In 2014, Joel and I joined my parents for a week in France’s Normandy region. Dad and mum had just finished up at the World Equestrian Games (he was a vet, she was a steward). We traveled together for a week here in northern France, and then Joel and I continued on for another week without them.
On that trip, Joel and I drove through the Loire Valley, a truly lovely region rife with old chateaus, picturesque views, and several gardens that would make any proper Englishman green with envy. After we found where we were staying for the night, Joel suggested that we drive to Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei, which had been christened one of the “most beautiful villages in France.” I was a bit hesitant at first as quaint villages mean unmarked roads and hoped-for lucky navigational breaks, and after 10 days in a car in a foreign country, I was about navigated out. But as we had nothing else to do and dinner wasn’t until 8:00, I got in the car, navigation at the ready.
This is what we found…
I guess the French take that whole beautiful village designation quite seriously. Not just any forgotten hamlet can be deemed beautiful.
Wikipedia (where oh where would we be without the instant satisfaction of Wikipedia and Google) informs me that the village is named for Serenicus, an Italian hermit who lived there during the 8th century. Apparently he stopped there because it reminded him of where he had grown up in the Alps, so he tied together some sticks to function as some sort of hut and lived out the rest of his days. After his death, a monastery was built, later destroyed by the Vikings in 903. The name le-Gérei comes from William Giroie, who built a castle here in 1044 of which only parts of the walls remain today. In 1060 the castle came under siege from Duke William II of Normandy (the future King William I of England) before being taken by Robert Courteheuse his son in 1088. That is just the official line. For such a tiny, forgotten place, it certainly stumbled into quite a bit of history.
As I walked along the banks of the River Sarthe, my one thought was that I was glad Eleanor and Beatrice were not along with us at just that particular moment. Don’t get me wrong–I miss them and their sock chewing and bed hogging terribly. Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei is idyllic, one of those places where time seems to stop. You breathe a little more slowly, notice the small things like the shrine in the woods, the weathered stone cross, how cold the water is in the Sarthe even though it is still September. Eleanor and Beatrice, however, wouldn’t see any of these things just yet. They’re still young, so they are all exuberance and joy and cannonball contests in the water. One day, they’ll appreciate quiet walks along the river, but not just yet. So until then, I’ll save our afternoon in Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei for a quiet memory of my own.