The weather was perfect, with just a few rainshowers to refresh the flowers and lawns, and seeing so many butterflies and birds was a delight.
An association called "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France" (The Most Beautiful Villages of France) counts 159 small villages among its members. They are mainly in areas of natural beauty, must number fewer than 2000 in population, and must have at least two national heritage sites. Lonlay has the abbey (11th to 15th centuries), and a historically classed Merovingian tomb (Le Sarcophage de la Thomassière) on its outskirts. I'm sure that I am not alone in thinking Lonlay l'Abbaye's charm could certainly merit designation as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
While we were visiting, a crew from TF1 (a major French tv channel) was interviewing the mayor and other residents for their perspectives on keeping rural village life alive and well.
Our little dog Pipkin was also keen to explore this new land, which was like Mars to her, as it was her first visit to Lonlay. We found we needed to bribe her almost constantly with treats to stay calm at our feet if we stopped for a glass of wine on the terrace of the bar/tabac or took her to lunch at the Relais.
One morning she ran loose out the door of where we were staying, and I was afraid she would wind up in the road in traffic. Lonlay is a relatively quiet village, but in the morning and late afternoon, it does see a fair amount of cars and enormous container-sized 18 wheelers delivering goods to the scattered villages. Fortunately, she ran back to me on the green just a few minutes after her disappearance and greedily ate the end of the baguette I had for her!
An example of what you might have: a choice of cold terrine of salmon, hot quiche or salad with gésiers, followed by either pork roast, rumsteak with pepper sauce or sandre (a flaky fresh water fish) in sorrel sauce. Your choice of red, white or rosé wine in a small carafe.
A very genial place, so inviting and enticing for both local folks and visitors. One day when we were there, they served lunch not only for the normal number of tables (about 10) but also for a group of 20 who had reserved one long table and a special menu in advance!
Down closer to the abbey and adjacent to the bakery, the bar/tabac is run by the wife of the baker with help from an assistant in the morning hours. In the early evening, their terrace is a wonderful spot for an aperitif. We were warmly greeted as regulars after a few days, and the baker's wife gave us some pamphlets for exploring the surrounds of Lonlay on one of our next trips. She was very patient with our wiggly pup, and brought her a big plastic bucket to drink from.
While we were there, we were fortunate to hear a choral concert of Renaissance sacred music by the composer Josquin Desprez in the setting of the abbey. The choral group Metamorphoses is known for performing Desprez's classic works, particularly this year, 500 years after his death. They were more popular than we expected, because about 200 people attended the Sunday afternoon concert.
Before the concert, we chatted on the bar/tabac terrace with some ladies who had driven from Alençon (about an hour away) to hear the music. We were impressed that they had come prepared for the afternoon with their own jar of paté and cutlery, so all they needed was bread from the bakery and a glass of wine.
If you are interested, this is an example of their singing Desprez's work on Youtube: