La Basse Cour: B&B near Alencon, Normandy

Gardens, Chateaux & Sights
in Normandy and Pays de Loire


La Basse Cour B&B

Alençon old town is a maze of narrow medieval cobbled streets, with dozens of cafes, shops, restaurants, parks and street markets (Thursday and Saturday). The Parc des Promenades near the château regularly hosts open-air shows, festivals and fairs and has a delightful rose garden near the bandstand.

You can hire a handset and follow an audio tour on foot from the Alençon Tourist Office. This is housed in the former palace of the Dukes of Alençon, the 'Maison d'Ozé', next to the spectacular Basilica of Notre Dame. Nearby in Rue St Blaise you can visit the family home of St Therese of Lisieux, which draws pilgrims from around the world, and the exhibition of Alençon lace in the Museum of Fine Arts - the lace workshops are just next door.

You will find many excellent restaurants, cafés and bars in Alençon.

From November 2019 the grounds of the Chateau des Ducs, Alencon's medieval castle, is newly landscaped and opened to the public. It now links the main car park (free) next to the Town Hall with a pretty park on the other side of the little river Briante.

Day Trips in Normandy and Pays de la Loire

Châteaux, Gardens etc. in Normandy and Pays de la Loire

Chateau Carrouges

Gardens to Visit in Normandy and Pays de la Loire

St Ceneri le Gerei
There are dozens of gardens to visit within a short drive - and our own garden is free for you to explore with its lawns, kitchen garden, fruit trees, herbaceous beds and water plants.

The number of gardens to visit in Normandy and Pays de Loire is enormous so we have listed a selection on a special page
Gardens in Normandy and Pays de Loire.

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Château de Sassy

Chateau de Sassy
The château is close to the village of Saint-Christophe-le-Jajolet in the Orne.

A traditional formal French garden with pathways leading from the château and its terraces, inviting the visitor to walk the length of the gardens. At one end of the garden is a charming orangery, framed by limes.

The hedges which border the garden and individual beds are constructed of evergreens such as boxwood, yew and bay.

The whole of this site was constructed over the course of more than century: from the main part of the château at the end of 18th to the creation of the French garden about 1925.

Opening : From the 15/6 to the 15/9, 10h30 to 12h30 and 14h to 18h. Easter Saturday to the 14/6 and the 16/9 to the 30/9, weekends and festivals, 15h to 18h.

Self-guided visits to the garden, guided for the château.

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Château d'O

Chateau d'Ô
In the heart of the countryside, between Sées and Argentan, sits this this splendid Norman Renaissance château, located near Mortrée. The Château d'O bears the name of the family that built it at the end of XV century and is also literally a "château d'eau", as the building is reflected in the water of the moats which surround it. It comprises three wings - the Xvth century East wing in a Gothic-Renaissance style, the XvIth century South Wing, and the XvIIth century West Wing in brick and stone.

It matches in beauty the best châteaux of the Loire.

The decoration of the interior court, the complexity of the roofs, the slim character of the turrets, the marriage of brick and stone, all add to the elegance and charm of the château. Inside are pretty frescoes and trompes l'oeil.

The château is open most afternoons from June to mid-September from 1.30pm to 5.00pm.

Close by is the Château de Médavy. Haut page

Château de Médavy

Chateau Medavy
In the 11th century a fortified keep was constructed to protect a crossing on the Orne at this point near Médavy. In the 16th century this was replaced by a stronger fortification with four outlying towers joined by a curtain wall; further defences were added by diverting the path of the River Orne itself to feed the moat which still surrounds the château to this day, although two of the towers have fallen into ruin due to the ravages of weather and fire respectively. The two remaining towers are nowadays topped by domes, which replaced the previous pointed defensive roofs when Louis 13th ordered the removal of the curtain walls which joined the towers, out of fear of future rebellion by the lords of Normandy.

The château houses some interesting 19th century furniture and the library has some wonderful original maps of the departements of France as they were at the time of their creation following the Revolution.

Close by is the Château d'O. Haut page

Château de Carrouges

Chateau de Carrouges
This elegant residence has kept its original charm and features, marrying the roughness of a medieval fortress with touches of the Renaissance and the lines of the Classical period.

Growing in size and grandeur between the XIV (the fortified keep) and the XVII (two renaissance aparment wings) centuries, the Château de Carrouges evolved with Normandy itself and was embroiled in both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion. Broad moats fortify the buildings. The château was originally owned by the Carrouges family then passed through marriage to the Blosset and Le Veneur families, where it stayed until 1936 when the castle became property of the State, the owners' iron forging business having fallen into hard times during the 19th century industrial revolution and the upkeep becoming unaffordable.

The entrance is via the brick red gatehouse and steep roofs, behind which you will discover the castle. Cross the bridge over the moats and enter the castle to arrive at the beautiful interior courtyard, before entering the main buildings to explore the rooms and apartments.

There is a shop housed in the nearby "Collegiale" church with a good selection of locally produced produce and crafts, as well as a small gift shop in the château courtyard.

Self-guided visits to the garden, guided (45mins) for the château.

Open all year except Christmas Day.

April 1 - June 15 and Sept 1 - 30: 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 18.00

16 June - 31 August: 09.30 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 18.30

1 Oct - 31 March 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 17.00

Website for Château de Carrouges Haut page


domfront donjon fortresse jardin
Domfront has existed since the XI century, with the construction of a wooden fortification of which there remains no trace. Very soon after this original, a stone construction was built with an imposing keep and 24 towers connected by a system of ramparts.

Today the ruins of the keep and a dozen towers remain, hinting at the power of the medieval city coveted by lords and kings, both English and French. The court of Henri II was once housed here.

The old town is well preserved; you can see the half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, architectural details, sculptures and roofs which attest to its long history.

Do not miss pans from the north ramparts onto the valley, and from the garden of the keep towards Mont Margentin. Haut page


Ballon jardin
Ballon is at a strategic point in the Sarthe, between Mamers and Le Mans. An ancient outpost guarding the entry to the Maine, the Fortress of Ballon has stood high on a rocky outcrop looking northwards over Normandy for over a thousand years.

It has been classed as a national monument for almost a hundred years (1923).

It is surrounded by extensive medieval and renaissance gardens which display topiary, fruit trees, old-fashioned roses, clematis, paeonies and viburnums.

Opening hours

- May to mid July, gardens open every weekend from 14h30 to 18h30

- mid July to end of August, gardens and castle keep open every afternoon 14h30 to 18h30, except Thursday Haut page

Haras du Pin

Haras du Pin
The nationally renowned stud farm of the Haras du Pin was created in 1665 on the initiative of Colbert with the approval of Louis XIV; the stud was, and still is, responsible for improving French horse breeding bloodlines. Each summer the stallions of the Haras du Pin are sent to all points of the country to cover mares.

The buildings, brought into service in 1730, were built according to plans of Pierre Le Mousseux and the parks were inspired by Le Nôtre.

Called the Versailles of the horse, the Haras du Pin is home to sixty stallions of 10 different races.

If you love horses, do not miss the Thursday demonstrations of carriage driving and horsemanship in the grounds (June to September) in the Cour Colbert.

It is possible to visit in addition the stables, the saddle rooms and the paddocks, plus the château, its furniture, its pictures and the XVIIc tapestries. Haut page


Cathedral of Sées
Several thousand years old, Sées is an ancient city and staging point with a magnificent cathedral and is a seat of religious learning. Sées became an episcopal city in AD 400, when Saint Latuin evangelised the area and became bishop.

The cathedral, a splendid and majestic monument of the XIII and XIV centuries, underlines the religious character of the city which accomodates a number of religious communities, seminaries and colleges.

Built on an unstable ground, it had to be reinforced by enormous buttresses on each side: in XVI century, the front façade began to lean dangerously and further support was needed; despite these additions, the building remains one of the most beautiful examples of Norman Gothic art.

The 70 m high spires can be seen from more than 10 kilometres away. Outside, see the central and side portals. Inside, the choir, the transept and the high altar from the Louis XVI period, designed by Brousseau. The organ is a 1743 Parisot, later turned into a Cavaillé-Coll in 1883 and restored in 1972.

Some of the other churches and sites in the city deserve to be visited - for example the Basilique de l'Immaculée Conception. The cathedral and town were used as the backdrop for the film "Jeanne d'Arc", the award-winning 1999 masterpiece of writer and director Luc Besson, starring Milla Jovovich as Joan of Arc, Dustin Hoffman as The Conscience, Faye Dunaway as Yolande D'Aragon and John Malkovich as The Dauphin / Charles VII.

In summer the "Musilumières", a fabulous light and music show inside the Cathedral, starts at 10.30pm and is well worth a visit after an evening meal in one of the nearby restaurants. Haut page


Camembert village
If France is the country of cheese, Normandy is the greatest cheese-making area of all.

Although all of Normandy produces cheese, the Pays d'Auge and Pays de Bray are most well known thanks to the fame of certain cheeses: Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l'évêque and Neufchatel. Most famous of all is Camembert, a national symbol along with the baguette and the beret.

From the Middle Ages, you find traces of commercial cheese production in Camembert.

The Camembert we know today was actually created in the XVII century, although legend gives credit to Marie Harel, supposedly given the secret of the recipe by a monk to safeguard it at the time of the Revolution. The invention of the now traditional poplar wood Camembert box was essential to the success of Camembert from the 1890s, as it made it easier to transport.

Visit the Camembert museum at the tourist office where the complex, 10-stage process of making this cheese is explained. They can also give a list of places selling cheese direct from the farm and where to lunch.

While you are here, you should also try to visit one of the many farms that produce calvados and pommeau. One such is owned by Monsieur Ollivier at the nearby village ofCrouttes, who always gives a warm welcome to visitors on his lovely 17th century farm, but you will see signs for calvados, pommeau and poiré by the side of many a road.

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Château de Vendeuvre

Chateau de Vendeuvre
The Château of Vendeuvre was built in 1750 by Alexandre le Forestier d'Osseville as a summer residence; it has been handed down from father to son ever since and is still occupied by the same family. Attributed to architect J.F. Blondel, this château is the perfect illustration of a leisure residence and has managed to preserve its original decor and furniture. In the orangerie of the château, the Museum of Miniature Furniture displays more than 700 pieces of furniture and thousands of other 'Lilliputian' objects illustrating, on a reduced scale, the decorative arts from the 16th century to the 1930s. You will also find three fabulous gardens around the castle: a garden in the formal French style, a utility garden and the famous water gardens - not to be missed! Haut page

St Céneri-le-Gérei and the Gardens of La Mansonière

St Céneri-le-Gérei from the church
Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei is classed as one of the most beautiful villages in France; it is a magnet for artists and is really worth a visit and a wander.

There are several restaurants and creperies here to choose from for lunch - make sure you do not leave it too late as they get busy in season. Make sure you visit the church from where there are wonderful views down the valley and some very interesting sculptures and frescoes inside, particularly the unusual metal sculptures of the stations of the cross. The walk along the riverside, which is lit up at night, leads to the old chapel of St Céneri, where on the opposite river bank is a stone shrine marking the spot where the miraculous spring came forth at the saint's behest.

Nearby (on the road north) the Jardins de la Mansonière is a delightful garden that must be visited, open every afternoon except Tuesday June to early September, and open Friday-Sunday afternoons in May. There are nine gardens to explore, each to a different theme and design.

Last Saturday of each month June - August the gardens host musical evenings in the open air (under cover if weather is inclement) and the paths through the gardens are lit at night by candles, making a delightful spectacle. Haut page

Lassay les Châteaux

lassay les chateaux
There are three châteaux at Lassay, of which the best is undoubtedly the medieval château-fort in the town centre. This is one of the best preserved medieval forts in France, with its structure entirely intact. Its eight towers with a remarkable barbican (unique in France) protecting the working drawbridge make it a remarkable example of medieval castle architecture.

Before visiting the château, cross the roadbridge (downhill from the crossroads in the town centre) and go down the steps to the lake for a view of the château from below; circle the lake and climb up the track to the château itself. The guided visit includes the exterior and interior of the château, the ramparts, the various defensive structures, and the surprisingly attractive grounds and gardens.

The second château, château du Bois-Thibault, is also worth a visit if time allows - you can safely miss the château du Bois-Frou.

Open weekend afternoons from Easter to end of May 14h30 to 18h30

Open every afternoon June to end of September 14h30 to 18h30 Haut page

Logis du Moullins

Logis du Moullins
The Logis du Moullins manor house is just a few minutes by car from Ancinnes, between the neighbouring villages of Louvigny and St Rémy-du-Val. The architecture dates from the Gallo-Roman period to the 16th century: its buildings include the remains of a priory founded in 995 (largely destroyed by the army of Henry V of England in the 15th century) and a superb 16th century manor house and chapel. During the French Revolution the buildings, particularly the chapel, were severely damaged and their materials re-used for other purposes. The property was purchased in 1982 by its current owners who have been restoring it in stages ever since. Open to the public Mon-Fri 11am-5pm in July, three weeks of August and one week of September (Wed 01 Jul 2015 to Fri 31 Jul 2015, Mon 10 Aug 2015 to Wed 26 Aug 2015, Wed 02 Sep 2015 to Wed 09 Sep 2015).

The House of Rural Life (Maison de la Ruralité) at St Rémy-du-Val houses an interesting exhibition (weekends only except by appointment) showing how hemp used to be grown, processed and used in the region; after a long period of decline, hemp is once again being grown in northern Sarthe and is used for house insulation. In the same village are the remains of a hilltop motte-and-bailey fortification and a traditional hemp oven, both near the church.

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Couesme Manor House

Logis du Moullins
Couesme Manor House can be found on the D108 between Ancinnes and Bourg-le-Roi, down a lane 200m on the left after "Les Ormeaux". It was the ancestral home of the lords of Couesmes, local wealthy landowners. The main building was constructed in the 14th century as a storage house; modified over subsequent years, it was listed as a hunting lodge in the 16th century.

The lords of Couesme first settled in the area around the year 1000 remained until 1669, the date when the Manoir de Couesmes was sold to the de Louvigny family. Charles de Couesme built up an immense fortune through marriage to successive sisters of the Harcourt family, barons of Bonnétable.

In the 17th century the manor fell into a state of abandon but was restored by the lords of Louvigny who demolished those parts of the property which were considered beyond repair.

At the time of the Revolution, Couesme manor and its outbuildings were being used for agricultural purposes and continued as farm buildings under successive owners. No interior changes were made until 1960-1970 when part of the ground floor was made habitable.

The house was added to the register of historic monuments (ISMH) in December 2005. Full restoration of the manor will take several years due to the scale of the work required.

Apart from occasional visits organised by the local tourist offices, special exhibitions and European Heritage Days (JEP), individual and group visits can be arranged with the owners on request. The exterior is open to the public daily.

Tel : ou Haut page