Sometimes it’s difficult to really appreciate what’s on your doorstep – and that’s one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance of a long weekend in northern France.
When looking for warm weather and a relaxing break, I would always tend to head farther south.
Not any more. My eyes were opened to what the north has to offer when I travelled to the L’Orne region.
Leaving Portsmouth on a Thursday, we took the overnight Brittany Ferries crossing to Caen, enjoying a bottle of wine as we left the harbour before retiring to our cabins.
This was perfect preparation for the three-night trip. When we woke we were refreshed and ready for our adventure .
Not wanting to miss a minute of what was on offer, we headed first for the Ferme de la Galotière outside the village of Crouttes. We learned how calvados and cidre are produced before taking a visit to the farm shop for a tasting. Boy was it good.
From apples and calvados, it was a short trip to nearby Camembert, home of the famous cheese.
La Ferme de la Héronnière is the only place left in the village which produces Camembert from single milk. As well as being able to watch close up how the cheese is made, you can also buy some delicious Camembert to take home. Well worth bringing a cool box for.
After the tasting, it was time to sit down and relax. We ate lunch at La Maison du Vert in Ticheville.
On a beautiful day we enjoyed a home-made vegetarian meal fresh from the garden in the outdoor dining area.
The afternoon was spent at Mémorial de Montormel, the World War Two memorial.
The beautiful spa town of Bagnoles-de-l’Orne was our base for the trip and we stayed at the Le Ô Gayot which, as well as being a hotel, hosts a superb restaurant.
I’ve never been a big fan of châteaus because as a child my parents felt the need to drag me round them on our family holidays in France.
But the château XIV au XVIIe in Carouges was fascinating. We were given a tour in English and it’s the perfect place to stop off for some culture and, if you fancy it, a picnic.
We weren’t that prepared, so headed to the nearby town of Alençon where we had lunch at Rive Droite.
After wandering the cobbled streets of the old town, it was time to check out the village of St Céneri-le-Gérei – famous because its beautiful setting attracts thousands of artists each year.
Back in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne we relaxed over dinner and wine at l’Hôtel Le Normandie before heading to the town’s casino – the perfect way to end our second day in France.
Sunday was more leisurely. Bagnoles-de-l’Orne is a famous spa town and is visited by thousands of people each year to take advantage of its waters.
Venturing into the forest for the first time, we headed for La Roche d’Oëtre. It’s lovely place to have a walk, enjoy beautiful scenery or let off some steam in the parc accrobranches.
Monday was the day of our return. but we had time to take an audiovisual tour around Haras national du Pin – one of the national stud farms. If you know nothing about horses you’ll be far more knowledgeable when you leave.
Northern France has so much to offer. I’m already making plans for another long weekend later this year.
Matthew travelled to northern France using Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth to Caen route.
Visit brittanyferries.com for more details and to book. Return channel crossings are from £75 for a car and two passengers.
Room-only prices for the Le O Gayot hotel in Bagnoles-de-l’Orne start from €55 for a classic room. Breakfast is an extra €9.
Visit Orne Tourism at normandy-travel.co.uk for a range of holiday ideas in the area.