Away for the weekend: Tranquil Normandy
Despite the occasional hint of warmth on the back of my neck, I knew the north east region of France is not famed for its heat. However, Normandy is possibly one of the most idyllic and beautiful areas along the French coast. As soon as I hit the tarmac, I was greeted by dusty stone farmhouses, nomadic cattle and little old men ambling along with baguettes in hand. This slower pace of life was the real France I was looking for, this was Bayeux.
The first city in France to be liberated in 1944 after D-Day, Bayeux is a pleasant spot where old houses nestle amidst tranquil medieval alleys at the foot of its Gothic cathedral. Today it’s renowned for its bustling farmers market, coffee shops and by no means least, the extraordinary and world-renowned Bayeux Tapestry. The beautifully hand crafted work of art tells the story of William the Conqueror and King Harold, Earl of Wessex, the men who led the Norman and Saxon armies in 1066. William’s defeat of Harold at the Battle of Hastings ensured the success of the Norman invasion of England. At 70 metres long and almost 1000 years old, the inspiring piece left me feeling humbled at not only the intricate stitching and craftsmanship of the weavers, but also at the significance it held as a historical document. What’s more, we were handed an audio guide as we made our way around the tapestry, relaying each section and allowing you to understand the meanings and stories told.
I couldn’t leave the town of Bayeux without making my way through the grandeur that was the cathedral. Decorated in gargoyles, the gothic building towers ominously over the town. However, once inside the Norman cathedral I was treated to awe-inspiring murals in the Romanesque crypt, stained glass windows and wonderful gothic architecture. A definite must-see.
On a clear day you can make your way to one of the many beaches decorating the coast of Normandy. We headed to Omaha beach, famous as an American landing spot on D-Day which saw many lives lost and saved during World War II. We headed up to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial site to pay service to the Normandy landing’s historic significance and explore a very different battlefield. A simple, yet sobering memorial. On a lighter note, the long stretch of sand and choppy sea meant it was the perfect place to take a dip in the water without hordes of tourists.
I was lucky enough to be in the country for Bastille Day. The French National Day commemorates the Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789, a tipping point in Paris of the violent revolution that had begun two days earlier. So, with a large plastic cup of beer in hand we chose to attend festivities in the beautiful coastal village of Arromanches to celebrate the day in style. The night sky was flooded with impressive fireworks accompanied by music blasting through the speakers. The atmosphere was fantastic, brimming with gleaming patriotic faces. Apparently, the thing to drink is a Calvados. Made from fresh apples almost exclusively in the region, the local alcoholic aperitif is sure to put the wind in your sails and get you in the party spirit.
Finally, with only one day left on my trip we headed to the city of Caen to marvel in its medieval delights. Sat comfortably outside the beautiful restaurant, La Poterne, we talked, sipped wine and ate smoked duck salad and île flottante (floating meringue islands on crème anglais), whilst enjoying the obscure architecture and quaint and colourful flower pots. The city is also home to the Château de Caen, a castle framing the city in historic mystique.
For me, Normandy was an incredible mix of fun, history and food. Of course, history enthusiasts will be well entertained here but Blaye is also a classically serene spot for anyone just wanting to get away for some peace, quiet and views across the fragrant sunflower fields. A weekend trip for the soul.
Where to stay:
Rent a beautiful limestone farmhouse just on the outskirts of Blaye, Lower Normandy, with frenchconnections.co.uk. Prices start from £49 per night.
Pictures c/o: Creative Commons
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