The Tiny Gem of Bayeux, FrancePosted by in Travel
Excellent food, luxurious accommodations, a World Heritage attraction and a walkable town make Bayeux, France a must-see on your visit to Normandy.
I’d never heard of Bayeux until I began planning for our trip to France. But the more I read, the more it was clear it was not to be missed.
We were welcomed to the Hotel Villa
Lara by an American desk clerk which made communication easy. This lovely little hotel is tucked behind the hospital in this tiny town. The easiest way to get there is via a little winding driveway that crosses a creek. They have a gated parking lot for guests. Our rooms were luxurious, but also very modern, with bright colors (such as purple) and vivid patterns – trendy but very French. Each room had a tiny balcony (through French doors) overlooking a lawn. We were thrilled with the 5 star amenities, beautiful furnishings and large rooms. You
could hear the church bells from the cathedral in our rooms.
Breakfast was included in a dining room adjacent to a very French kitchen area, where the staff cooked eggs to order in individual dishes. This was our best breakfast in France. We felt pampered and were well-fed as we set out to explore the town, but first my children filled their pockets with the complimentary caramels set out in the lobby.
The reason most people visit Bayeux
is to visit Le Tapisserie de Bayeux, a museum holding the Bayeux tapestry, which has been designated a World Heritage site by the UN. The tapestry is a big deal, but I’d never heard of it before we went (ignorant American that I am). I had completely the wrong expectation. I expected something similar to the tapestry room at the Vatican in Room – huge floor to ceiling heavy tapestries, almost like big Persian rugs. The tapestry in Bayeux is completely different. It is 230 feet long – it fills a
huge case that runs down the middle of the room then back up the other side – and is narrow, maybe 2 1/2 feet tall. It is actually an embroidered piece of cloth, not a tapestry.
The tapestry is fascinating for many reasons. It dates at least to 1476 and is probably older than that (that is the first known reference to it) and it depicts the events that led up to the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror (if you go, I would recommend you take 10 minutes and read a very brief description about this so you have some perspective – I didn’t and was a bit lost at times).
The tapestry is housed mere steps from the Villa Lara and no advance tickets are needed. We ended up going as it was raining and everyone else in town
had the same idea, so we waited a few minutes in line. You are given headphones in your language and don’t even think about saying no to them because they are the only thing that will explain what you’re seeing. You will move in a slow line of people as your narrator talks you through the events on the tapestry. It does not tell you when to move, so it can get a little confusing at times. The narration also points out items of interest in the tapestry, such as funny little vignettes you might miss. The embroidery is very basic and not at all intricate, yet it manages to tell the story and offer humor and pathos with its simple stitches.
It served as a history book for a population that was not literate and I found that to fascinating to consider. If you have time, go through it twice, so you can really grasp all the details.
The museum upstairs contains some items that may help put the story in perspective and it’s worth a trip up the stairs for that. All in all, we were in and out within the hour. (There were no photos allowed at the Tapisserie, so visit their site for an idea of what to expect)
The Bayeux Cathedral is the other big
draw in town – a huge, imposing building that absolutely dwarfs the entire town. It dates to 1077 and is magnificent. We snuck inside for a brief look and it is beautiful inside as well, with these huge medieval type doors. The tapestry used to be housed here and now returns once a year for a special display.
The best shops are near the Tapisserie. The shops on the main street are either t-shirt shops or the basic small town stores used
by residents. The Tapisserie gift shop was not exciting at all, which was rather disappointing since as you walk down the hall from the museum to the shop, some lovely items are displayed in cases, yet the shop only carries exact replicas of parts of the tapestry, placed on mugs or t-shirts.
There was one lovely shop next to the watermill, where they sell lace (Bayeux is known for its lace), as well as a large collection of
items with red poppies on them, which have meaning for remembrance of World War 1 and Veteran’s Day.
We enjoyed an excellent dinner at Le Pommier, a restaurant behind the Cathedral, recommended by our hotel. Since my husband and myself are gluten intolerant, dining out is always a challenge, but they were very accommodating here (and very fluent in English). The owner came over and told us what we could order. Our starters were: a salad with French ham, cheese
plate, snails, and a cheese fondue with ham. For entrees, we enjoyed salmon with pepper sauce, cod, pork and rib roast. We also had dessert, where we enjoyed Normandy apples – baked apple, apple pie, and banana pineapple chocolate skewers. Everything was of the highest quality.
I highly recommend a stop in Bayeux. It is within half an hour of the World War II beaches, so you can combine those into your
visit and use this as your staging area.
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We really loved Bayeux, too, and remember crossing that bridge. We had a private tour of the cathedral, which included the treasure room where they have a small wooden box that stored that huge tapestry between the times it was hung in the Cathedral. The material is so fine that it folded down to a box less than a yard long. I’m sorry that you missed my articles about the tapestry before you went. I thought of it as the world’s largest comic strip– or first graphic novel.