La Suisse Normande, "Norman Switzerland", may not be truly alpine with its 600-foot summits, but it owes its name more to its wooded countryside, shaped by the rivers which run through the valleys and gorges of this scenic area. Picturesque villages are to be found deep in the valleys or on the hillsides. For 800 million years the winding River Orne has played with the rocks of the Armorican massif to create a landscape as impressive as it is surprising in this part of France. The River Orne is a paradise for water-borne sports lovers, where canoeing fans or anglers taking pike, trout or perch are in their element. The pleasures of La Suisse Normande extend a long way beyond its rivers... hikers, horse riders and mountain bikers can enjoy its high ground, while climbers head for the rocks in the Clécy Parks.
Worth a visit
- Suisse Normande Route: 40 mile round trip to discover the area
- Château de la Motte: this magnificent building, listed as a historic monument, was built between 1598 and 1614, and as such it is an example of early French classical architecture. The gardens are also well worth seeing, as is the fine Romanesque church in nearby Acqueville.
- Clécy (website in French): the 15th century Church of Saint-Pierre is distinguished by its 19th century choir and transept. This little town, dominated by the great Lande Viaduct, has interesting houses and imposing manor-houses which reflect its importance in the Suisse Normande region.
- Thury-Harcourt (website in French) : as a gateway to the Suisse Normande, Thury-Harcourt had a rich industrial history, with its tanneries and enamelling factories. The old castle is well-known for its parks and gardens. Following the battle of Normandy, when it was the seat of the provisional government, it was destroyed by the German army. All that now remains is the 17th century chapel, listed as a historic monument.
- Roche d'Oëtre: the Oëtre Rock, in the Orne county, is one of the finest natural viewpoints in Western France. A wild place where the shapes of the rock ledges appeal to the imagination.
- Saint-Rémy-sur-Orne (website in French) : the "Pits of Hell" of Saint-Rémy, rich in iron ore, were worked from 1460 until 1968, but since 1993, the Normandy Geological Resource Centre relates the story of Normandy's sub-soil. The Notre-Dame Chapel, whose altar stands on a mining truck, was built by miners in the 20th century.
- Saint-Martin de Sallen (website in French) : Saint-Martin's Church, Saint-Joseph's Chapel and graves of British soldiers.
- Saint-Omer (website in French) : as well as its Romanesque church, refurbished between the 18th and 19th centuries, Saint-Omer is known for the remains of the Abbey of the Val, a former establishment of the canons of Saint Augustine's order. The site of Saint-Clair's Chapel offers a fine view over the plains of Falaise and Caen to the sea, the estuary of the Seine and the hills of the Pays d'Auge.
- Tranchée du Hom: the rock was cut here in 1883 to allow a road to be built between Thury-Harcourt and Aunay-sur-Odon.
- Les Rochers des Parcs: popular with hikers, these rocks, mute witnesses to the millions of years that have shaped the region, are surrounded by fine moorland.