The famous, ancient forest of Bercé (Foret de Bercé) is magnificent with its grand trees and even grander history, a place of mystery and shades of green, a place to enjoy a picnic, a wander, pick mushrooms or simply lose yourself in contemplation of its incredible beauty…
Trees have been growing here for centuries but it was in the days of Louis XIV (1683-1715) that the future of the Foret de Bercé was changed. It’s quite a thought to be wandering in these woods with the knowledge that Colbert, the minister of the Sun King walked here before me and was instrumental in installing a new management system in the late 1660’s, designed to ensure that the wood was optimal for the building of boats for the navy. By planting three beech trees to every oak tree, the oaks grew taller in the search for sunlight, forsaking branches to conserve energy. This produces knotless wood, perfect for making planks of wood for boats. Indeed maritime wood was harvested from this forest until the beginning of the 20th Century. The wood is also used for wine barrels, musical instruments and clogs. At the start of the 20th Century there were 500 clog makers in the area, now there are only two, they’re located in the town of Jupilles.
These days the trees are allowed to grow more naturally and the forest has become famous for its magnificent splendour.
Mushroom picking in Bercé
As you drive along the roads that skirt this enormous wooded area of 54,000 acres, at certain times of the year you can’t miss the sight of people carrying baskets – they’re mushroom pickers. Foraging for wild mushrooms is a national hobby in France and at the magnificent Forest of Bercé everyone is allowed to pick 5kg a day, this ensures the famous funghi are preserved for the future, and prevents anyone picking for business. If you want to try your hand, August through the end of October are good months, but remember, don’t eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely certain that it is edible and not poisonous. Every year there are several deaths from mushroom poisoning in France – it’s critical to make sure that foraged mushrooms are safe to eat. Pop to a pharmacy and ask them for help, many chemists in France offer a free of charge mushroom safety advice service!
When you pick mushrooms there are rules to follow: Mushrooms must be a certain size before being picked so that they have a chance to release their spores; Tools of any sort are forbidden with the exception of knives; a knife must be used to cut the stem so as not to damage the mushroom plant; Mushrooms must be carried in a wicker basket to let the spores fall out and help propagation. You can check at the local town hall for details and to ensure that you meet criteria for picking (you can do this anywhere in France).
Carnuta, Forest Museum
Don’t miss a visit to Carnuta, a distinctively modern building in the lovely old village of Jupilles. Dedicated to the forest of Bercé and the wood it produces, you can learn about the history of the forest, the woodland creatures and all about the trees and the products that come from them. It’s very interactive, lots to touch and see and a great introduction to the magnificent woods. Kids will love the hands-on exhibitions that encourage you to feel the different barks and woods and explore the sensory experiences on offer.
If you are lucky enough to be there in autumn you cannot fail to be moved by the colours of the leaves and fauna – every shade of green, gold, yellow, auburn, orange, red and brown. At this time of year you may also be aware of the felling of trees deep in the forest, the sound of one hitting the ground is absolutely tremendous!
This is a fantasy forest of beauty, history and mystery, incredibly splendid and if you’re in the area of the spectacular Vallee du Loir (which translates literally as the Valley of the Dormouse!) don’t miss out on a wander in the woods, it’s really quite wonderful…
Tourist office website: www.vallee-du-loir.com for loads of great ideas for what to see and do
More on the Vallee du Loir
The wine route that’s off the beaten track but where you’ll find some of the best wines in France
The zoo with a room with a view! At La Fleche Zoo, the animals get a chance to watch the humans as there are lodges in the enclosures where guests can spend an incredible night!
Baugé, the beautiful little town that oozes history and culture and where you’ll discover an incredible apothecary that’s not changed for centuries
The Chateau de Lude, a truly magnificent monument that is still a home and lived in…