365 - Towns close to Eco-Gites of Lénault
Welcome to the 21st blog post in our series of 365 things to see and do in Normandy with the focus today being on small towns close to the gite. These towns may not be as as well known as the likes of Caen or Bayeux but if you enjoy shopping, historical buildings, museums, history or messing about on the river and you don't want to travel too far from the gite then you will enjoy a trip to visit them. Each one has a market that is open from 9am to midday with Vire and Condé-sur-Noireau being the largest and all have bakers for your daily croissant.
Small towns close to Eco-Gites of Lénault
1. Aunay-sur-Odon (13kms north of the gite)
Despite the modern appearance of all the buildings in this small town to the north of the gite, there has been a town here since Roman times. Its name derives from the Latin name of alder, "Alnus" and the river Orne, on which it is located. In WWII it was completely obliterated in the days following the D-Day Landings due to its strategic transport links and all that was left standing was the clock tower. 25% of the civilian population of the town was killed and Aunay is the only local town not to have a D-Day memorial. The bar opposite the church has a good collection of photos of the town before WWII.
Today you will find a range of shops, banks, businesses etc although be aware that most will be closed on a Monday. The Cinéma Paradiso is run by locals and shows some films in VO (Version originale) ie in the original language with French subtitles.
Buildings of interest include L'Eglise Saint-Samson which was reconstucted after WWII and L' Abbaye Notre-Dame d'Aunay, the remains of a 12th century Cisturcian abbey. Sadly little now remains of the Château d'Aunay-sur-Odon.
Market day is Saturday.
Supermarkets: Proxi and Intermarché plus a local produce shop.
2. Condé-sur-Noireau (14km south east of the gite)
Condé-sur-Noireau is situated on the confluence of the rivers Druance and Noireau and the name Condé is a derivation of the Latin word condate meaning confluence or reunion. As with Aunay, the town was all but obliterated in 1944 and has now has a modern feel to it. It has all the normal shops and services you would expect of a small rural town as well as a lovely town park and lake. On one side of the lake a sandy beach has been created (Condé plage) and the area hosts a range of events through the summer holidays inclding concerts, plastic duck races and displays. Museums in Condé include the Musée Charles Léandre focussing on art and history and the Musée de l'imprimerie typographique Corlet. There is a swimming pool, cinema run by locals and in early September the town centre is given over to a popular fair and vide grenier called the Fête de la Saint Gilles.
The memorial on the roundabout near the Super U supermarket is not, as you might expect, a WWII memorial but is in fact to remember those who lost their lives to asbestos poisoning from a local (now closed) factory. The factory site has now been cleared and it is hoped that in the next few years it will be reborn as a solar panels farm.
Market day is Thursday.
Supermarkets: Carrefour City, Super U, Netto and Aldi.
Monument at Condé-sur-Noireau to those who died from asbestos poisoning
Photo credit - Eric Bajart, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Vassy (on maps now as Valdalière - 11kms south west of the gite)
The name Vassy is believed to be of celtic origin from was or waes meaning path or passage and ez ou aes meaning land, meadow, marshland that was flooded annually. Vassy is in 2 valleys and even today you can see land that is clearly poorly drained and subject to flooding. Unlike Aunay and Condé, Vassy was spared from the worst of the WWII bombings and was liberated on 15th August 1944. It therefore still has many older buildings, including its church. There are numerous shops, an organic bakery, a small park and for those of you with animals this is our closest town for a vet's surgery.
Market day is Tuesday (small).
Supermarket: Carrefour plus a lovely greengrocers.
Saint Martin Notre-Dame et Saint André, Vassy
Image credit: Ikmo-ned, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
4. Flers (25kms south of the gite)
The town of Flers is first mentioned in the 12th century referenced as both Flers and Flex and the name is believed to be derived from the German word hlar meaning marshy ground, wasteland or pasture. Larger than all the aforementioned towns it has busy centre and many larger out of town shops. In the town centre you will also find a fine park with 2 lakes and the Château de Flers, home of the Flers museum. There is a large aquatic centre, bowling club and skate board park and a well maintained series of 17 walking trails around the local countryside.
The church of Saint-Germain was built at the start of the 20th century in neogothic style and from local granite. Each Christmas the front facade is used for a magnificent light show.
Flers is the closest town to the gite with a railway station and trains can be taken to Paris from here.
Market days are Wednesday and Saturday with some stallholders in the impressive covered market.
Supermarkets: Carrefour, Intermarché, L'Eclerc, Lidl, Aldi, Netto, Biocoop.
5. Vire (27kms south west of the gite)
Vire is the second of the larger towns close to the gite. Vire takes it's name from the river Vire that flows through the town but over the years it has had a variety of name variants including Vira, Viriœ, Viriœ Castrum, Vile et Chastel de Vile and Vyre.
95% of the town was destroyed just before D-Day so as with other local towns many of the buildings are modern. However parts of the medieval town wall, the clock tower gate and castle tower still stand.
The town has an aquatic centre, bowling alley, a busy town centre and out of town shopping. The town hosts a variety of fairs, events and festivals through the year including one to honour the local sausage delicacy - andouille. The old hospital on the banks of the River Vire is now home to the Vire Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions which houses a range of collections on themes such as Fine Arts, decorative arts (including Paul Huet's romantic Normandy and a collection of cutlery), ethnography (daily life, old trades and typical 19th century furniture from the region) and history.
Market day is Friday.
Supermarkets: Intermarché, L'Eclerc, Lidl, Carrefour, Biocoop and Mangeons Frais.
The clock tower in Vire, Normandy
6. Thury Harcourt (17kms north east of the gite)
The Thury part of the name is believed to have derived from Latin words relating to proprietor with Harcourt added later by Henry d'Harcourt. Thury Harcourt is situated on the River Orne and saw fierce fighting in WWII as the Germans tried to hang on to the bridge over the river. 75% of the town was destroyed before it was liberated on August 13th 1944 but not before the retreating army set fire to the château which was completely destroyed.
The town has a small centre with a range of shops, a swimming pool and tourist information centre with details on the surrounding region of Swiss Normandy. Kayaks can be hired locally allowing you to discover the River Orne and by foot, the Boucle du Hom is a 6km walk giving fine views of the river. Kayak polo is a popular sport here and the town regularly hosts national and internatinal touraments.
Market day is Tuesday.
Supermarkets: Super U, Lidl.
Remains of the château after it was set on fire by retreating German soldiers in Word War 2
7. Pont D'Ouilly (20kms east of the gite)
The name of the town is relatively modern and was created in 1947 when the communes on either side of the river Orne, Saint-Marc-d'Ouilly and Ouilly-le-Basset were joined into one town. Pont means bridge. Pont D'ouilly is situated on the confluence of the rivers Noireau and Orne and is better known for its outdoor sports than shopping. Many visitors visit to go kayaking, canoeing or to play kayak polo and there are also many walking opportunities in the local countryside. The town has some notable buildings including the church, the old railway station and an old granary. Horse lovers may be aware that the local stud, Haras d'Ouilly, is now owned by the Aga Kahn who runs many courses related to horse riding, racing and equine care.
Market day is Sunday (small).
Kayak fun at Pont D'Ouilly
Photo credit - Viault, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
What do you most enjoy when visiting a new town. Is it all about the shops or do you like their history? Will you head to the museums or prefer a stroll around their open spaces? Do let us know in a comment.
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