Somewhere for the weekend... Bayeux

There's far more to the town than its famous tapestry, says Harriet O'Brien
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The Independent Travel

There's far more to the town than its famous tapestry, says Harriet O'Brien

WHY GO NOW?

Bayeux goes mad this coming weekend. The Norman town's Fêtes Médièvales is a two-day street party, complete with troubadours and tooth-pullers, a celebration of Gallic wackiness quite as much as wimples and woad. Popular history meets the eccentric edges of re-enactment during this festival in one of Normandy's smallest, oldest and best-preserved cities. Musicians, jugglers, merchants, tanners and more will crowd the streets of a 15th-century village reconstructed in the town centre; while many other good citizens have been roped into joining costumed parades.

DOWN PAYMENT

William the Conqueror spent at least a month waiting for a fair wind to carry his army across the Channel from Dives sur Mer, just north of Bayeux. His journey lasted over two days. Fortunately, today transport is a bit quicker, but only just. There are no direct flights from the UK to Normandy, so a ferry trip is the likeliest option.

The closest ferry terminal to Bayeux is Ouistreham near Caen, served from Portsmouth in about six hours by Brittany Ferries ( www.brittany-ferries.co.uk; 08703 665 333). Leaving from Portsmouth this Friday at 3.15pm, returning on Monday at 4.15pm, costs £238 for two people with a car, or £55 per foot passenger.

Bayeux is about half an hour by road from Ouistreham. If you don't have a car, you could hire a taxi, or take the connecting bus into Caen and hop on a train for the 16-minute ride to Caen.

Drivers will find it easier, and possibly cheaper, to arrange a trip through a short-break specialist. For example, VFB Holidays (01242 240 340, www.vfbholidays.co.uk) offers a three-night break this weekend from £590 for two people, including Portsmouth-Caen crossing with car and half-board accommodation in a choice of some of the area's best hotels.

INSTANT BRIEFING

Bayeux's immediate claim to fame is, of course, a tapestry, now housed in a former seminary dating from the 18th century. But quite apart from this magnificent cartoon strip of a textile, the small city offers host of glorious 14th- and 15th-century buildings and a fascinating, if in parts hideous, cathedral. It is fortunate in such heritage. One of the first towns to be liberated by the Allies after the D-Day landings in 1944, Bayeux remained almost undamaged during the Second World War. Indeed, it briefly became the capital of Free France. Today, most visitors to the area come to muse over the moving memorials to the Normandy landings - and find the rich remains of the medieval past an added bonus.

You can explore the centre easily on foot, but to reach outlying destinations the local bus enterprise, Bus Verts (00 33 810 214 214, www.busverts.com), is useful. Check with Bayeux's helpful tourist office (00 33 231 512 828, www.bayeux-tourism.com) for times.

REST ASSURED

Comfortable and convenient, Lion d'Or at 71 rue Saint Jean (00 33 231 920 690; www.liondor-bayeux.fr) is an attractive old coaching inn in the town centre. The restaurant of this 25-room hotel used to have a Michelin star, and is attempting to regain the accolade. A double room costs €99 (£65). Slightly cheaper, the Hotel d'Argouges is at 21 rue saint Patrice (00 33 231 928 886; dargouges@aol.com), and is an elegant 1554 townhouse. It has doubles from €64 (£44).

MUST SEE

Moustachioed Englishmen; fire-breathing dragons; sniggering horses - there's more to the Tapisserie de Bayeux than the tale of why William felt impelled to invade England. The Bayeux tapestry was the creation of English embroiderers commissioned to produce a piece of propaganda to justify the Norman Conquest. The 70m length of linen is well displayed in its own building on rue de Nesmond (00 33 231 512 550), although lingering is not encouraged: audiophones included in the price of the ticket keep the crowds moving. Explanatory exhibitions and a short film are part of the entertainment, which opens 9am-7pm daily and costs €7.40 (£5.50). The ticket also covers entrance to Bayeux's Musée Baron Gérard, opposite the western face of the cathedral, which features the city's lace and porcelain industries. It opens 10am-12.30pm and 2-7pm daily (closing at 6pm from September to June).

You should also admire the wonderful 12th-century sculpture and intriguing crypt in the Cathedral Nôtre Dame (open daily 8.30am-7pm except during services - mass at 6.30pm daily and Sunday at 11am).

MUST BUY

The week's biggest market takes place at Place St-Patrice on Saturday mornings, with a smaller one on Wednesday mornings on rue St Jean. Both are good for Norman specialities such as the excellent regional cheeses. Bayeux's pricey lace and porcelain are sold in shops near the cathedral. Au Comptoir des Saveurs, on the corner of rue Saint Martin and rue des Cuisiniers have a good selection of pommeau, calvados and cider, but you may find these at a better price in supermarkets on the edge of town, including at E Leclerc near the British war cemetery.

MUST EAT

Crêperie Triskell (21 rue des Teinturiers, 00 33 231 221 581), opposite Bayeux's working watermill, offers a wide range of fillings from seafood to vegetarian options, and makes a good lunch stop. Dedicated carnivores will find a haven at La Table du Terroir (42 rue Saint Jean, 00 33 231 920 553), owned by a local butcher. A two-course set menu, for which options might include traditional ham, steak or even home-made tripe, is €16 (£12). Meanwhile, serious gourmet cuisine is served at La Rapière (53 rue Saint Jean - although the entrance is just off this main, pedestrianised drag - 00 33 231 210 545). Three-course meals, including fois gras, sole fillet and cheeses or dessert cost €30 (£22).

INTO THE NIGHT

Locals head for Loch Ness Café (67 rue Montfiquet, 00 33 231 517 171), the most happening place in this quiet town. It offers a pool table and a giant TV screen. Visitors may prefer the more old-fashioned entertainments of L'Aurore Dancing, just outside Bayeux on 3 route de Saint Paul du Vernay, Subles (00 33 231 926 433). A dance band plays here on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Ladies are given free entrance on Thursdays and Sundays.

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