However well you think you know Normandy, chances are you may be a little hazy about the Perche. Nestled in the south-east of the region, the Perche Regional Nature Park straddles the Normandy department of Orne in the west and Eure-et-Loir in the Centre-Val de Loire region.
The Perche is rural Normandy at its very best. Think typical bocage countryside of small fields and thick hedgerows; thick broad-leaved forests; and picturesque stone villages. Animal lovers may know the area for the magnificent Percheron heavy horses, traditionally – though not exclusively – in shades of grey. But for foodies, the Perche offers a wealth of delicious slow-food products.
Most famous local export is boudin or black pudding, the speciality of Mortagne-au-Perche. Give your taste buds a treat and try one of the many varieties on offer. Black pudding flavoured with camembert or maybe apple; with peppers, figs or Calvados; or perhaps a smoked version of the original recipe.
Charcutiers from all over the region also come to Mortagne’s buzzing Saturday morning market – the perfect opportunity for a tasting.
Staying over? Then you can’t do better than Le Tribunal, a three-chimney Logis in Place du Palais with a gastronomic restaurant serving the best of local produce.
Breakfast in the Perche wouldn’t be complete without La Baguette du Perche. Made by hand and fermented slowly, this more-ish daily bread has a rich flavour of roasted wheat and a crisp golden crust. Delicious with local honey to start the day or with cheese and charcuterie for lunch.
And to wash it down – though maybe not for breakfast – there’s nothing better than local cider. I dropped in at La Maison Ferré at Comblot to meet Grégoire Ferré, one of three cider makers who have received the Valeurs Parc label for upholding traditional methods of cider production and biodiversity. His old varieties of apple are used almost entirely for cider production, the fruit all picked by hand. Grégoire also produces apple juice, Pommeaux aperitif, and Calvados, one of his goals being to place Calvados on a level with whisky for its richness and variety of flavours.
Visit the production facilities and shop on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday afternoons from April to September; Sunday mornings by appointment from October to March. And if you are in the area over the second weekend in November, drop in for tastings, free activities, and to see the press in full production during the Fête du Cidre (tel: 00 33 6 64 50 96 88 | email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Discover more about local life and produce at the delightful Maison du Parc in the grounds of the Manoir de Courboyer, a 15th century fortified manor built at the end of the 100 Years War. Here you can meet Percheron horses and Norman donkeys; talk to local craftsmen and artists; and enjoy a taste of the Perche at the café and well-stocked shop. Look out for the free Farm Produce leaflet with info on local producers, shops and markets.
With its close proximity to both Paris and the Channel ports, the Perche has become a popular destination for a chill-out weekend break. Fresh air, fresh food, and a relaxed approach to the pressures of city life. So I wasn’t surprised to find a wealth of independent tea shops and antique dealers.
Cécile Schmitt welcomed me with coffee and homemade plum tart at Chez Nous Campagne, her enchanting tea room-cum-brocante at Bubertré near Mortagne-au-Perche. Try apple juice instead of a hot drink and maybe local cheese or charcuterie instead of cake. And don’t miss La Maison d’Horbé, a stylish mix of gastronomic restaurant, sumptuous tea room, and tempting antiques shop in the pretty village of La Perrière.
But beware of Perche Power. One taste and you may never want to leave!
About our guest writer: Gillian Thornton is widely known in the travel journalism industry as a France specialist. Particular interests include gastronomy, history, heritage, walking, nature and wildlife. Regular commissions include Women’s Weekly, The People’s Friend, France Today, Voyage and Silver Travel Advisor. To read more of Gillian’s work, visit her website.
For information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © OT Mortagne-au-Perche | Text: G. Thornton