Famous for two invasions across the English Channel that changed the course of History, Bayeux is located at the heart of the Calvados region in Lower Normandy (Basse-Normandie) in north-western France.
How to get there from Paris
By car, take the A13 towards Caen. By train, take the TGV at Paris St. Lazare station. Take the Paris -St-Lazare – Cherbourg line and the journey can take between two and two and a half hours, depending on the service. By air, fly into Caen airport.
How to get there from the UK
By air, fly into Caen airport. By ferry to St-Malo, Cherbourg, Grenville and Calais from Portsmouth, Weymouth, Poole, Dover, and the Channel Islands.
The best way to see the city is on foot. The medieval historic center isn’t very big. The streets are narrow, so driving can be tiresome. A car is ideal when visiting the beaches and war cemeteries. Car rental companies have offices both at the airport and ferry terminals, so you can book a car ahead of time and pick it up when you arrive. However, if you decide not to rent a car and wish to visit the D-Day beaches, you can always take a minivan tour.
Bayeux train station is located within walking distance of the town center (centreville.)
Where to stay
There are many different types of accommodation in Bayeux to choose from: hotels, B&Bs, furnished accommodation for rent, campsites, youth hostels, even monasteries, to suit every wallet.
The top four hotels chosen by TripAdvisor users are: Hotel Churchill (14, rue Saint-Jean), Hotel d’Argougus (21, rue Saint-Patrice), Hotel Le Bayeux (9, rue Tardif) and Le Lion d’Or (71, rue Saint-Jean). They are all centrally located.
These four star Bed and Breakfast are situated in the outskirts of town: Chateau d’Argouges (Mosles, www.chateau-argouges.com); Moulin de Hard (Subles, www.moulin-de-hard.com); and Castel Povence (Ver Sur Mer, www.castelprovence.fr).
The Abbey of La Joie Saint Benoit, Bayeux (www.lajoiesaintbenoit.com) and the Abbey of Juaye Mondaye (www.modaye.com) also provide accommodation, albeit of a more spiritual and quiet kind.
Family Home (www.bayeux-familyhome.com) and Les Sablons (also www.bayeux-familyhome.com) are two youth hostels also located in the area.
Where to eat
These two restaurants serve traditional Norman French cuisine, the most popular of which seems to be Le Petit Normand (35, rue Larcher) with Le Pommier Restaurant (38-40, rue des Cuisineres, closed on Sundays from November to March) snapping at its heels. Le Marsala Pizzeria-Grill Restaurant (17, rue des Cuisiniers) offers delicious salads and pizzas at affordable prices.
For an inexpensive lunch on the go, look out for sandwich (baguette) stands. They are usually made with fresh ingredients of very good quality. Alternatively, you can stock up on, say, mini quiches, sausage rolls and ham and cheese rolls from a charcutier-traiteur and some exquisite macaroons and sables from Reine Mathilde (47, rue Saint-Martin) and have a picnic at the beach.
A note on the traditional food of Normandy
Normandy is famous for its dairy cattle and apple orchards. Local cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Pot l’Eveque and Neufchatel.
Although very little wine is produced, the region is noted for its cider and calvados, or apple brandy.
Pastries and confections such as brioche, sables, marzipan, tarte Normande (apple tart) are also very popular and extremely good. Traditional savoury dished include moules (mussels) a la creme Normande, duck with cherries, tripe, lamb pre-sale (from the salty marshes of Mont Saint-Michel) and andouilles (chitterlings).
What to do
This 20 inch by 230 foot long embroidered cloth illustrates the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. It was shown once a year and was kept in the cathedral. It is now housed in the Centre Guillaume le Conquerant on rue de Nesmond (across from the hospital). The museum’s opening hours are Mondays to Saturdays from 9 to 7, Sundays from 10 to 7. The entrance fee is eight euro. Audio tours are available in different languages. If you walk from the cathedral to the museum – follow the doing to the museum and the hospital- you will walk past a charming little medieval mill on the river Aure.
Amble down the narrow cobblestone streets, admire the medieval timber frame buildings, shop for fashionable clothes and locally made products. Soak up the atmosphere of this lovely town.
Notre Dame de Bayeux Cathedral.
Built in the Norman-Romanesque style and consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conqueror, the cathedral dominates the town. It is open every day from 10 to 4. Have a stroll around it, visit the crypt and admire the surviving medieval frescoes. Walk around the little park outside and see setting sun impart a golden glow on this majestic building.
The other cross-Channel invasion Bayeux is famous for is that of the D-Day, Operation Overlord. A good option is to take a guided tour and let them worry about traffic and parking. They will pick you up and show you the landing beaches, museums and was cemeteries. Battlebus (email@example.com), Victory Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org), D-Day Battle Tours (email@example.com) are some of the tour providers you will find in Bayeux.
The landing beaches are just that, beaches. There’s almost nothing left from that fateful day except at Arromanches, where you can see remains of the artificial pontoon. So it may be a good idea to visit the museums in order to get a feel of what happened on June 6, 1944. The Musee Memorial d’Omaha Beach (American) is on Avenue de la Liberation in Saint-Laurent-Sur-Mer. The Centre Juno Beach (Canadian) is located on Voie des Francais Libres in Courseulles Sur Mer. Arromanches 360 is a circular theatre in Arromanches Les Bains that shows films of that day.
War cemeteries. For a truly moving experience, visit the many war memorials and cemeteries scattered around the area. When planning your visit, bear in mind that the British cemetery isclosed on Sundays, the American cemetery opens from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April 15 to September 15, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. The three biggest ones are the American War Cemetery (Cimetiere Militaire Americain) located above Omaha Beach in Coleville Sur Mer. It is set among beautiful gardens and you can’t help but think that these brave soldiers do rest in peace. The German War Cemetery (Cimetiere Militaire Allemand) is a sobering sight, with its twenty-one thousand plus crosses. It is located in La Cambe. The Canadian War Cemetery (Cimetiere Militaire Canadien) is situated in Beny-sur-Mer, Reviers and the British War Cemetery (Cimetiere Militaire Britannique) is in Bayeux. There are many smaller Commonwealth cemeteries in the area. You will be moved to tears just thinking of the thousands of young lives that were sacrificed here at a stroke, albeit for a good cause.
There is so much to do and see in Bayeux, and area incredibly rich in history, that one visit is not enough to appreciate it in depth. You will definitely want to come back.
www.ricksteves.com (for the tours)