Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

La Suisse Normandie

This tiny part of Normandie, about 25 kilometres south of Caen, lying along the gorge of the River Orne, whilst straddling the Calvados and Orne departments. derives its name from the River Orne which cuts its way through the ancient rocks of the Armorican Massif, digging gorges and cliffs, and thus creating some really spectacular landscapes. Whilst the name is a little implausible – as there are no mountains or lakes – it is quite unique, with rocky escarpments and wooded hills at every turn.

Amongst this verdant, ever-changing scenery, an assortment of buildings can be found -houses, farms, churches, which look more like the dark granite dwellings of Brittany than the half-timber houses of the nearby Pays d'Auge. A land of cattle breeding and traditional agriculture where the residents have succeeded in maintaining peaceful way of life, quite different from the frenzied pace of the Normandy seaside resorts.

Along the river between Thury-Harcourt and Putanges-Pont-Ecrepin there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits: you can race along the Orne in canoes and kayaks, cruise more sedately on pedloes or a weird genus of inflatable rubber tractor, possibly dangle on ropes from the sheer rock-faces high above. If you are a walker the Orne can be very frustrating: footpaths along the river are few and far between and usually entirely overgrown.

This is canoeing and rock-climbing country, and there are endless good walksin the stretch along the southern border of the province designated as the Parc Naturel Régional de Normandie-Maine

Thury is the gateway to this beautiful unspoilt area, an elegant litt¬le town and tourist centre, stands on the banks of the Orne. The town adopted the name Harcourt from the Norman family, Harcourt who came from the town of Harcourt, north-west of Évreaux. In 1700 Thury became the ancestral seat of the family. Close to the river are the ruins of a magnificent château, once the residence of the governors of Normandie, which was burnt to the ground by retreating German forces in 1944. All that remains intact are the entrance pavilions, chapel and a few outbuildings that stand in the middle of 70 hectares of beautifully-tended park and gardens as a tragic and romantic reminder of the past

However, the park and gardens that extend for about 4km along the river, offer the prospect of many delightful walks along walkways lined with trees and shrub – especially beautiful in springtime. The lower levels, closest to the town are planted with flowerbeds and grassy paths.

Today, many travellers come to Thury-Harcourt to experience and explore the “Norman Alps”, a type of mountain range or uplands formed by the River Orne and the Rouvrou.

A pleasant afternoon walk is to Boucle du Hom, about 5 kilometres; Leave the town by Rue d’Auray and cross the river, after a kilometre or so you will see a turning to your right, signposted D212A. This will take you around the west bank of the river, skirting the river’s steep bank. Make frequent stops at the viewpoints to see the amazing scenery. Eventually you come to Le Hom, where the road enters a deep cutting through the rock, follow the path to your right that takes you on to the promontory with spectacular views across the river valley. Returning to Thury by the D6 you will find Mont Pinçon, a 365 metre hillock overlooking the town. Views from the top provide a wide ranging panorama of the Bocage, no wonder the Germans fought so hard to retain it during the Battle of Normandie. Local storytellers will tell you about a farmer whose pastime was disposing of stranded German soldiers by throwing them head first down his well…..

Now to travel south along the Vallée de L’Orne, by following the RD562 you come first to Chapelle de la Bonne-Nouvelle sat atop a small hill. Rapidly followed by St-Rémy-sur-Orne,a commune formed on 28th November 1827 by Royal Decree and iron-ore mines that date back to the third quarter of the 19th century. Here you can visit “Musée Les Fosses d’Enfer” and learn about the Geology of the area, the rocks and minerals of the region, the miners and their lifestyle.

The museum is open from Easter to the end of October

April & October: 2pm to 5.30pm. Closed Tuesday;
May, June & September: 2pm to 6pm. Closed Tuesday;
July & August: 10am to 12.30pm and 2.30pm to 6pm

Adults: 4,60€
Children: 2,30€
Students and Seniors 3,10€

Tele:(0033) (0)2 31 69 67 77

As you approach Clécy,across the river you will see the craggy Rochers de la Houle and Le Pain du Sucre. Clécy is a very old town, mentioned in an act by Charles le Chauve (Grandson of Charlemagne). In earlier time there were three small castles: before the Mérovingienne period, a feudal Mound on Cantelou, at the time Carolingian, Châtelet located opposite the current church on the west bank. During the 19th century the river was crossed by a small ferry or flat-bottomed boat until 1868 when a new bridge was constructed lower down the river from the old bridge. Today the community makes its living from tourism and dairy produce.

Places to stay.

Au Site Normond,
1 Rue des Châtelets
Tel: (0033) (0)

An old-fashioned, good-value, dining room in the main timber-framed building with the accommodation in a group of newer buildings at the rear.

Across the river, surrounded by magnificent gardens is a luxury hotel that takes its name from a restored watermill by the bridge, which confusingly enough, is now a restaurant.

Moulin du Vey
Le Vey
Tel: (0033) (0)

In the Parc des Loisirs, is Musée du Chemin de Fer Miniature, a model railway exhibition, which will certainly appeal to the children, I know our grandchildren enjoyed it. When the main lights go out the layout comes alive like a fairy grotto. There is also a narrow gauge train that takes visitors around the park, well worth a visit.

March–Easter Sun 2–5.30pm
Easter–June & Sept daily 10am–noon & 2–6pm
July & Aug daily 10am–noon & 2–6.30pm
Oct–Nov Sun 2–5pm

Contact Emmanuel Crué for more information:.

Whilst on the subject of railways at one time there was a line that operated between Caen and Fliers. The main purpose was to serve the rapidly expanding industrial town of Condé-Sur-Noireau during the second half of the 19th-century. By 1908 the station at Pont-Erambourg was dealing with twelve goods trains a day as well as fifteen passenger trains. During WW2 the line was hit by allied bombers on numerous occasions, particularly around Thury-Harcourt and Condé-sur-Noireau. From 1950 the passenger service was operated by X3800 class railcars, the famous “Picassos” until the passenger service ceased on the 3rd May 1970. However, freight trains continued to run until December 1979 when the line finally closed. In the early 1990’s an attempt was made to resurrect the line using X2719 railcars, although they carried 40,000 passengers during the two years of operation the scheme was deemed a disaster. Since then the line has been maintained by ACF and a velo-rail experiment has been operating near Pont-Erambourg using hand-powered rail inspection cars. On the 12th December 2006 the Conseil Régional de Basse-Normandie decided they would save the line. It is expected that the regional rail operator will use the Alstom LHB Coradia LINT railcars to provide a tourist train in the near future, so hopefully we will see trains running once again through the breath-taking scenery of Suisse-Normandie very soon.

Anyhow back to the journey through Suisse-Normandie, as you follow the road to Pont d’Ouilly you will find Chapelle St-Roch on the Plateau des Hogues and dominating the valleys of the Orne and Noireau, This 16th century pilgrimage chapel, on the ancient road to Bretagne, is decorated with modern frescoes depicting the life of St-Roch by Maurice le Scouèzec (a Breton artist), it is well worth a visit. A pardon (religious festival held once a year at a church to honour the local patron saint) is usually held on the first Sunday after 15th August, when everyone attends in traditional local Norman costumes.

Pont d’Ouilly is a quiet, charming village at the confluence of the Orne and Noireau rivers with lots to offer, wonderful food shops, a Sunday morning market, a beautiful old market hall and a few small hotels. As a visitor, you will find everything revolves around the river, which flows through the centre of the village.

The original bridge over the river had eight arches with a cross in the middle that denoted the boundary between two parishes and between the two communes of Ouilly-le-Basset and of Saint-Marc-d'Ouilly. A new bridge was built between September 22, 1849 and May 14, 1851. Unfortunately on Tuesday October 5, 1852, the river rose to such an extent that it demolished part of the new bridge. Thus the fifth arch was built after the accident. During the Battle of Normandy, the bridge is bombed many times; finally being destroyed on Saturday August 12, 1944.

A week later British Army engineers built a Bailey bridge baptized Jacqueline Bridge.The bridge you see today was built between June 1947 and May 17, 1948and inaugurated by M. Marcel Guyon, the mayor of the commune.

As you leave to village the road passes a large rock, the upper part of which resembles a loin’s head. Passing through Pont-des-Vers the road climbs, revealing a view of Rouvre and the Rouvrou meander, breathtaking! Once in the village park your car and follow the signs for “Site de St-Jean” and turning right after the cemetery. From the viewpoint, shaded by pine trees, you will see the river at its narrowest point.

The next place of interest along the gorge is Roche d’Oêtre, one of the most prestigious viewpoints in the region. This rocky escarpment, 118 metres high with precipices offers some ethereal views of the river gorges. Its surroundings suggest that it was used as a natural refuge for outlaw all kinds.The cave, "House of the Fairies", according to legend is said to have been the hiding place for the Chouans, highwaymen and other bandits.

At the summit, there is a viewing table from where the view of the precipice is quite breathtaking.To the right and below, some 30 or 40 metres from the edge, is a new wooden pavilion, known as "The Flag of Roche d’Oëtre",which has provided visitors with refreshments, souvenir shop, information centre and museum since May 2007.Why not make this your lunch stop and take a break for a meal in beautiful surroundings?

Restaurant La Roche D'Oêtre
Bar Terrasse
Chef de cuisine - M. ROGER
Tél: 0033 (0)2 31 68 87 45

The road now head south-east across the river and climbs towards Rabodanges and the barrage. However those with the penchant for walking can take the footpath through the wild, wooded and steep-sided Gorge de St-Aubert to see the ruins of St Aubert’s Church and the traces of the Roman porch.

The chateau was built during the reign of Louis XIII by Louis III of Rabodanges as a replacement for an earlier fortified building. Situated on a small mound and surrounded by ditches with access in by way of a stone bridge, this splendid example of perfect symmetry.The gardens are laid out in a very pretty style with a bordered terrace surmounted by two graceful structures designed by François Mansart

The chateau is open Monday to Friday (July-September) for exterior visits only.

Another place to visit is Lac de Rabodanges and the Barrage, built by Electricité de France to generate hydro-electricity, creating a man-made lake in the process. To preserve the ecological balance of the river spillways were installed, thus the wild and rugged landscape flourishes. This is a tranquil, beautiful place to sit and watch the various species of water wildlife – ducks, grebes, ash-blonde herons and water-fowl as they feed on the innumerable fish in the lake. There again you might decide to try your hand at fishing or just wander along the wooded shoreline.

Something a little different!!!

Why not take a voyage on the only cruise ship in the department, “Val d’Orne” and discover a true paradise of nature: Lac de Rabodanges. This artificial lake was born out of the

 construction of a hydroelectric barrier in 1960 that swallowed up the Valéle d’Orne for a distance of seven kilometres. Alexander, your captain and guide and brightens your voyage with anecdotes and of pieces of information about local life. And now, attention to your head, as we pass under a bridge! Along the shoreline you will see some of the houses, others disappeared when the barrier was built, including the hamlet of Sainte-Croix where the chapel disappeared under waters of the lake. Over the years numerous water activities developed, including a water skiing school. The construction of the barrage was done in such a way as to preserve the ecological balance of the river. In a landscape of apparent rocks, ducks, grebes and herons criss-cross the wooded shores and treat themselves luxurious water wildlife of the lake. All along the shoreline you will see fishermen devoting themselves to their favourite activity.

For further information and prices please contact our good friends:

Le Val D'Orne
61210 Putanges

Tel: 0033 (0)2 33 39 30 30
Fax: 0033 (0)2 33 39 76 34

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