei.
Saint-Céneri-le-Gerei is classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France; it is a magnet for artists and is really worth a visit. There are several restaurants and creperies here to choose from for lunch. Make sure you visit the church from where there are wonderful views down the valley and some very interesting sculptures and frescoes inside. The chapel which stands alone in a field near the church dates from the 9th century.
Just outside the village (sideroad off the main road to Alençon) are the Gardens of the Mansonière. These are nine separate but linked gardens, each with its own theme. Last Saturday evening each month in summer there is a candlelit walk followed by a concert in the gardens.
From St Cenéri continue to St Leonard des Bois. St Leonard in the Alpes Mancelles is a popular centre for rock-climbing and canoeing and is home to a tree-top adventure park. The church here has a group of 14 terracotta figures made in the 1600's and representing the burial of the Virgin.
Starting in the church square there is a lovely walk up the Vallée de Misère, about 1-1.5 hrs depending on your pace. Take the path from the corner of the church square by the Hotel Bon Laboureur. At a crossroads with a stone cross take a steep, rocky path uphill. Beyond the hamlet of Le Champ des Pasfore turn left. At the next crossroads turn left onto a path marked in red and white. From a bench there is a lovely view over the Vallée de Misère, St Leonard and the Manoir de Linthe (downstream), with the Multonne forest over to the left. Return along the same path past a fenced field and take the path downhill through la Barre, returning to the crossroads with the stone cross and back to St Leonard.
Continue south from St Leonard and after 2km turn left on the D112 to Sougé le Ganelon, a pretty little village which is filled with flower baskets and tubs in summer. The church has some beautiful 20th century stained glass.
Turn left on the D15 to Fresnay sur Sarthe. Away from the main road in the old town centre there is a lovely network of narrow sreets and alleys. If nothing else, go to the ramparts of the old castle (behind the church of Our Lady) and admire the views over the river. The tourist office near the crossroads in the town centre has lots of free leaflets detailing walks throughout the surrounding region.
Leave Fresnay the way you came in and fork right on the D111 to St Victeur and Oisseau le Petit. Just outside Oisseau (left at the T junction before you get to Oisseau) is a reconstruction of a small Gallo-Roman temple, the remains of which were only discovered in 1976.
From Oisseau le Petit head for the N138/D438, the main road from Alençon to Le Mans. Cross straight over towards Bourg le Roi. This ancient walled 'cité' still shows remnants of its proud past, with a ruined keep (accessible on foot), better preserved ramparts and massive granite portals to the east (as you head towards Ancinnes) and south (from Louvigny). There is a small embroidery/tapestry museum which you must visit if it is open when you are there; there are regular demonstrations during summer weekends. There is a well-preserved "lavoir", or washhouse, in the gardens which lead from the church to a small lake. The tiny butcher's shop also sells wonderful rillettes and boudin made on the premises and there is a bar (which shuts for lunch!). In the centre of the square is a memorial marking the point where General Leclerc rested during the liberation drive north to Alençon.
From Bourg le Roi return to Ancinnes.