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louis Bayeux - A travel report by Rafal
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Bayeux,  France - flag France -  Basse-Normandie
5166 readers

louis's travel reports

Crimson blue

  9 votes
Some tourist destinations are not only chosen because of its beauty. Very often, with the undeniable beauty comes along history. Normandy is a perfect example. The silence on D-day beaches and importance of the place made me speechless and shivered

Côte d'Albâtre
Côte d'Albâtre
The region of Normandy is like a Christmas chocolate box. No matter which box you open, a nice surprise is awaiting you. It is located in Northern France opposite Britain. During the late Middle Ages it was an independent kingdom, that seized part of Britain during the regime of Wilhelm the Conqueror. In the year 1204, the region was incorporated into the Kingdom of France. The Allies landing in 1944 changed dramatically the region's landscape. Many cities, towns, villages or historical monuments were destroyed or disappeared. Many of them were rebuilt later, nevertheless the large part of the historical heritage was lost. Today, everywhere are remnants of 1944 events. The museums, the monuments, the war cemeteries became an integral part of Normandy's landscape and history.

Normandy is divided into Lower and Upper, having Caen and Rouen (respectively) as capitals. The other big cities are Le Havre, Dieppe, Evreux and Cherbourg (one of the departure ports of Titanic). The landscape is mostly flat with exception of the coast, where the fabulous cliffs of Côte d'Albâtre are located. Travelling around is easy through the good road network, although the highways are paid and quite expensive. The main cities have good train connections with Paris. Caen has an international airport. The ports of Le Havre, Dieppe and Cherbourg have good connections with England. Mont Saint Michel is the most precious historical monument in the entire region (part of UNESCO list). Le Havre is another representative example on the list for the historical significance in urban planning and revolutionary architecture. This part of France has a phenomenal light which is why the region became home for many impressionists like Claude Monet, who lived in the village of Giverny. The wonderful gardens (together with his home) are now a museum (entrance ticket costs 9,50 eur). Rouen has a pretty old town with half-timbered houses. Joanna d'Arc's execution place is a main tourist attracion now.

Favourite spots:
The Omaha beach
The Omaha beach
Probably, there are dozen of landscapes in the world similar to the ones on Normandy coast. However here, standing on the top of a cliff or hill, your heart starts to beat differently. History is the reason. It is the place of the biggest invasion in the last century. The beaches got code names: Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The Allies landed here to break the huge defensive system of the Atlantic wall. During the first few days of the invasion, thousands of soldiers from all sides of the conflict lost their lives. Being there and looking at the calm sea and the hilly landscape it is almost impossible to imagine the horror of these days, when the sea was crimson blue. I had a chance to see Omaha beach in Arromanches. During the low tide it is a wide stripe of sand with many reminders of the invasion. Still, some parts of the temporary port called "Mulberry" can easily be seen on the beach. Parts of defensive system are available to visit. There are plenty memorials and museums.

What's really great:
The fame of Bayeux is connected to wars. During the first day of D-day invasion, the town was captured and most of it remained mostly untouched. Thanks to it, the famous "Bayeux tapestry" survived until today. It is one of the most precious arts of its kind. The origins of the tapestry are as mysterious as the work of art itself. It was discovered in the Cathedral in 1476, but scientists say that it is much older (from years 1066-1075). This piece of art is 70 m long and depicts 32 scenes from the Norman conquest of England. The Cathedral is the prettiest building in the town. Consecrated in July 1077, it has a surprisingly light silhouette. The stunning entrance portico is not to be missed and the crypts have wonderful frescoes. The center of the town has preserved its medieval urban style and is full of romantic cobbled streets. There are two famous museums in the town. The first one is a home for the "Bayeux Tapestry" and the second one, the "Musée de la Bataille de Normandie".

Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel
During only one night, in a peaceful way and thanks to the whimsical river Couenson, Mont Saint Michel passed from Brittany to Normandy. This is a fact. In the year of 708, Archangel Michael appeared to Saint Aubert, the bishop of Avranches. His wish was to raise a great monastery. This is the legend. Myths and legends created a magnificent place that nowadays attracts yearly more than three million tourists. During the ages, many different constructions were added. The unfortunate last supplement - the bridge to the abbey, caused the silting of the bay. Presently, it is very difficult to see the island surrounded by the sea during the high tide. The cathedral with the golden figure of St. Michael is the main building on the island. There is only one street there, but incalculable number of stairs. It is very difficult to see the beauty of the place as the island is simply flooded by tourists. The entrance fee (from 9 to 13 eur) to the Cathedral is just an extortion.

Normandy countryside
Normandy countryside
Normandy has a very rich choice of places to stay. Main hotel chains have their units there. Usually, at the entrance to each town there are many indications on how to reach different hotels. In most of the cheaper hotels, the reception is open only few hours daily. After this time, automatic reception is the only choice. I slept in Premiere Classe hotels that have a very moderate price of 34 eur room/night (usually this price does not include breakfast). Other options are: Formule One, Etap, Ibis and more expensive Mercure or Kyriad. Another possibility is to sleep in boutique hotels in city centers. They are much more expensive but more charming. Usually they are run by one family for many years. It was in Normandy, that I had a funny situation. I went there without making any reservation ahead. Around midnight, I started to look for a place to sleep but everything was full. At 3 am, having no other choice I decided to spend the night in my car, on the gas station parking.

Côte d'Albâtre
Côte d'Albâtre
The chalk cliffs of Côte d'Albâtre (The Alabaster coast) are the biggest natural wonder of Normandy. Etretat is the best place to see the coast in all its glory. It is a small sea resort, surrounded by high rock formations. It was also a favourite spot for painters; Curbet, Corot and Monet were frequent visitors. In addition M.Leblanc's novel "The Hollow Niddle" is placed here. From many rock formations the best known are the "Portes" (the doors) - the "Porte d'Aval", the "Porte d'Amont", "the Manneporte" (which is not visible from the town) and "Aiguille" (the needle). I loved the most the formation that looked like an elephant. The town has rocky beach from which, during the low tide, it is possible to have a walk between the rocks. The Etretat cliffs are similar to the ones in Dover. In the city it is worth to see the church from XI century, the wooden market hall and the rich mansions. A long walk on top of the cliffs won't leave anyone indifferent as the views are breathtaking.

Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen
Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen
Caen once was the capital of the Kingdom of Normandy, a place from where the Norman army left to conquer England. As a main transport hub in Normandy, the city was crucial during the operation Overlord in 1944. Liberation came with a huge price to pay, with more than 60% of the city destroyed. Fortunately, many of the buildings were rebuilt and some of the destroyed ones were left as memorials. The Castle of Caen is the biggest structure in the city. Unfortunately there is not much to see, except impressive walls and ramparts and a few small buildings. Nowadays the castle hosts a Museum. Other famous places to see are the two abbeys, both founded by queen Mathilde in the XI century. The "Abbaye aux Hommes" was rebuilt after heavy damages and together with St. Etienne church are the prettiest buildings in the city. The grave of William the Conqueror is there. The second "Abbaye aux Dammes" is another huge complex. The ruins of the church of St-Étienne le Vieux captivate with its beauty.

A restaurant
A restaurant
Apple is the king here. It is impossible to imagine local cuisine without apples, calvados and cider. Spring and autumn are the most beautiful parts of the year. During spring, when apple trees blossom and also during apple harvest in September/October. Afterwards comes the time to eat delicacies made from them. Cider is a fermented alcohol drink made from apple juice. It contains between 2 and 8,5% of alcohol. Calvados is a distillate from cider (it contains around 40% of alcohol). The law regulating the production rights and the quality rules was adopted in 1942. Delicious apple cakes are not to be missed. The Camembert cheese has its origins in Normandy. Although it is one of 32 different types of local cheeses, it is worldwide known. Seafood is one of the pillars of regional cuisine and the St. Jacob mussels as well as the scallops, oysters and clams are its best representatives. Beef, veal, lamb, rabbit, goose and rooster are the most common kinds of meat.

Other recommendations:
The Hambye Abbey
The Hambye Abbey
Normandy is simply fulfilled with interesting places. The Hambye Abbey are magnificent ruins located in the Manche department close to Saint-Lô. It is a Benedictine Monastery, built in the XII century, after the revolution; from 1810, the abbey church was used as a quarry and was gradually dismantled. Although in ruins, the Abbey is extremely romantic surrounded by rural Normandy landscape.

The Roman church in Cerisy-la-Forêt from 1032 is the reminder of a great Abbey of the same name. The interiors of the church represent the Roman style in its best with the austere, stone arcades and columns. The entire complex is available to visit (ticket - 4 eur).

The city of Saint-Lô suffered the heaviest destruction during the last war. It even gained the nickname of "the capital of ruins". The Allies even had plans to leave the city in rubble. The plans changed and Saint-Lô was rebuilt. The most interesting thing to see is the church of Notre-Dame with one and half belfries on the front wall.

Published on Saturday September 27th, 2014

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Mon, Jun 01 2015 - 05:35 PM rating by bootlegga

Great report - it reminded me a lot of my own time in Normandy in 2005!

Sat, Jan 31 2015 - 01:52 PM rating by krisek

Lovely photos and great number of practical data. Thank you, Rafal. (I would not think Hieronyma intended to give you one star only...)

Wed, Dec 17 2014 - 11:50 AM rating by hieronyma

I nearly missed your great report. I should go back and see more than the Tapistry of Bayeux. I rembember the quiet rural landscape with the hidden farms and the beaches with the remains of the Atlantic Wall. I fugure that there is more to see and that it is a landsape you önly see when you kniow about its history.
Thank you to remind me.

Fri, Oct 24 2014 - 10:35 AM rating by bineba

Excellent report and fantastic photos!
I never new the coastline is so stunning!
Thinking about what this part of the world has seen is horrendous, and it is good the the memory is being kept alive.
Loved the story about you having to sleep in your car and the restaurant bit made me crave a pint of cidre and a nice ripe camembert! Is that wrong at this time of the day? (1.30pm)

Mon, Oct 20 2014 - 04:50 PM rating by mistybleu

A great report. Normandy is really beautiful. It seems magical the wyay you describe it. I was in Dieppe for the summer and was amazed how gorgeous the coastline was. Nice job

Mon, Oct 13 2014 - 06:32 AM rating by pesu

Rafal, sorry for the late reply! All I have seen of Normandy up to now is Giverny - I loved it but wasn't aware it's Normandy... Thanks for your excellent report which makes me wish to get to know the 'real' Normandy one day! Yes, nice to have a car sometimes. There is a good place for such accomodation in front of the courthouse in Sevilla as well. ;-) I can relate to this feeling of history - how horrifying idea of the consequences if this landing had failed!!! Someone told me it always rains in Normandy - your gorgeous photos tell another story. :)
Great work - looking forward to your next report!

Wed, Oct 08 2014 - 01:00 PM rating by eirekay

Love the opening! Perfect report right down to the photos of the Citron (drove one of those in the 70s), Côte d'Albâtre and Abbaye aux Hommes. Great balance of history and information! Wonderful Report!!!

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