During your trip to Normandy, don’t miss the charming village of Saint-Cénéri-le-Gérei.
Nestled in a loop of the Sarthe, it offers houses with old buildings surrounded by greenery. It is a peaceful place that has inspired many artists for good reason.
Here is our guide to help you plan your visit: map, tips, what to do in Saint-Cénéri-le-Gérei, photos…
Why visit the village of Saint-Cénéri-le-Gérei ?
Is Saint-Ceneri worth it?
Yes. Saint Cénéri is definitely one of the most beautiful villages in Normandy. And it’s unlike any other!
It is nestled in a loop of the Sarthe with sections at water level and others higher up, since it is located in the small Alpes Mancelles.
The stone houses are surrounded by greenery for a wonderful combination.
It is not surprising that it has inspired (and still inspires) many artists, especially in the 19th century. One of the most beautiful places to visit during a trip in Normandy.
One of the most beautiful villages in France
Because of its charm, Saint-Ceneri has obtained 2 labels:
- “The most beautiful villages of France”. A label for the most beautiful villages in France.
- “Petite Cité de Caractère” – A lesser known label for small rural villages that were once urban centers and have retained much character and some historic buildings.
Best things to do in Saint-Cénéri-le-Gérei ?
Our top 5
We will detail our visit of the village and the places to see, but to give you an idea:
- Walk through the charming streets of the village
- Visit the church to discover its magnificent frescoes
- Take the small path around the church to see the panorma
- Go down to the chapel and feel the inspiration that many artists have known
- Admire the bridge over the Sarthe river
Video – virtual visit
Before we tell you more about this beautiful village, take a look at our short video. It will give you an idea of what to expect during your visit.
Where does this name come from?
The legend says that Saint Ceneri, who was born in Italy, was crossing France. In the year 659, he stopped on a promontory along the Sarthe. Tired and thirsty, he began to pray. The first miracle was that the water gushed out. Then, to cross the river, he made the sign of the cross and the water split. This was the second miracle. Together with his walking companion Flavar, they built a wooden hermitage near the river and later a small wooden church where the present church stands.
The village bears his name for the first part.
The second part is that the strategic location was sought after by many people, including the Giroie family, who dominated it for a time. Their names have been added.
Tips and Map – Saint-Cénéri-le-Gérei, Normandy
How to get to Saint-Ceneri
- The village is located in the department of Orne in Normandy, on the border of the region
- The nearest large city in Normandy is Alençon
- Alençon to Saint-Cénéri = 20min by car
- It can be visited in one day from Paris – it takes 2.5 hours to drive there one way.
- The roads to reach the village are in good condition
- The drive inside the village to reach the parking lot includes narrow roads
- Here is a map to help you find your way:
Need to rent a car in Normandy?
- Compare prices on our preferred platform: DiscoverCars – one of the best rated sites.
- Choose a compact car (some city streets are narrow).
- Think of thefull insurance (some winding passages in the old villages and tight parking in the big cities).
- There is a lot of demand, book it early.
Voir nos conseils
- The main parking lot requires you to cross the village (depending on your arrival). It is well indicated.
- There is another parking lot further away from the village center, at the Mansonière gardens
- There are some slopes to reach the church and go down to the bridge. They are a little stiff but not long
- It is a popular village, the parking lot can be full, I recommend visiting early.
- And if you come in the summer at lunchtime, you should book your restaurant in advance.
Restaurants of Saint-Cénéri
- You may visit the village at lunch time.
- You will find several restaurants in the center of the village with a good variety of food.
- We had lunch at the “Ancienne Auberge des Peintres”. We found it excellent and original.
Where to stay – Hotels and accommodations in Saint-Ceneri
- Saint-Ceneri is a very small village
- In and around the village, you will find mostly rentals. But there are some very nice options in this beautiful countryside
- Otherwise, for the big hotels, go to the city of Alençon which is only 20 minutes away. Discover the best rated accommodations in Alençon
Plan your trip to Normandy!
→ Inspiration destinations
Deciding where to go in Normandy – the best destinations
Our weekend ideas: best-of, romantic, unusual, seaside, luxury, family
Best things to do in Normandy
Best cities in Normandy
Most beautiful beaches of Normandy
Most beautiful villages of Normandy
Best castles of Normandy
Best abbeys of Normandy
Read our complete guide to visit the Mont-Saint-Michel
Discover the D-Day sites
Where to stay in Normandy – best places and hotels
See our tips for renting a car at CDG airport, Orly airport, Beauvais airport, Caen, Rouen, Bayeux…
Once parked, just take a walk through the village center.
The old stone houses are well maintained and embellished with plants and flowers. They really make an effort and the streets are beautiful.
Take a look at these pictures:
History and Castle
As I said earlier, the first building was the wooden hermitage by the river in the 7th century.
Then it was a place source of conflicts as many wished to possess this strategic location: the Vikings, William the Conqueror, the Ambroise de Loré, the Lords of Bellême and the Girois….
There was a castle, because it was a strategic position. But it was destroyed by the English in 1435. Only a portion of one wall remains, as you can see in the photo below.
This village had the very first Englishman elected mayor in France.
Saint-Ceneri was also a place of interest during the 19th century, as painters settled there to be inspired. The village is sometimes called the “little Barbizon” (Barbizon is another village south of Paris famous for attracting artists).
Some of the buildings that housed inns at the time still have traces of their stay: Auberge des Peintres or Auberge des soeurs Moisy.
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The church of Saint-Ceneri
The present church has a Roman style. It was built in 1089 by the Giroie family on the site of the wooden church built by Saint Ceneri (destroyed in 903 by the Normans).
The bell tower was added during the 12th century.
Modifications took place in the 14th and 19th centuries, especially in the windows.
The frescoes in the church
The church is famous for its beautiful murals, some of which probably date back to the 12th century, but most are from the 16th to the 20th century.
The oldest ones had been covered with plaster in 1650 and were rediscovered in 1828.
The vault is particularly interesting in my opinion. It was also covered with plaster. But in 1980, it was restored and 40 angel musicians were found there.
These frescoes make it one of the most fascinating churches in Normandy(see our list).
Right next to the church, don’t miss the view! Just climb the stairs and enjoy the narrow path around the building.
From there, you can admire the Sarthe, the bridge and some houses.
The low hills surrounding the village are called the Alpes Mancelles. The area is very green and the houses seem to disappear in the trees.
I think this is one of the most charming views in Normandy.
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The original wooden chapel built by St. Ceneri no longer exists.
However, if you continue past the church, you will find a chapel in a large field, right at the loop of the river.
It was built in the 15th century and inspired many artists who painted it. Some of the most famous paintings are by René Veillon and Bernard Buffet.
The bridge over the Sarthe river
After enjoying the view from the top, I recommend that you go down to the river level and go to the bridge.
If you look up from the bridge, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the church and the vantage point where you were standing.
If you go down to the water level, you can see that it is an arched bridge with 4 arches. It was built in the 16th century.
In the middle of the bridge, you change region. On the right, you are in Normandy. But on the left, you are in Pays-de-la-Loire.
Gardens and other things to do
You can enjoy the area around the village:
- The Gardens of La Mansonière
- The walking paths, including one along the Sarthe river
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