Stage 7: Le Mans > Châteauroux

And so, we leave the coast, Normandy and Brittany and head south, towards the Pyrenees. This first leg of the journey southwards is a long, flat, sprinter’s stage, skirting the edge of the Central Massif.  The start is in Le Mans, well known for it’s 24 hour car race and 24 hour races of anything else that moves and, of course, Les Vaches has a special cow-respondent in the area. @parisbug has a place in the country around Le Mans and Essjaymoo became enamoured with the bucolic shots of cows, dogs, trees, flowers and produce that were tweeted.  We’ve asked @parisbug to tell us a bit more about life, and the cows, of Le Mans.

“Le Mans is mainly known for the 24-hour car race that happens every June…but there is so much more to this town and region (the Sarthe) in France, both historically and food-wise.  Le Mans, the town, has been here since the 3rd century in one form or another and has one of the best preserved Roman Empire walls in all of Europe which encircle the medieval old town perched on a hill.  It’s one of our favourite places to go exploring and to dine.  Speaking of food, ‘Les Rillettes’ are a specialty in the Sarthe – a sort of pulled pork paté that has a permanent pot in our fridge! Ask a large number of French where la Sarthe or Le Mans is, and they may stare at you quizzically, mention ‘les rillettes’ and the Ahhh of recognition dawns on them. I can certainly relate to a food oriented geography.

The Sarthe is one of the most agriculturally rich regions of France, with rich earth that grows wheat, corn, sunflowers and cabbages to name a few.  This is also where the Loué chickens are raised, a prized and most delicious bird I must say, as well as being a major track on the ‘Route de Lait’ (Milk Route) for many of the cheeses found in France.  Our friends, the dairy farmers who own “The Ladies”, have a truck that comes every morning at 3am for milk used in Babybel and Kiri cheeses – two commercialised non-AOC cheeses (you ain’t kidding about them being non-AOC are you! Ed) Not to distract from the Vache-perspective, but another famed animal from the Sarthe is the beautiful Percheron draft horse.  Magnificent animals used as work horses in the old days, and said to be the recliner of horseback riding!  Equestrianism and the landscape is one of the things that drew us here. Le Mans has the added benefit of only being 50 minutes from Paris by TGV, 1 1/2 hours from the ocean, belonging to the Pays de la Loire – which means we have the luxury of a 45+ minute drive to any one of hundreds of chateaus to amuse ourselves! To top it all off, the Sarthe is not on the heavily traveled tourist or immigration path for foreigners, like Normandy or Dordogne, which means low prices, low traffic and all the benefits!

The weather has finally been very fine here and my farmer neighbours have been busy hay baling, collecting, stacking, wheat cutting…etc. (where etc means, building agricultural sculptures in preparation for Le Tour passing through – Ed)

Finally I got a chance to ask about the cows in the pictures you saw.  The brown cows that surround part of our property are Salers cattle, mostly used for meat.  The white ones belong to our butcher, about ten minutes down the road and are of the Charolaise variety–also for meat, thus why he is the butcher and not the dairy man 😉

The “Dairy Ladies” I’ve mentioned frequently are Prim-Holsteins, a mix of the Dutch Frisonne Pie Noire and North American Holstein, and recently one or two popping up with mottled gray coats and smaller heads that are the result of our dairy farmer crossing his Prim’Holstein’s with Belgian Blues.

Unfortunately, in my discussions I discovered that there are no longer any cows originating in the Sarthe region (Le Mans is in ‘la Sarthe) and all the ones we see are from one place or another as the Sarthoise breeds have all died out. Sad.”

Thanks @parisbug for telling us more about the area – I’l have to visit the Sarthe region as well now (oh dear- what a shame).  Might have to check out your Paris apartment one day too!  To take us up to race time .. here is @parisbug’s dog, Freya, with “The Ladies”.



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