Normandy is one of my favourite parts of France but until a couple of days ago neither Vanya nor I had visited Bayeux. That has now been put right and we both love the place. Sitting on the Aure River, Bayeux is a small compact city where just about everything of interest is within easy walking distance. We parked the Van at Camping des Bords de l’Aure in the north of the city and within 15 minutes had completed a delightful walk south along the river bank to the old town centre.
The streets in the centre are lined with a mix of beautifully preserved half timbered houses and elegant mansions and towering over almost every part of the Bayeux is the impressive Norman-Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame. More about that later. For those wanting to know more about the city there are a series of bronze studs in the ground which if followed will lead you around the city for a mile or two to some 20 plus information panels – You can take a self guided walking tour.
After a brief look around the old (medieval) part of the city we made for a small restaurant which Vanya had read about and where I had subsequently reserved a table – Le Moulin de la Galette, a Creperie on the Rue de Nesmond. The restaurant is in a beautiful setting alongside the river and it was this as much as the menu that attracted us both. There are three parts to the restaurant – inside, outside and upstairs (by an old waterwheel). We were inside. Not the best place for the views but perfect for catching the eye of a waiter whenever our glasses required filling. Vanya was on the wine but I went for the local cider (and very nice it was too). The galettes we ordered were not the best we have eaten in France but they weren’t bad. The place was packed with locals but service was good; attentive without being overbearing and; we’d eat there again.
Over the next couple of days we did all the things expected of visitors to Bayeux, such as checking out the Cathedral of Notre Dame and visiting the Musee de la Tapisserie to see and learn more about the Bayeux Tapestry (and they were well worth visiting – see below) but; equally enjoyable was our simply wandering the whole city and; perusing the local Saturday morning market on Place Saint Patrice and; people watching and drinking local beers in the city centre outside ‘Le Montmartre Bar’ on Rue Saint-Jean. Wonderful.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame is Norman-Gothic and dates back to the 11th century (the church was first consecrated in 1070) but only the crypt survives from that time. Much of the current building, including the 77 metre tower was constructed in the Gothic style during the 15th century. It’s most impressive from the outside.
The famous Bayeux Tapestry was first housed in the Cathedral although it is now to be found in the Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux on Rue de Nesmond. Part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, the Bayeux Tapestry is in fact an embroidered cloth and not a tapestry at all. It is nearly 70 metres in length (and almost 2 feet wide) and in a series of some 70 richly detailed and colourful scenes portrays events leading up to and including the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. For just a few Euros it is possible to follow the ‘tapestry’ around the museum with a hand held Auto-guide Commentary which explains each scene. Unsurprisingly the story is told from a Norman perspective but, for me, it brought the tapestry to life and is truly enthralling. It was well worth the admission fee of 9.50 euros.
Just around the corner from the Musee de la Tapisserie in the very centre of the city on the largely pedestrianised Rue Saint-Jean is ‘Le Montmartre’. A small local bar with limited outside seating Le Montmartre is invariably packed (especially late afternoon and early evening as the locals make their way home from work). This is hardly surprising given the warm and friendly service, a good range of local beers and delicious tapas style food. We spent a couple of hours there during the early evening of our second day in Bayeux, just drinking and people watching. I could repeat that again and again.
The local market is another great place to people watch and the regular Saturday morning market on the Place de Saint Patric is no exception. It is a typical (albeit fairly large) French market at which you can buy just about anything from calvados to goslings. Particularly appealing was some of the fast food (take a look at the paella in one of the photos below) and the fish stalls (which consisted of super large tanks full of live crabs, lobsters, crevettes, etc).