Alencon, in the south of Normandy, was simply a staging post on our way back to the UK. Our timetable required that we head for Yport on the Normandy coast and we had 36 hours to get there. This allowed sufficient time for us to overnight at Alencon and take a short wander around the town centre (and perhaps even take lunch the following day at yet another of Normandy’s ‘plus beau villages’) and; if I could also find a decent restaurant for the evening… well, that would be a bonus.
I knew very little about Alencon and decided to head first to the local tourist office for their advice. The tourist office is housed in an impressive 15th century turreted mansion, known as the Maison d’Oze, which was built for the town’s alderman but some time during the 16th century became home to Charles de Valois (Duke of Alencon). More about him later. It will suffice to say here that visitors can tour the mansion for free.
First impressions as I made my way to the tourist office was that Alencon is neither the prettiest nor the most interesting of Normandy’s towns but, on the plus side, it is not plagued with lots of tourist tack. The tourist office staff were keen to help, producing a decent map and taking time to point out the town’s principal points of interest but when a google search of the best things to see and do in Alencon recommended a visit to an Escape Room… well, my interest in the town began to pale. Honestly, an escape room. Give me strength.
That’s the Maison d’Oze in the centre of the photo with, slightly behind it and to the left, the town’s principal place of worship – the Basilique Notre Dame d’Alencon.
Anyway, armed with the tourist office map I set off to explore the town, starting with the Basilique de Notre Dame d’Alencon which almost adjoins the Maison d’Oze.
The first stone of the Basilica Notre Dame was laid in 1356 but most of the current building dates from between the 15th and 17th centuries and, actually, the building wasn’t elevated to Basilica status until 2009. There’s an imposing main door and it is light and airy inside the Basilica but, best of all, are the splendid stained glass windows in the nave which date from 1530. Odd, isn’t it? We’ve completed almost seven tours over the last few years and it wasn’t until the start of this particular tour that I took any real interest in stained glass windows. It was the trip to Troyes earlier in May that did it. Now that was stained glass.
Inside the Basilica.
The Basilica Notre Dame is famous for being the place where Saint Therese de Lisieux was baptised. Not being a Catholic I know next to nothing about Saint Therese but she is sometimes referred to as “The Little Flower of Jesus” and is revered by many (including Pope Pius X) as the greatest saint of modern times. She was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925. That is no small feat given she died from tuberculosis in 1897 aged just 24 years. She was born in Alencon and it is possible to visit the house where she was born (Maison de la Famille Martin on Rue Saint Blaise) which has become something of a shrine to the Saint but, I chose to give that a miss.
The tourist office map took me next, past the memorial to the French General Philippe Leclerc (his forces liberated Alencon from the Germans during WWII), to the 15th century Chateau des Ducs.
The Leclerc Memorial and the imposing entrance to the Chateau des Ducs
There’s not much left of the original Chateau des Ducs, although part of it was still in use as a prison until as recently as 2010, but at one time the castle was the primary abode of the aforementioned Francois de Valois, Duke of Anjou. Francois de Valois was perhaps the only serious foreign contender for the hand of Elizabeth I of England. He was 22 years younger than Elizabeth but they exchanged many affectionate letters over a four year period before Elizabeth finally sent him a ‘Dear John’ in 1581. Vanya maintains that she was stringing him along as part of a strategy to make Robert Dudley jealous and who am I to argue with her about the Tudors?
Chateau des Ducs
The rest of the afternoon saw me visit most of the remaining sights listed on my tourist office map – the Merchant’s House known as La Maison a L’Etal, the Eglise Saint Leonard and Le Parc des Promenades. I gave the Corn Exchange a miss.
La Maison a L’Etal and a portrait of Francois de Valois.Is it me or is there a slight resemblance to Rowan Atkinson appearing as Lord Edmund Blackadder?
Given the similarities in appearance of Francois de Valois and Rowan Atkinson (when he appeared as Lord Edmund Blackadder in the 2nd Series of Blackadder) and having regard to the correspondence between Francois de Valois and Queen Elizabeth I, it seems appropriate to quote a love poem created by Queenie (Elizabeth I) which featured in a Series 2 episode of Blackadder:-
When the night is dark and the dogs go ‘bark’; When the clouds go black and the ducks go ‘quack’; When the sky goes blue and the cows go ‘moo’; Think of lovely Queenie, she’ll be thinking of you.
That’s it settled. We’ll be stopping at Le Bec-Hellouin tomorrow on our way to the coast.