Hmmmm. Still not quite feeling like I’m on holiday. Yes, feel free to slap me now. Not quite sure what it is, but time has developed an elasticity, not yet settling into a rythym. Perhaps I’ve inadvertetly drunk one of Alice’s potions? Hopefully a morning walk will recalibrate my brain.
Beuvron-en-Auge has awoken from yesterday’s rainy slumber and the village is humming. Tourist groups are being led in earnest discussion, the locals fuss about making their pretty shops even prettier and those touristed out, are inhaling coffee and crepes. I can’t resist another round of photos before we hit the road.
We’re aiming for the village of Saint-Ceneri-le-Gerei, in the heart of the Mancelles Alps. Said to be a painter’s paradise with a history dating back to the 600s when a local saint creating a shrine said to heal eye problems. As one does.
My eyes are serving me well, meanwhile. We stop by a river for lunch and just as we’re about to leave, there’s movement in the water. An otter? Hope springs eternal, but no. A beaver? No, too small, but very beaver like. No such thing as a mini beaver, I’m guessing. The binoculars reveal a plump, furred creature with a sleek tail. We settle on naming it a river vole (which doesn’t seem right… it’s a bit too big) and move on.
The rain is back. Neither the weather nor the forecasters seem to be able to decide on its path. One promises rain all week, the other sun. It’s mercurial at best. Rain keeps up a steady pace until our arrival. We’re in horse stud country and fields of mares and foals appear often, along with imposing chateau.
I’ll say one thing about our book’s choice of villages – each so far is utterly unique in character. Saint-Ceneri-de-Gerei is spectacularly set into a bend of the river Sarthe and curves steeply along the slopes that nestle it.
At first it seems we might be thwarted by lack of parking but I’m determined to at least make a lap of the village even if we can’t stay. The streets are narrow – we are not. Corners are tight, the bridge ancient. The locals watch in wonder as we rumble through, by no small miracle, turn, and rumble through again. Our luck is in and in a superb team effort, I guide Chris into a reverse park, on a steep hill, on the wrong side of the road. I keep saying it – the man is fearless.
Thus settled, we set about exploring. Saint-Ceneri-de-Gerei was founded by a local monk who established a monastery, later burnt by the Normans. The village’s main church, Eglise Saint-Ceneri was built in its place, in the 11th century. It boasts a spectacular wall of murals, painted in the 12th century and a wooden painted ceiling, unique in France.
The river crossing is an ancient stone bridge and this theme is carried through the original stone houses that wrap around the mountain in either direction. It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot filled with birdsong.
The river also reveals parking that will accommodate us overnight. Perfectly situated along the river bank on a grassy knoll are a number of other motorhomes. Success! A hairy turn later, we’re safely ensconced for the night.
The day is rounded out by yet another sighting of our “not beaver” buddies – a family of three this time, comes out at dusk to nibble grass on the bank. Binoculars trained I can see now they’re not voles – lovey fur, lots of whiskers. They nibble away happily, oblivious to being observed, darting only when a car drives by in the distance. Google tells me they are ragondin, an introduced species, yes, very beaver like, known for causing flooding as they rearrange river flows to suit their needs. I’m too far away for photos but Google provides. Ours were cuter than this, with more whiskers and white patches on their noses.