Why Visit Domfront? Domfront is a medieval hill town in the heart of lower Normandy. It is a great spot year-round.
A Brief History
Situated in Orne Department (61), Domfront is allocated on top of a bluff or a sand-based ridge, overlooking the Varenne river. The town is thought to be established in the 6th century, initially as a hermitage. Later on, the medieval city of Domfront played an integral part in the wars. Mainly against the English, and the French wars of religions.
The château (castle) played a very strategic role throughout the medieval period, and up until the 1500s, when the protestant leader, Count of Montgomery sought refuge in 1574. The castle was besieged by royal troops under the Marshal of Matignon, capitulating on 27th May that same year. Unfortunately after that, the castle was abandoned, leading to its deconstruction in 1608. Since then, the town has been built up out of the castle’s walls and stones. The castle itself was turned into a park in the 1800s. Now planted with a menagerie of rare and interesting trees. Archeology started on the castle grounds around this time too. Leading to the revival of part of the walls and marking the foundations of the chapel.
Why Visit Domfront
In more recent history, Domfront was a key part of the french resistance during the Second World War. This is seen with a safe house for Allied Airmen. and resistance fighters. There is a plaque commemorating this outside the small safe house at the edge of the park. Now, the medieval quarter of the town is relatively quiet. Despite it’s incredible history and beautiful architecture hidden in the winding streets.
The central church, l’eglise St. Julien, is an architectural wonder. Marred with history the church was dedicated to St-Julien, the first bishop of Le Mans. First built in the Middle Ages on Place St-Julien it was deemed too small, so it was demolished in 1744. In 1748, another church was built on the present site, further east than the original 12th-century church. During the French Revolution, the church suffered from the fighting eventually falling into disrepair. The church was further damaged by a storm in 1923 and had to be replaced again by the church you see today. As a 20th-century construction, the spire is an incredible octagon, forming unique acoustics inside. As with most churches, they are free to visit, as long as you stay respectful of the space.
Things to Do, Places to See…
The town itself is situated on the edge of the natural park, full of trails for hiking, cycling, and horseriding. The tourism office near the castle offers maps for the walking loops, from 3km to 23km, perfect for any level of adventurer. The area itself is pretty flat (it’s Normandy) so the walks seem to be fairly straightforward. I’ve yet to go on any of these forest walks, but they are on my summer to-do list. So I will probably update this post with my favourite walks later this year!
If walking isn’t your go-to activity, fear not as there is a wealth of culture and history. Not just in the town but also in the surrounding area. Lonlay Abbey and Notre-Dame-sur-l’Eau Church, dating back to the initial establishment of Domfront, is one of the major religious buildings in the area. The first monks came to the abbey from the Benedictine. It is said, to pray for the soul of William I of Bellême. The founder of the abbey, and owner of castles in both Allençon and Domfront. The abbey is now pretty well known for its biscuits. You may notice in the supermarkets of Normandy that you’ll find “Biscuiterie de l’Abbaye.” These are the biscuits made at Lonlay Abbey. There are tours of the factory as well as the factory shop. Meaning you can enjoy a bit of history and some tasty treats.
Other impressive buildings in the area include La Table du Diable (The Devil’s Table). This is situated between Domfront and Mantilly. One of the more historic attractions: is a 5000-year-old long barrow. There is also St-Roch-sur-Egrenne’s Le Monument du Sacre Couer. A beautiful unique diorama, and a 15th-century church. Lastly, the town hall within the medieval quarter of Domfront, doubles as a museum.
The town of Domfront holds an immense amount of concerts and festivals. Every year, the town alternates between a world-renowned medieval fete and a mythical folklore-themed festival. Along with these annual events, the town holds numerous musical concerts and soirées. Both in the medieval town and the surrounding churches. Information on all the upcoming concerts and events are always advertised at the local tourism offices. A side note: regardless of where you are in France, the tourist office will have everything you need to know and more.