Not so well trodden
The next stop on our Normandy road trip after Caen was the town of Alençon, before planning this trip I had never actually heard of Alençon, but we often like to throw in a less obvious town, to make the adventure a little bit more unique.
Suisse Normande Trail
However, as usual, we never like to take the direct route, so we headed south from Caen and picked up the 65k (40-mile) Suisse Normande tourist trail, that runs along the River Orne.
The route takes you through some very rural locations, passing by lovely small towns & villages and over the fantastic landscape, from which you can see for miles.
Back en-route we then head onto Alençon, where we have a full day of discovery ahead of us.
Our first impressions of the town were very positive, it had a real local feel about it and as a tourist felt very welcoming (which is always a good thing).
So, after our petit dejeuner in a local café, we took to the streets.
All within a short stroll of each other are some wonderful landmarks, firstly La Halle au Blé, an entirely circular building that was originally used for wheat trading, in 1865 a large glass dome was added.
Even the Gestapo
Then there is le Chateau des Ducs, although what remains is now a shadow of its former self, it has been witness to some rich history, including an invasion from William the Conqueror.
The Gestapo used it during WWII for horrific crimes, and it is only in recent times (2010) that it closed its doors to prisoners.
Close by is the neoclassical Palais de Justice built between 1818 – 1824 and also the prominent 18th-century L’Hôtel de Ville, with its curved façade.
Scattered around the L’Hôtel de Ville are some interesting sculptures and an adjoining garden, which was a really peaceful spot to rest in.
On a road trip?
Try and pick a town you wouldn’t normally be drawn too. You’ll never know what you’ll find
Is it a church?
From the outside, the 17th-century Baroque church is quite impressive, but it’s not until you wander inside that you discover what’s behind its walls.
A fantastic 18th-century wood panelled library, full of medieval manuscripts, you feel like you have entered Harry Potter’s world.
What a find!
We continue to stroll around the town, and there are so many pieces of interesting architecture, half-timbered homes and fascinating buildings.
One of which is the 15th-Century Maison à l’Étal, below its curved slated roof remains the original stone slab, which was used to sell and display the merchandiser’s wares.
The story continues…
For a fairly small town, Alençon has quite a bit of history, its most famous daughter being Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
A large basilica was built and dedicated to her in the city of Lisieux, where she lived and died. However, there is an incredible little chapel in Alençon which was built in 1925 next to her family home.
In the Basilica of Notre-Dame in the centre of town, a chapel is dedicated to Saint Thérèse. The basilica itself is of mixed styles due to the forces of nature, and damage and looting during the French Revolution.
Go take a look inside it has an unusual mixture of old & new stained glass windows.
Across the Place de la Magdeleine is la Maison d’Oze, once a 15th-century stately home has since been refurbished and is now home to the tourist office.
During the 16th-century lace making became a prominent local industry & Alençon lace was worn by the French Royalty. Although lace making continued on a small scale by Carmelite nuns, to ensure the technique survived a workshop has been set up in the town.
Food glorious food
On our adventures around Normandy, we’ve had some fantastic food; I’d actually go as far as to say some of the best we have had in France.
On our adventures around Normandy, we’ve had some fantastic food; I’d actually go as far as to say some of the best we have had in France. But while in Alençon we found a couple of little Bistros that we true gems Chez Fano & Le Bistrot.
Great value fixed price menus and some little treats off the a la carte.
Where we stayed
Our accommodation for the two nights in Alençon was at the Hotel Ibis, it been a while since we stayed in an Ibis, but not for any particular reason. As you may expect the facilities were fairly basic, but the staff and the location were fantastic.
They didn’t have onsite parking, but there were spaces at the front of the hotel. It was payable but only between 9am-12 & 2pm-5pm & was pretty reasonable.
Inspired to visit Alençon?
Okay, so the weather didn’t look great, but that’s not an overriding memory of Alençon. It was great food, a warm welcome, and historic streets. A nice place to discover the real Normandy.
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