“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley
After a delightful visit to Honfleur, we were back in the car headed to our next pit stop, about 90 minutes south west to Bayeux. We chose Bayeux as our home base because of its close proximity to the Normandy D-Day beaches, as well as to see Mont Saint-Michel….both on our itinerary and both within close, 2 hour or less drives. Bayeux is located only about 4 hours from the English Channel and played a role in the Normandy invasion by the Allied Forces in World War 2, but we will get to that later.
Bayeux dates back to Roman times, originally called Augustodurum in around 1BC, and was later destroyed by Vikings in the 9th Century. A few centuries later, it saw some substantial growth under William the Conqueror’s half brother Odo in the 11th century. In fact, Odo dedicated the town’s cathedral in 1077. It was during that time period that the famous Bayeux Tapestry was created and it is still the home to the famous piece of linen that tells the story of the Norman Invasion of England.
The Bayeux Tapestry was supposedly (but most likly not) embroidered by William the Conqueror’s wife, Reine Mathilde. If you saw how long and large this thing is, you would easily see that one person couldn’t possibly create this in under many, many many years. Actually, it was probably commissioned in the 1070’s to commemorate the events that lead up the Norman Conquest. The exquisite tapestry is 250 feet long (!) and depicts about 50 different scenes of the battle. In reading about it before the visit, I thought it would be a bit boring and static, but it was very vibrant and like reading a modern day graphic novel…telling a very exciting story of intrigue and war.
The Tapestry, which is over 1,000 years old, is kept under glass in a dark gallery. As you walk the U-shape room, you listen to the very interesting (seriously, it is) and informative audio guide, which really brings the tapestry to life.
For our stay in Bayeux, we chose the Domaine de Bayeux. It’s an 18th century manor house turned into a bed & breakfast and is right in the town–you can walk to the Cathedral in about 7 minutes, to the Tapestry in 5 and into the center of the town in about 8 minutes. Our room, a Suite, is way up in the attic space, which is 3 very long flights up and old, creaky stair. We aren’t lazy at all, but we chose to leave our very heavy luggage in the car and bring up what we needed day by day. I’m fine with that, Josette not so much, but I really can’t see hauling it up. We have a pretty spacious room with a huge, modern bathroom (I think our New York apartment would fit into this bathroom). The exposed beams give the room a lot of charm, but I have to duck down every time I pass under a beam to avoid banging my head…it might prove to be a major problem if you are 6′-2″ or more, but I haven’t hit my head (yet).
On our first day in Bayeux, after dropping off our bags, we toured the Tapestry and then we walked a short distance to the Cathedral (officially, Cathedral of our Lady of Bayeux) . You can see the towers of the Cathedral from quite a distance….it sits prominently on a bluff and the middle (19th century) tower gleams like a beacon.
The Cathedral (as most of the ones I write about on this blog) sits on the sight of a Roman sanctuary. The Cathedral, as seen today, was dedicated in July 1077. Possibly because of the large scale of the cathedral compared to the small 18th century buildings around it, it appears to be massive and its towers are soaring. I do not know the details of the stained glass inside (whether there used to be more, or not) but the large amount of clear glass creates a very bright interior compared to many gothic cathedrals.
After a very long day, which actually included Honfleur in the morning…driving to Bayeux…checking into our hotel and then more sightseeing, we were tired and hungry. The hotelier made a reservation for us at the Moulin de la Galette, a little place just down the road that specializes in a local dish…galettes, which are pancake/crepes made with buckwheat flour and stuffed with savory ingredients. I have to say that for such a simple dish, they were delicious. Mine was stuffed with smoked duck, potatoes and roquefort cheese. We also tried the local cider, which was a little more sweet than I had anticipated, but still crisp and refreshing. The ambiance on a beautiful summer evening couldn’t have been nicer….an outdoor deck overlooking along the river making it picturesque and romantic. It was a great way to end the day.
Tomorrow we are going to visit the rest of the little town of Bayeux as well as the British World War 2 Cemetery….that will all be in my next post, Bayeux, Part 2.