day 6 :
saturday, 2 may
Today was our day for sightseeing all around Le Perche. But we couldn't leave the château without stuffing ourselves at breakfast – that would have been rude! Madame checked in on us frequently while we ate, and any time a plate or basket started to empty, she would ask us if we would like more. Whenever we said no, she gave us a disappointed look and tsk-tsked our "small" appetites. Even in spite of our protests, she would show up with additional food, just to make sure we were really full.
To plan our day trip, we asked for recommendations for where to find local, open-air markets, and learned that there was one today in another town, and one tomorrow just up our street. Because of the language barrier, Madame resorted to hand gestures and sounds to describe some of the items that would be for sale at the Bellême market tomorrow; we quickly learned that they'd have chickens (arms flapping, cluck cluck!) and escargot (two fingers walking, little slurping sounds).
We made our first stop at the weekly market in the nearby town of Mortagne-au-Perche. Every kind of local produce, dairy, and meat product you could want was for sale. A corner meat shop had multiple kinds of boudin noir (blood sausage), one of our favorite treats! (Why we can't get sausages like that made locally in Seattle is still a mystery to us.) Knowing we had a big road trip ahead of us tomorrow, we picked up some cheese, olives, and marinated artichokes as the basis for tomorrow's lunch. Dawn spied a stack of riz au lait (rice pudding) containers in one case, so she asked the woman behind the counter for "reezoh lay." The woman brought out a bottle of milk. Huh? Dawn pointed to the rice pudding, and the woman nodded, correcting us by saying "ree oh lay" (without putting the "z" and "au" together). Oh, those tricky French rules around which words liaison and which don't! But no matter, we had our rice pudding and learned a new phrase to use another day.
The abbey we wanted to visit next was closed for a few hours, so we chose a random restaurant in a nearby small town for lunch and unsurprisingly ended up with a ho-hum meal. Lunch is generally a leisurely affair in France, so our poor choice was further exacerbated by having to sit through it for two hours. Then it was back to the abbey; but, instead of being able to see some of the medieval buildings in the enclave, only a gift shop was open to the public. Dawn noted that the term "trappist abbey" must have originated from luring tourists into these gift shops to buy sweets and beer. We managed to avoid the trap and got back on the road.
The rest of our afternoon sightseeing proved more fruitful. While driving through expansive fields of bright yellow flowers, we noticed several large, beautiful brown horses off to the side of the road, grazing below the trees in an orchard. We pulled over, and walked down a long driveway to get a closer look at these magnificent animals. Were they the famous Percheron horses of the region? We don't know for sure, but let's say they were.
A few more kilometers along, in the tiny town of La Chapelle-Montligeon, stood the enormous Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Montligeon made of bright white stone. While not nearly as elaborate or large as Chartres Cathedral, the facade was quite imposing given the remote location. Inside, soft, vibrant patches of colored light spilled over wooden chairs and stone floor. White stone pillars and walls made the interior space feel even brighter than a typical light-filled high Gothic church.
After a short rest back at the château, it was close to sunset by the time we arrived in the town of La Perriere for dinner at Le Maison d'Horbé. Monsieur had recommended this salon-de-thé-by-day and restaurant-by-night to us, enthusiastically describing their foie gras. Besides that, we didn't quite know what to expect. It turned out that there was no menu; you just sit down, and they bring you courses of housemade foie gras, confit de canard, and a dessert sampler (which had bites of chocolate cake, lemon cake, and pistachio macaron with sesame seeds). Dawn even managed to order a bottle of Perrier in Perrière (tricky to keep those pronunciations correct!). Dinner was excellent; the only downside of the evening was that we could barely hear each other because of the live music coming from a piano ten feet away from us in the tiny room. And in typical French fashion, it took nearly an hour to get our check and pay, and our credit cards were mysteriously rejected by their reader. Fortunately, we had (barely) enough cash to cover dinner and gratuity, and we took this as a reminder to always carry enough money to pay for our next meal, just in case.