John and I both happen to be history majors who share a particular interest in 20th century American history, in particular WWII for John…so needless to say, visiting Bayeux was high on our list while spending a few weeks in France. Bayeux is a charming little French town located on the Aure river in the Normandy region of northwestern France that had a front row seat to two major events that shaped Western history. The famous Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of it’s own William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion of England in 1066, and in June 1944 it became a major part of WWII history as 160,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches just a few miles from the center of town and in one of the most difficult, yet successful battles, Bayeux became the first French town to be liberated from the Germans. This charming medieval village welcomes guests from nations all over the world who come to pay their respect to those that paid the ultimate price for all of our freedoms. Bayeux is a beautiful place to stay and is centrally located to all of the major WWII beaches and sites.
WHERE WE STAYED
Always on the hunt for a “family room” as we were travelling through Europe, we found a charming spot at the Hotel Reine Matilde. The hotel was located in a series of buildings and our building was located across a pretty little courtyard from the reception office and restaurant, on the top floor. The interior was modern, clean and spacious with two futon type chairs that pulled out into twin sized beds, a single (twin bed) and a king size bed…plenty of space for the 4 of us! If you are traveling with a family in Europe, be sure to ask every hotel you are looking at if they have a family room. We found that hotels are usually more than happy to accommodate a family of 4-5 and offer these larger rooms at a much lower price than paying for two completely separate rooms. The hotel did not have air conditioning (which is not uncommon in Europe, especially in these smaller hotels in small towns) but the temperatures were fortunately cooler while we were there. The day we left temps climbed to an abnormal 95 degrees, and it would have been very hot to stay there at that time. Make sure to be aware of all of these types of things when booking your hotels in Europe. 🙂 It will make for a much nicer stay if you are prepared.
Just down the way through a little alley way of shops and restaurants was the main street in town. It was lined with more shops and restaurants including a little Co-op store (grocery) that had all kinds of snacks and treats that you can purchase for your hotel room. We always stocked our room with drinks and snacks for afternoon or late night munchies. Everything in town shuts down pretty early, so be prepared!
Just behind our hotel was the old seminary turned museum that holds the famous Bayeux tapestry. Andy was very interested in seeing it in person since he had just studied about it. It was 5euro for him to visit and free for Ashley. 10 Euro a piece for adults.
ARROMANCHES CIRCULAR CINEMA
We spent much of a Sunday while we were in town driving down the coast stopping in many of the little towns and villages that were invaded on D-Day. Buildings scarred by bombs and gunfire were a sobering reminder of what had occurred there, but in contrast, the villages and beaches were bustling with carousels, street vendors and souvenir shops. Streets were lined with colorful, celebratory buntings made up of the flags of the nations that had come to their aid in a time of great need. It is such a patriotic place to be.
One of our unplanned, but amazing stops along the way was the Arromanches Circular Cinema located on the Arromanches clifftops and watched their excellent film that tells the story of the battle of Normandy using archived images of this terrible battle, collected from around the world. It is well worth the time and money to add this stop to your trip. The film is incredibly moving and very well done.
Current showtimes/cinema hours as of Sept 2016 are as follows:
• From 01/05/16 to 31/08/16: 9.40 am to 6.10 pm
• From 01/09/16 to 30/09/16: 10.10 am to 6.10 pm
• From 01/10/16 to 02/11/16 : 10.10 am to 5.40 pm
• From 03/11/16 to 31/12/16 : 10.10 am to 5.10 pm
(closed on Mondays, except 19/12 and 26/12)
Closed on 25/12/2016.
A show at 10 past and 40 past each hour.
Full rate: 5,50 € VAT included / pers. until 31/12/16
The Normandy 44 Tour
Of course the main point of our visit to Bayeux was to visit the famous WWII beaches and the American Cemetery. We chose to take a small group tour in order to get the most out of our visit. After researching many options, we chose the Normandy 44 Tour. There were 10 of us on the tour and it was the perfect size. The guide, Olivier is so knowledgeable and tells interesting stories at each location. You also have time to wander around each site yourself and reflect on what happened there. It was a touching and moving experience for our whole family.
On the half day tour you will visit the following locations:
LONGUES SUR MER
The only coastal gun battery on the Landing Beaches still to retain its original guns. A major construction along the Atlantic Wall, composed of four bunkers, each with a 152mm gun.
OMAHA, the historical beach, where the 1st Infantry and the 29th Infantry Divisions landed.
The American Cemetery is a place for remembrance and reflection, on a 173 acres site overlooking Omaha Beach.
9,387 tombs and 1,557 names of soldiers missing in action during the battle of Normandy are engraved in a the garden of the M.I.A.
WN 65 – STRONG POINT
The WN 65 (Wiederstandnest in German) is nearly in the center of Omaha Beach, at the bottom of Ruquet Valley on Easy 1 draw.
POINTE OF THE HOC
This intact battlefield will transport you to the heart of the combat delivered by 3 companies of the 2nd Ranger’s battalion under the command of Colonel Rudder. This German gun battery threatened both Utah & Omaha Beaches.
Something that was very surprising to us, is that each of these locations, including the old gun batteries, are completely open for you to climb on and around and explore. It was so unlike anything in the US where there would be barricades and fences allowing you to see but not touch these historical artifacts. That made is much more real and exciting for the kids to explore. Please be advised that the earth in this region is still marked with huge craters from bombs, barbed wire and rusty metal abound, and trails are steep and narrow along the cliffs. Wear tennis shoes, stay on marked paths, and keep little ones by your side.
We stayed for 2 nights and 3 days and it was the perfect amount of time to see what we wanted to. There are however, many more museums and cemeteries and such to visit. I do think it would have been interesting to visit the German cemetery and a few other places, but with the kids, we felt like the time we spent in Bayeux was sufficient. If you decide to visit, just make sure you take a look at all the options in the area and make sure you give yourself time to see everything you want.
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