The city of Bayeux is an easy weekend trip, just 3 hours west of Paris from the Gare du Nord, in Normandy. It is a city which holds lots of treasures. The cathedral is just magnificent. One of the prettiest I have ever seen. I also love another Normandy cathedral, the one in Coutances a bit farther afield. Both of these cathedrals are full of light and life. They are brought alive by their parishes and are true places of worship and spirituality. But also interesting places to visit as a tourist. I particularly like the light airy inside and the stained glass. The exterior dome of Notre Dame de Bayeux makes for a unique silhouette. The Bayeux cathedral was consecrated in 1077 by Bishop Odo of Conteville in the presence of his brother William the Conqueror, duke of Normandy and king of England. It is a gem of Normand architecture, considered one of France’s finest and was miraculously untouched during the fighting of World War II. In fact the whole old city of Bayeux survived the war and today you can visit the winding streets with half-timbered houses and manors from the Middle Ages. Private guides and the tourist office provide walking tours. The city is beautiful day or night as the monuments are elegantly lit.
Around the “back “ of the cathedral is the very interesting square where a Liberty Tree was planted in 1797. The 222 year plane old tree is majestic and symbolic on regular days, but this summer a light show is projected on it and the cathedral every night. “A 360° projection onto the monumental Tree of Liberty celebrates life and freedom: from the very first tree to the four seasons cycle, through the Liberation and Martin Luther King… Ten stories of life and freedom for an artistic and technological prowess!” (sic) The courtyard is open to all and free. You can also see a few gargoyles at eye level – great for selfies.
It is believed that Bishop Odo of Conteville commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry*, which is another gem of Bayeux and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Tapestry has had an incredible life. This unique artefact was probably intended to hang in the cathedral’s nave, but it is not sure that it ever did. It is currently housed in a special gallery to preserve it’s delicate linen and embroidery. An audio guide helps you to understand the story of treason, treachery and battle that is told a bit like a comic strip in 58 scenes over 68 meters of cloth. The main characters of the story are William the Conqueror and Harold who are vying for the crown of England in 1066. We used the audio guide for kids and found it to be very interesting, easy to follow, not at all stuffy or academic nor too child-oriented. We’ve seen the tapestry many times, but this year a more relaxed pace allowed us to find our way upstairs to the exhibition room which places the tapestry in historical context. The exhibition answers many of the questions you might have about how it survived more than 1000 tumultuous years, how it was made and what life was like at the time. And a 20 minute films explains the importance of the Battle of Hastings. Well worth the extra hour spent upstairs.
Bayeux also offers a botanical garden and the Baron Gerard Museum of Art and History*. More than enough wonders to fill a weekend. PLUS Bayeux is a great base for D-Day site visits either in your own car or with small group tours. The British war cemetery is right in town as well as is the Museum of the Battle of Normandy*. And of course the beaches of the Côte de Nacre and Calvados apple products of cider and apple jack. (*Hint: Get the combo ticket for a discount on the 3 museums.) Read more about the D-Day sites here.
We recommend two of the many accommodations in Bayeux which are both right on the edge of the old city. A Bed and Breakfast called Friendly Home Bayeux , just opened by long-time hotelier Mireille Bajum who is now in semi-retirement, has just 3 rooms. The common spaces are great for gathering and include a terrace and a well appointed living room. Don’t miss the library of D-Day books, it is quite a collection. There are also quite a number of Liberation memorabilia on the walls. One of the upstairs bedrooms has a view on the cathedral. The Hotel Le Bayeux has recently been transferred to Mireille’s daughter and she is keeping up tradition with family-oriented rooms complete with giant stuffed animals. The hotel also offers a common space where you can bring in a pizza for dinner. D-Day veterans and their families receive a special welcome at both places which have housed many illustrious visitors over the years including Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the general/president. During our stay Emilien Bouglione patriarch of the Cirque Bouglione (cirque d’Hiver) was present. A real tiger tamer and trapeze artist wearing tiger claw cuffs links and carrying a cane with a sword hidden inside shook my hand! You never know who you are going to meet at Mireille’s place. Book both directly via the hotel and mention FUSAC for the best price: https://www.hotellebayeux.com/
A word to the wise: in the summer and on weekends Bayeux’s best restaurant fill up fast, reserve in advance by at least a few days.