Bayeux

When our train pulled into Bayeux, we had only an hour and a half to check into our B&B and eat lunch before our tour. I randomly chose Bayeux because it was one of the towns conveniently located for the D-Day Tours, but as Anthony quickly navigated us from the train station to our B&B, I had to pause every few seconds just to take it all in. Bayeux is heartbreakingly charming! We had just arrived from Mont Saint-Michel, which was lovely but an otherworldly experience, so Bayeux felt like the first French town outside of Paris that we were actually exploring.

There’s a reason why I have such a soft spot for Italy, Germany, and Japan — and, no, it’s not because they were our enemies during World War II. It’s because we actually dedicated some time to their smaller towns, whether it’s Positano, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, or Nara. To visit only major cities when traveling does that country a disservice. Bayeux is a charming medieval town in Normandy. Located four miles from the coast of the English Channel, it was the first French town to be liberated by the Allies in June 1944.

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Place Charles de Gaulle

Eventually, we checked into our stylish B&B, Le Petit Matin. Our room had a tasteful sailing theme, with gorgeous parquet floors, a walk-in closet, and a view of the genteel square across the street.

My favorite part, however, was our host Pascal, who served us homemade quiche and fresh apple cake (in addition to a table full of croissants, Normandy cheeses, yogurt, and fruits) at breakfast, and gave us suggestions for restaurants, such as Le Pommier, which turned out to be my favorite meal of our entire trip. At Le Pommier, we started with a couple of bottles of Bayeux cider brut (a Normandy specialty), then I had duck breast with balsamic juices and a crème brûlée, while Anthony had lamb with thyme and candied carrots, and a flaky apple pie (another Normandy specialty). We ate outside on a quaint street bustling with restaurants and a view of the Bayeux cathedral down the road.

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Bayeux cider brut
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Duck breast
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In heaven

Europe is full of stunning churches, but I have to say, the uplighting on the Bayeux Cathedral in the summertime puts everyone else’s to shame. Stories celebrating France’s journey to liberty are projected onto the cathedral. Apparently these light shows are a thing around Normandy, with the cathedral in Rouen also covered in bright colors at night.

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Norman, Romanesque, and Gothic influences
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Look at that uplighting!

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While I could have spent our entire time in Bayeux pretending I was in an Impressionist painting, Anthony was excited for our D-Day Beaches tour with Normandy Sightseeing Tours. For five hours, our entertaining guide Olivier drove us to the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and a cemetery filled with white crosses representing American lives that were lost at Normandy. I was fascinated by the aberrations — we found one Hawaiian, a Mexican, and a few Blacks in the cemetery. Jews had Stars of David instead of crosses.

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The beaches of Normandy
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My husband and his Metal Earth models
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Inside a bomb crater
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American cemetery

While Americans tend to visit Normandy for the World War II sites, British and French tourists visit for the Bayeux Tapestry, which we decided to see more out of obligation than anything else. However, we were awed by it. The tapestry is an embroidered cloth nearly 230 feet long and 20 inches tall. It wraps around an entire gallery and is housed in a building dedicated entirely to it. In roughly 50 scenes, the tapestry intricately depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. Its survival is nothing short of miraculous. The museum ticket comes with a free audio guide, which is perfectly designed to pace listeners and showcase the craftsmanship of the tapestry. For the first time in 950 years, it will be leaving France and loaned out to the British Museum for the next few years — a thought that initially upset us (why does England have to take all good things?!), but we were quelled when we found out that the Bayeux museum is undergoing construction and thus needed housing for its tapestry.

Fewer than 14,000 people live in Bayeux. In the U.S., I can’t stand small towns. They make me anxious. They’re usually filled with conservatives and bad food, but Bayeux proved that small towns in France (and probably much of the rest of the world) are pretty fantastic. I was ready to move in. Everyone we met was incredibly welcoming, and the food we had here was honestly better than anything we’ve ever eaten in Paris. But speaking of Paris, it was time for us to make our way down there again. When we checked out of Le Petit Matin, Pascal handed us a bottle of local cider, making my heart melt just a little more. Au revoir, Bayeux!

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