Swiss Normandy is under an hour away from La Basse-Cour. While it is a huge exaggeration to think it rivals the real Switzerland, nevertheless it has some truly beautiful scenery, particularly in the area around Clécy.
The area owes its beauty primarily to a cliff that runs north-south, following the Orne river. On the west side the hills rise gradually, but from the east it is possible to climb a couple of hundred feet very quickly and look almost straight down at the river.
The cliff tops are a favourite spot for hang gliders and paragliders who can be found there in their dozens whenever the wind and weather conditions are good. At other times it can be completely deserted.
One of France's Grand Randonnées, the GR36 runs through Swiss Normandy, but there are dozens of other way marked walks and mountain bike tracks criss-crossing the area.
To the south and south-east of Caen lies an area much flatter than around Cormolain. There is also much less stone available for building. As a result, a very different environment has evolved. Imagine a transition from the Yorkshire lowlands to the Cotswolds in no more than a dozen miles and you have an idea of the differences between these two parts of Calvados.
The Auge is famed for half-timbered buildings, some still with thatched roofs. In the villages the houses get wider as they get higher, while in the countryside farm buildings are usually scattered around an orchard, rather than clustered around a central courtyard as defence against the weather and intruders as they are closer to the coast. The size of the timber frames was dictated by the length of wood available, as well as the owner's ability to afford the labour. As a result, houses range from tiny buildings constructed from wood collected from the local forest, to towering mansions showing off the owner's prestige and power and old defensive castles, such as the remarkable Château de Crèvecœur.
Beuvron-en-Auge is one of the finest examples of villages in the area. It has managed to keep around 40 timber-framed buildings, many surrounding the covered market that has been converted into small shops. There is also a large car park hidden round the back of the village, but just a hundred yards away by a handy footpath. Very considerate!
No matter where you go in the Auge, though, there are eye-catching buildings. As well as dozens of picture-postcard cottages with colourful window boxes and brightly-painted shutters there are numerous large houses Many of these have impressive stables, as this area is home to many of France's studs (Deauville and Le Touquet race courses are close by). It's also an area of orchards, for much of the region's cider and calvados is produced here. Further to the west the orchards have all but disappeared, although they're still marked in profusion on maps, showing how recently they've been pulled up to make way for maize and other cash crops.
The Pays d'Auge has been granted appellation contrôlée status for its cider and calvados and the area is also noted cheeses, especially Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l'Évêque.
The buildings are the most obvious thing about the area, though and a headache for anyone who wants to work out when they were built. The ease with which wooden buildings can be torn down and rebuilt, or just added to has meant that it's almost impossible to work out how old many of the buildings are. Some may include in their structure timbers dating back seven or eight hundred years, but may have been built less than 200 years ago.
But no matter where you explore in this delightful area you'll be greeted with little gems and scenes of pastoral peace and quiet.
The Cotentin peninsula
To the north-west of Cormolain, on the far side of St Lô is the Cotentin peninsula (sometimes called the Cherbourg Peninsula). There's a main road (much of it dual carriageway) running right through the middle of it, north-to-south, built to take holiday traffic away from the port of Cherbourg, right at the northern tip. Unfortunately, the road was built a little too late, as many of the ferry services were axed before the road was completed. As a result, the N174 is almost always completely devoid of traffic, meaning you can whizz up and down the peninsula very quickly.
However, as with much of France, sticking to the main roads may be quick and easy, but you'll miss the true spirit of France. The Cotentin is pretty narrow, with miles and miles of coastline. The eastern side is more likely to be low-lying with small bays and sheltered sandy beaches. The western side has more rocks, but there are still plenty of large bays with good beaches - it's just a little less sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds.
The town of Valognes was, until the revolution, a provincial social resort for the aristocracy. It had the nickname of Versailles of Normandy, although nowadays it's difficult to see why. Little remains of the grand houses and châteaux after the passage of two hundred years and the vicious fighting in 1944.
La Basse Cour
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