Sports et Activités Nature – Sports and the Great Outdoors
The varied landscapes of deep rural France and the extensive coastline, exceptional architectural heritage and mild climate make Normandy a rewarding place to explore on land, on the waterways, or even from the air.
Whether on land by car, cycle, horseback or on foot, on water by boat or canoe, or even taking to the skies in small planes, balloons, hang gliders and micro-lights, there always seems to be something new to discover and different ways to tempt you to get out and about.
Touring by car
A car is essential to making the most of this part of France.
For those who prefer to see a lot in a short time – and in the comfort of your own car – then the ten classic Michelin Guide circular driving tours of Normandy are all worthwhile. Bring the green Michelin guidebook with you and follow the route of one of the best – the Number 4: ‘Swiss Normandy tour – designed especially for nature lovers’. You can pick up the route in nearby Falaise or Argentan.
Garden lovers (Les passionnées de jardins) should browse through the excellent Les Parcs et Jardins de Normandie 92-page brochure in English and plan your own themed tour to one or more of the 35 awarded the official distinction of ‘Jardin Remarquable’.
The Regional Committee for Tourism in Normandy has also come up with a clearly signposted Route du Cidre, which charts out a 40km circular drive round the postcard pretty Pays D’Auge starting at Cabremer (51 km, 32, miles, 49 minutes). You pass by apple orchards (think of saving this tour for a springtime visit) past half-timbered houses, manoirs and chateaux . Several local producers of cider and calvados will welcome you in for tastings and purchases. It is summed up in the French description: ‘Plaisir de la route, plaisir des yeux, plaisir du palais: que demander de plus?’ (A pleasure to drive, a feast for the eyes and a treat for your taste buds – what more could you ask?)
‘les Petits Randonnées, les petits bonheurs!’ The joys of little walks!
From our privileged central location at the mid-point of Normandy, you have access to the easy strolls around the country lanes, passing by quiet hamlets, farms and half hidden chateaux. Or you might prefer to get your hiking boots on to ford rushing streams and take on the more challenging gradients of the ‘Suisse Normande’ region.
You could also go north, to wander along the vast beaches and open skies of the Channel coast.
Or you could head south, to the great forests of the 257,000 hectares (640,000 acres) Normandie-Maine Nature Park, including the ancient oaks in the Forêt de Réno- Valdieu where, the French tell us that you can find a little of the ‘soul of ancient Gaul’ in the shade of their spreading branches.
Perhaps start by following one of two easy local circular walks around Neuvy au Houlme – the 10km Circuit des Haras or the Circuit des 7 Lavoirs de Ri – 7km.
Then moving further afield, there are the excellent guides from the French rambling association ‘Les Départments de France à pied’ which outline 100 interesting circular walks in the Calvados and Orne area alone. These are graded from ‘très facile’, like the family friendly 2 hr 20 ‘Découverte en forêt d’Ecouves’ (40 minute drive to starting point), to the ‘difficile’ which include climbs and are much longer – up to 6 hours/23km long
A super nearby walk, graded ‘moyen’ (average), is ‘Les Gorges de Saint Aubert’, 9km including a river ford. (10 minute drive to starting point.)
It’s also possible to do a local stage of one of the Grand Randonnés – the fabulous long distance footpaths which criss cross Europe. The 1000 km GR36 – which crosses France north to south, from Caen Ouistreham on the Channel coast to Boug Madame on the Pyrenean border with Spain – passes right through our local town of Putanges.
Or you could follow a part of one of the two historic long distance Pilgrimage routes heading toward Mont St Michel from Paris and Rouen, which pass nearby Ecouché and Falaise.
If you feel like some bracing sea air, take a 12km circular walk along the corniche path on the cliff tops from Houlgate (75km, 47 miles, 58 mins) to Villiers sur Mer returning along the beach Check out the tides on www.tidetime.org. because you should plan to be on the top section rather than the beach at a rising tide!
All these walks are way marked, but it is also helpful to take with you a 1:25000 sheet map published by the Institut Geographique National (IGN) GPS compatible UTM grid now provided in all latest editions.
These show you official footpaths as well as other tracks you can use. Our local map is Carte de Randonnée 1614 O FALAISE. They can be bought locally or ordered direct from IGN online from http://espaceloisirs.ign.fr/boutique/, (search under Falaise GPS) or from Stanfords in London.
Cycling is a great way to see more of the diverse Norman countryside. It’s also an activity the whole family or your group of friends can enjoy together; joining the local lycra-clad enthusiasts in what is practically a national sport in France. Ride along deep river valleys, through forests and hedgerow mosaic of farmed fields. Pass by quiet country lanes, winding through the rolling green pastures and apple orchards with their quietly grazing horses and spotted ‘Normande’ cows.
Keep an eye out for fine old walled farm courtyards and the occasional impressive manor house in fabulous settings. The many old country churches are built in various styles, often from the attractive golden Caen stone. Stop off for refreshments at one of the sleepy villages or lively market towns. You will have worked up an appetite for a meal or at least a delicious filled baguette‘sandwich fromage et jambon’ and pastry or tart of your choice (there are a lot to try) from a boulangerie.
You can follow a pre-planned circular route or head for one of the green ways, such as the canal side trail from Caen city to the sea at Ouistreham, which prohibits motorised traffic.
There are hundreds of suggested cycling itineraries in publications by the tourist authorities in the region.
‘LÓrne à velo’ proposes 41 circuits, from 16.7km to 70 km. And the IGM map ‘Le Calvados à bicyclette’ sets out 50 circuits from 28 to 86 km with a further 8 of over 100km, for more experienced riders.
For a brilliant downloadable brochure in English about cycling in the Calvados region whatever your level, visit The Calvados Tourism website
Normandy is the premier horse breeding region in France. There are currently more than 7000 horse studs producing prize winning racehorses, smart French trotters and stylish French sport horses.
For amateurs, there are also over 300 riding centres in the region.
You can hire a horse for an hour’s instruction or a half day’s trekking and set off on a guided ‘balade équestre’ to amble along bridleways, river valleys and quiet lanes and trot through forest tracks or canter along the beaches. All levels of ability are catered for at most of the riding centres in the region.
Some of our local centres – all within a half hour drive – are: La Ferme de Mesnil at La Pommeraye 14690, La Rotourelle at Ste Croix sur Orne 61210, Les Ecuries de la Cour du Bois at Vrigny, 61570 and the Haras de Sainte Eugenie at Aubry en Exmes, 61160.
For western riding enthusiasts – lessons and trekking – there’s Reinhill Ranch at La Heroudière (36km, 22 miles, 38mins). And for those who fancy Percherons – the iconic Norman breed of heavy horses – it’s fun to head off down to the Perche Region near Bellême (93km, 57 miles 1hr 20)and ride one of these magnificent creatures around the 15th century manors, mills and rustic villages that make up the traditional percheronne countryside. Or you might choose to be driven in a carriage by one or a pair of them, and who despite their size can get up to a spanking pace!
Two more ideas for horse lovers are visits to both the Haras d’Ecajeul and the Haras du Pin.
The owners of the Haras d’Ecajeul (43km, 27 miles, 41 minutes) are the only thoroughbred trainers in the Calvados to open their yard to the public and give guided tours, finishing with home-made cake and tea. They also run guided tours of the race course and sales arenas at Deauville and offer hacks through the Calvados countryside.
The Haras du Pin (30kms, 19 miles, 34 minutes) is an impressive chateau and stable complex built on the orders of Louis XIV in 1715 and described as the ‘Versailles for Horses’. It’s the top National Stud in France and the best time to visit is on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons in the summer when there is a parade to music of their pampered stallions, displays of carriage driving and demonstrations of other equestrian disciplines.
You can take a cruise on the Orne River; even take in dinner or lunch aboard, while enjoying the natural beauty of the river and its forested banks. It’s easy to relax and enjoy the scenery and prolific birdlife (remember to bring your binoculars) as you glide along the peaceful 16km stretch. Embarkation is at Putanges or the Lac du Rabodanges.
Mini cruises along the Channel coast from Caen (63 km, 39 miles, 48 minutes) are another opportunity to observe the lively ports and resorts of the Cote Fleurie or visit the D day beaches from a different viewpoint. Les Vedettes de Normandie offer 2 1/2 hour cruises with guided commentaries in English and French and make an interesting afternoon out.
Sailing boats can also be chartered for half day cruises from Thoma’Sail at Courseulles sur Mer (71km, 44 miles, 57 minute drive)
Take to the air
We have a special arrangement with the flying clubs of Argentan and Caen whose pilot members will take you for a short flight in a 4 seater plane to show you Normandy from the air. The price is per flight, so works out to a very reasonable price if you make up a party of 3. A super idea for a sunny day!
The deep river valley of the Orne can be explored from canoes descending the water from either above or below the Lac de Rabodanges – classified as a ‘Grand Lac Interieur de 96 hectares’.
Canoes for 2 adults, or 2 adults and one child (over 8), and 1 person kayaks are available for hire by the hour or half day descents at La ferme du Bois de Putanges (9kms, 6 miles, 13 minute drive) or Base de Plein Air at Pont d’Ouilly (28km, 17 mile, 29 minute drive). French enthusiasts explain that on the water ‘you are transported into a tranquil universe enabling you to get in touch with your inner adventurer or philosopher.’
To take on some more turbulent water you need to go further afield to canoe on the Vire river where there is a possibility to do 2km – 12 km descents with the guidance of the excellent Club de Canoe-Kayac and Base de Loisirs Ecluse at Condé sur Vire (110kms, 68 miles, 1hr 10 drive)
Sea kayaks are also available for hire in the summer, with instruction, or on a three hour exploration of the Orne estuary from Ouistreham Riva Bella (65km, 40 miles, 51 minute drive)
There are 40 golf courses in Normandy: by the seaside, beside lakes, on cliff tops, in green parkland to marshland and wooded valleys. This variety of courses, all open to non- members and welcoming to English speakers, make Normandy one of the top European golfing destinations : Golf In Normandy
For players over 12 there is the family-friendly Swingolf course at the Chateau de Serans, (13km, 8 mile, 21 minute drive). Swingolf is fun and easy to learn!
Available at the Lac de Rabodanges – Ecole de Ski Nautique, Wake Board, Bouée Tractée,, Baby Ski (from 3yrs). Every day in July and August, and weekends and bank holidays only in May, June and September. (8km, 5 miles, 14 mins)
For fresh water fishing, there are two seasons for two different categories of water courses in France: For rivers of the first category, (which require special protection due to the species of salmonids present, like trout, and where activities like canoeing and swimming are prohibited), the season runs from the second Saturday in March to the third Sunday in September. In the case of second category rivers, fishing is permitted all year round, with a short closed season, usually February – April for pike.
The stretch of the Orne River downstream of the Pont de la Villette, just south of Putanges, until it reaches the Lake Rabodanges, is Category 1. But even better, if you are interested, from May to September, we can help you organise some fly – fishing for trout on the river Touques between Notre Dame de Courson and Lisieux (60 km, 42 miles, 55 mins). Bring your own rods or hire some kit.
Nearby Rabodanges Lake (8km, 5 miles, 14 minutes), formed by the damming of the river in 1960, is in the second category. It has an area of 90 hectares and a maximum depth of 18 metres. It is a quality lake for predator fishing including zander, perch and pike – some around 1 metre long (they say!).
You’ll need to buy a permit from the local tourist office which sets out the rules on fishing, particularly concerning the size of the catch. These permits are available by the day or for a week and you will need a passport photo. Permits are much cheaper for women and children!
There’s also a possibility of an exclusive Kayak fishing experience offered by La Ferme du Bois de Putanges. Apparently this is a new approach to fishing – ‘more sporting, more respectful to the environment and very accessible’.