My exploration of Normandy started in the historic township of Bayeux, 260 kilometres west of Paris. Bayeux has a population of around 14,000 so it provides travellers with everything they need from taxi services to restaurants and cafés. The one thing that really amazed me about it was the history of Bayeux and its area. Most of the “Old Town” of Bayeux is full of cobblestoned roads and historic buildings which fortunately escaped the bombing that took place during the Second World War. Bayeux Cathedral in particular was captivating, having been built in 1077 and used to shelter injured soldiers during the Normandy landings of 1944. Bayeux is of course also home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, as important to Britons and Kiwis as is it to the French because it tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England and the reign of William the Conqueror.
I also enjoyed the experience of visiting the Normandy beaches area where several of the D-day landings occurred in June 1944. At the time of my visit there were a lot of preparations taking place for the 70th anniversary commemorations of the landings.
A couple of sites stood out as particularly memorable, the first being Omaha Beach where there is an American Cemetery with thousands of white crosses serving as a memorial to the US soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of Normandy. The second site was Arromanches, where there was a lot of British influence. The New Zealand flag was on display at both sites, which made the reality of the events that took place here even stronger. Arromanches has a good museum with information about the Allied invasion of France, which is well worth a visit.
Eat & Drink
You can’t visit Bayeux without enjoying the gourmet offerings of the Bessin region which surrounds the city. Normandy is famous for Calvados, its unique apple brandy; for cheeses such as Camembert, said to have been invented here; for wonderful seafood and traditional lamb dishes and salted caramels, a gem of French confectionery. There are plenty of opportunities to overindulge!
Bayeux is an easy rail journey from Paris, with the fastest route taking just over two hours. To really explore the region properly, hire a rental car because many of the small villages of interest are off the public transport routes and sometimes a bit remote.
Have you ever been to Normandy before? Feel free to share your highlights & top tips in the comment section.