A Walk in Villedieu Through The Centuries

Church in Villedieu

A walk in Villedieu is one of the best ways to discover this historic town which was established in around 1130. There are 14 orange and brown information boards with text in both French and English to help you on your walk through centuries of history.

Practical Information

Villedieu is relatively compact although this walk could take you around an hour and a half. Much will depend on how much you linger at each information board. The town is built on a slope so not all of it may be suitable for everyone. However, there is a reasonable amount that is flat. There are also cobbled streets and courtyards to explore.

Start your walk in Villedieu at the Tourist Office which is on La Place des Costils. There’s parking right outside although on a Tuesday morning the large weekly market takes up some of the parking spaces. There’s also a smaller weekly market on a Friday morning.

Villedieu-les-Poêles Mairie

Go inside the Tourist Office and pick up a copy of a brown A5 leaflet called Villedieu-les-Poêles – a trip through history. They have versions in both English and French. There’s a map at the back of the leaflet and additional points of interest to explore. Not all of the 14 historic boards are marked on the map. However, the location of all the boards is shown on the first information board you’ll visit.

Walk in Villedieu

This, together with the information below will help you to find all 14 boards and learn about Villedieu-les-Poêles. Alternatively, you can buy a pathways booklet for 1,50€ which details the 14 stops. It’s available in French, English, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and German.

The information boards look like this. The first one can be found right outside the Tourist Office.

Villedieu walk

1. Villa Dei – Villedieu

The first information board explains about the history of the town and how it was named. With your back to the Tourist Office walk across the car park in La Place des Halles and make your way to the bridge which is marked as no. 2 in the information leaflet. You’ll walk past the old covered market/corn exchange on your left.

2. Le Pont de Pierre – The Stone Bridge

This is a very picturesque spot and one of the original entrances to the town. You’ll be able to find out where the keystone to the gate of the original stone bridge is now located by reading the board.

Now walk up rue Gambetta towards the church and look for Cour Deuzet on your left. Head towards the Commandery park which is no. 4 on the leaflet.

3. Les Tanneries du Bord de Sienne – The Tanners on the Banks of the River Sienne

Here you can learn about the leather trade that existed in the town. You can also see the back of the Commandery buildings. Retrace your steps and turn left up the rue Taillemarche. At the end of the street turn left until you reach the Commandery.

4. La Commanderie – the Commanderie

The Commander’s residence stood on the site of the mansion and the Saint Blaise chapel. The Commander held both religious and secular powers and dispensed justice. You can read more about the Order in the leaflet.

Carry on along the Rue du Pont Chignon until you reach the next information board on your left.

5. La Fonderie des Cloches – the Bell Foundry

Bells have been made in Villedieu since the end of the Middle Ages. The bell foundry building was built in 1865. You can take a paid visit to the foundry and tours can be arranged in English.

The website for the bell foundry is here. http://cornille-havard.com

Now retrace your steps and go back to the church.

Villedieu

6. l’Eglise Notre-Dame (interieur)- Notre-Dame church (interior)

Make your way to the north side of the church where you’ll find the information board near the doorway. There’s more information about the church in the brown leaflet. There are also information sheets in French in the church. The church was built in the 12th century and has architecture dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In the north transept is a stained glass window representing some of the saints for the artisan crafts. Saint Hubert is the principal figure and he is the patron saint of the pot making and copperware brotherhood.

When you leave the church make your way over to the town hall. Before you cross the road, you’ll find another information board describing this location.Villedieu stained glass window

7. L’Hôtel de Ville- Town Hall

This is also known at Le Mairie. The town hall was originally built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The wealthy people of the town met here to organise the town’s affairs and taxes were collected here. The town flourished between 1846 and 1880 and in 1869 the new town hall was opened. It’s a wonderfully grand building.

Walk across to the the town hall and once you’ve explored the steps look for the next information board. As you face the town hall it’s on the right hand corner of the building on Place de la Presbyere. This board explains about the outside of the church so turn round to see the church and the features described.

Villedieu Mairie

8. L’Eglise Notre-Dame (exterieur) – Notre-Dame Church (exterior)

The gargolyes and sculptures are some some of the architectural details you can see.

From here, walk up the main street towards the top of town. You will now start to walk up a slight slope. The next information board is just off La Place de la Republique on the wall of a small alleyway named Cour de l’Abbé Gauthier.

9. La Place de la Republique

From the square you can see the statue erected in 1889 for the centenary of the French Revolution.

Continue walking up rue Carnot and onto rue Général Huard. As you walk up the righthand side of the road you’ll find board no. 10 at the entrance to the Cour aux Lilas. This is also marked as no. 10 in the information leaflet.

Normandy market days

10. Le Travail du Cuivre – The Copper Trade

Here you can learn more about the copper industry at one of Villidieu’s oldest workshops. Their website is here.

Cross the road and walk downhill on rue Général Huard. You’ll see the entrance to a courtyard and the next information board.

Before you go into the courtyard, take a look down rue du Docteur Havard towards the church. This is one of my favourite views in Villedieu.

Villedieu view

11. La Cour du Foyer – The Furnace Courtyard

Walk in VilledieuThis courtyard is one of 35 that you can visit during your walk in Villedieu. It’s also one of the prettiest. There’s lots more information in the brown leaflet and this is no. 11 on the map. The pan maker’s museum and the lace-making house are here.

Walk through the courtyard and eventually you’ll come out on rue des Quais. Turn left and follow the river. At the bridge cross over to the small park area. The next board is at the end.

Jardin des Lavoirs

12. Les Lavoirs du Bord de Sienne – The Wash houses on the Banks of the River Sienne

A number of public and private wash houses were built on the rivers banks during the 19th century. You can learn about how long the washing would take.

Go back across the bridge and continue along rue des Quais. The lane turns to the left and becomes rue des Mouliniers. Before you turn right down the hill onto rue du Docteur Havard you’ll find the penultimate information board.

13. La Dentelle de Villedieu – Villedieu Lace

Lace making was another big artisan trade in Villedieu predominantly between 1760 and 1880. Rue du Docteur Havard was one of the most industrious with over 500 workers making lace during the town’s heyday.

Continue walking down the street until you get to Cour de la Luzerne on the right hand side. It’s marked as number 19 in the brown leaflet.

Villedieu walk

14. La Cour de la Luzerne – Luzerne Courtyard

Villedieu Cour de la LuzerneThe final information board describes the houses in the courtyards dotted around the town. As an artisan town, the ground floor of the houses was the workshop and the living accommodation was above. The living quarters were accessed by external stone staircases in case of a fire in the workshop. There are still many examples of these outside staircases in the courtyards. The courtyards had large wooden gates which were closed at night during curfews.

So, that’s the end of your walk in Villedieu. Many of the houses in the courtyards are still lived in today so please be respectful when you go into them. There are plans to restore another 4 courtyards. You can read more about the courtyards here.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed discovering the artisan history of the town. The Tourist Office website is here.  You can also arrange a guided tour for a minimum of 5 people. Tours can be given in English and are arranged with the Tourist Office. As well as the history and the market twice a week there are also a couple of copper shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and independent shops.

 

Lessay Abbey in Normandy

Lessay abbey church
Lessay abbey church

Lessay Abbey is an 11th century Benedictine monastery in Normandy. It was built in the Romanesque style and features an early example of the rib vault.

The abbey church was founded in 1056. It suffered enormous damage in 1356 during the Hundred Years War. The damage was repaired and it survived until 1944. It wasn’t damaged by the bombings in the region following D-Day. But it was destroyed by fleeing German troops. It was, however, rebuilt in exactly the same style.

Lessay abbey

The abbey church is free to visit every day between 10am and 6pm. You can find it on 5 rue du Hamet in Lessay. There’s parking nearby.

Lessay Abbey is only open to the public on a few days each year. It is featured on the programme for a heritage weekend that takes place in September each year. This year the Journées des Patrimoine will be held on 21st and 22nd September. Groups can also organise a private tour via the local tourist office. Theres’ more information on their website.

You can take a look at the abbey church in this video.

Ryes War Cemetery in Normandy

Ryes war cemetery

Ryes War Cemetery is a Commonwealth cemetery in Normandy. There are almost a thousand soldiers buried here; the majority of them are British.

Ryes war cemetery

On 6th June 1944 Allied troops landed on Normandy beaches. This action was a turning point in World War 2 resulting in France being liberated almost three months later.

Normandy war cemetery

Many of the British troops landed on Gold Beach near Arromanches and were from the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division. Ryes War Cemetery is on the D87 just outside the village of Bazenville near to Ryes. It’s 8km east of Bayeux.

There are 652 Commonwealth burials, 1 Polish and 35 German. Visitors can search the burials register and can also download a plan of the cemetery online.

plan of Ryes war cemetery

This information is also in the cemetery. There are two stone porches on either side of the burial ground. In the wall is a memorial register with burials listed alphabetically. Each record has a reference number that relates to the grave. You can consult the plan at the front of the register to find the grave.

Normandy cemetery

Ryes burial register
An extract from the Ryes burial register

There isn’t much parking at the cemetery although you can park directly outside.

Commonwealth war cemetery in Normandy Ryes war cemetery

To help you discover more information about the D-Day landing beaches, you can click here to read this in-depth article with photos, videos and practical information.

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

An Abbey Church in Caen

abbey church in Caen

The abbey church of Saint-Étienne is part of the Abbaye aux Hommes (the Men’s Abbey). The abbey is a former Benedictine monastery in Caen in Normandy and dedicated to Saint Stephen. It was founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror and has one of the largest Romanesque churches in France.

abbey church in Caen

Building the Abbey Church

Having founded the abbey in 1063, building began in 1065/1066. It was almost complete in 1077 and therefore was consecrated that year on 13th September in William’s presence. Only the last two bays of the nave and the West façade with its two towers were still to be built. These additional features were completed in 1090.

William chose Caen as he wanted to make the town the capital of the Duchy of Normandy. The building work was rapid due to funding received following the Battle of Hastings as well as readily available materials such as Caen stone and wood.

The size of the church is incredible and it has the grandeur of a cathedral. It measures 110 meters long and over 42 meters wide at the transept. The North tower is the tallest at 82 meters.

abbey church in Caen

Architectural Style and History

The Romanesque nave dates from the 11th and 13th centuries. An important ribbed vault featured was added in about 1120, and was the first time it had been used in France. This abbey, together with the nearby Abbaye Aux Dames, is considered to be a forerunner of the Gothic style. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The choir was rebuilt in the thirteenth century in a Gothic style.

Architectural details of note include the galleries on the first and second levels: the Halbout Chapel; the clock in the North transept gallery installed in 1744; the grand organ made in 1744; the lantern tower; and the rail surrounding the choir.

Caen abbey church

The high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed during the Wars of Religion and was never rebuilt. During the French Revolution the abbey church became a parish church.

From 1804 to 1961 the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church. The Allies were made aware of this and a red cross made from a sheet was place of the rooftop. This showed that it was a hospital and a safe haven. As a result the abbey church was not not destroyed during the bombings which took place in July 1944. The nearby church of Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux was damaged and remains in its ruined state today.

Caen abbey West facade
Caen abbey West facade

The Tomb of William the Conqueror

William’s wife Matilda died in 1083 and was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames in Caen. In 1087 William died in Rouen and his body was sent to Caen to be buried in the abbey church as he had requested. When William commissioned the abbey church to be built, he had already decided that it was to be his mausoleum.

The tomb has been disturbed several times since 1087. The first time in 1522 when the grave was opened by envoys from Rome. In 1562, during the French Wars of Religion, the grave was again opened. William’s bones were scattered and lost, with the exception of one thigh bone. This single relic was reburied in 1642. A further destruction of the tomb happened during the French Revolution. The current white marble marker replaced it in the early 19th century. You can see the marble stone in the choir today. It is inscribed in Latin with the words ‘Here is buried the invincible William the Conqueror, King of England and Duke of Normandy; founder of this house, who died in the year 1087.’

Tomb of William the Conqueror

The Abbey

After a series of disasters, the monks of Saint Maur took over the abbey in the late 17th century and decided to rebuild all of the abbey buildings. The Abbaye-aux-Hommes became the City Hall (Le Mairie) in 1963. You can take a paid tour of this 18th-century building. For more information about tours of the abbey visit this site.

Saint Etienne church

Practical Information

The abbey church in Caen is on Esplanade Jean-Marie Louvel. You can also access it via rue Guillaume le Conquérant – a small side street leads to the small entrance door. Entry to the abbey church in Caen is free. You can visit Monday to Friday from 9am – 6.30pm, Saturdays from 9am – 6pm and on sundays from 2 – 6.30pm.

Information about more Normandy abbeys is here.

See the video below for a view of the interior of the abbey church.

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

Normandy Photos

Normandy photography

Today is World Photography Day (19th August 2019) so it’s the perfect opportunity to share some of my Normandy photos with you. These are all photos I’ve taken recently in Normandy.

Normandy photography

This shot was taken on an August evening in Arromanches. It is part of a sculpture created to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. The soldiers landing on the beaches had to wade through the water with their rifles held aloft. I first visited the garden in July and you can read about my visit here.

Normandy photography

This powerful piece of art sits outside the Mémorial de Caen museum.

Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux church

A different view of Caen is the ruined church of Saint-Étienne-Le-Vieux. The original church was built in the 10th century and was damaged by the English during a siege in the city in 1346 and 1417. It was rebuilt and a lantern tower was added. However, artillery fire from retreating German troops destroyed much of the nave in July 1944. It has remained in its ruined stage to represent the damage to Caen’s heritage during the conflict.

Gavray market

A photo of produce at my local market. It’s held on a Saturday and so I don’t often get to go as I have gite guests departing and arriving on Saturdays. This photo was taken on the middle Saturday of a two week reservation.

Normandy bookshop

A cute little bookshop I passed in Caen.
Granville blockhouse

My favourite building in Granville. It’s a private house built into the ramparts of the old town and dates from the early 20th century. The turrets are a Normandy architectural feature. I almost always take a photo of this house when I go to Granville.Saint James cemetery

This chapel is in Saint-James on the border of Normandy and Brittany. It’s called the Brittany American Cemetery as there’s already a Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha beach. I attended a ceremony here on 6th June to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was amazing to be a part of such an important day for Normandy.

Caen

This photo is of the Abbaye Aux Hommes in Caen. The section to the left is now the very grand town hall. The abbey church in the centre of the photo is where William the Conqueror was laid to rest in 1087. The abbey was founded by William and is one of the largest Romaneque churches in France. It’s free to visit.

abbot's house at Longues sur Mer

My final Normandy photo is of the abbey at Longues-sur-Mer in Calvados. I spent a very pleasant time wandering round learning about the history of the various abbey buildings and the restoration that has taken place.

For more information about World Photography Day visit this website. #WorldPhotographyDay #WorldPhotoDay

The Norman Rockwell Exhibition in Normandy

Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With

 

The Norman Rockwell exhibition is currently on in Caen. It’s one of the temporary exhibitions at the Mémorial de Caen museum and runs until 27 October.

Rockwell exhibition

The Exhibition

It’s called ‘Rockwell, Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms’ and is part of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The Rockwell exhibition has toured the USA but the Caen exhibition is the only opportunity to see it in Europe. Interestingly, this is the first time the Four Freedoms paintings have left the States.

Four Freedoms by Norman Rockwell

As well as the Four Freedoms paintings, others paintings are on display including his most famous piece of artwork ‘The Problem We All Live With’. His attention to detail is remarkable and at times you think you’re looking at a photo rather than a painting.

Norman Rockwell exhibition

 

Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With

Practical information

The address of the Mémorial de Caen is:
Esplanade Général Eisenhower
CS 55026
14050 Caen Cedex 4

It’s located just 5 minutes by car from juntion 7 of the A84.

During August and September the exhition is open from 9am – 7pm. In October it’s open from 9.30am to 6pm.

Entry to the exhibition is 10€ and you can purchase your ticket in advance. For information about ticketing and the exhibition, visit the website.

There’s free parking right outside the museum. There are rest rooms once you go into the museum. There’s a separate entrance for the Norman Rockwell exhibition which is to the right of the main entrance. You can download an app that explains about the exhibition. There are signs in French and English describing each painting. The exhibition is spread over two floors.

Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell
Freedom of Worship by Norman Rockwell

You can watch Franklin D Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech below.

If you want to visit the main museum, you can buy a combined ticket. However, do allow plenty of time as there’s a lot to see. You can read more information about visiting the Mémorial de Caen here.

 

 

Bayeux Liberty Tree in Normandy

Bayeux liberty tree

The Bayeux Liberty Tree is a sound and light show that takes place every July and August. Visitors flock to Place de la Liberté as dusk falls to enjoy the evening spectacle.

Bayeux liberty tree

This year the son et lumière display is being shown on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. Place de la Liberté is right next to the cathedral making it very easy to find as the cathedral dominates the skyline. The cathedral is also lit up while the show is on meaning that there’s plenty to occupy spectators.

Bayeux son et lumière Bayeux sound and light show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 360 degree film is projected onto the trunk of a large tree planted in 1797. It replaced a number of smaller trees and was planted during the time of the French Revolution. It is known as l’arbre de la liberté.

 

Bayeux liberty tree Bayeux's liberty tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are 10 stories about different aspects of freedom and liberty. It includes reference to Martin Luther King, Ghandi and World War II. Although the film is in French the music, images and colours appeal to young and old of all nationalities.

 

Bayeux's liberty tree liberty tree in Bayeux

 

 

The event is held in the open air in a cobbled courtyard There’s no seating although you may be able to perch on a low stone wall or some steps. Typically the first people to arrive tend to gravitate towards the spots closest to the buildings. However, gradually the space fills up as more and more people arrive. Young children tend to sit at the front near the base of the tree as they’re mesmerised by the colours.

Bayeux cathedral

You can read more information here. The show is free and plays continually until 12.30am in July and midnight in August. The film lasts for around 40 minutes and changes each year.

The Cathedral and The Tapestry

This year the cathedral is open until 10.30pm and entry is also free. The cathedral was consecrated in 1077 and is magnificent. It was completed in the 19th century. You can read more about the cathedral here.  The cathedral was originally home to the Bayeux Tapestry. It is now located a short distance away in the tapestry museum.

The cathedral at Bayeux
The illuminated cathedral at dusk

For more information about the tapestry, read about my visit. You can also take a look at the video below of the 2018 Bayeux sound and light show. You have until 31st August to see it this year.

 

We spent 3 weeks creating the best online guide to Normandy on the web. It includes everything from a bucket list, must see attractions to the best places to eat and drink.

It covers Mont St Michel, Monet’s garden, the D Day beaches, wine tours and much more. .

It’s packed with our personal recommendations, maps and videos.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR THINGS TO DO IN NORMANDY GUIDE

An Art Gallery in Gavray, Normandy

art gallery in Gavray

Galerie Sur Le Pont is a recently established art gallery in Gavray in Normandy. There are two rooms dedicated to the gallery where you can browse and purchase artwork from local artists. There’s a wide range of styles and techniques on display and entry to the gallery is free.

art gallery in Gavray

You can also take art classes here too. English and French is spoken and all levels are catered for. On a Wednesday morning, there’s a life drawing class from 10am – 12.30pm. The Wednesday afternoon class is painting including watercolours, oils and acrylics. It runs from 2 – 5pm. Each session costs 8€ and you can pay as you go. Alternatively, there’s the option to pay for 4 classes which costs 30€.

art classes in Gavray

The gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive. Galerie Sur Le Pont is at 9 rue de la Liberation in Gavray and is above the Cadeau Craft shop. The shop also sells art supplies as well as other crafting materials.

Gavray art gallery art in Gavray

 

If you fancy exploring your creative side, then this is the ideal opportunity. Pop along to the art gallery in Gavray and try out one of the art classes or admire other artists’ work.

Normandy Liberation Celebrations

Normandy liberation celebrations

A range of events will be taking place from 31 July to 4 August as part of Normandy liberation celebrations.

Operation Cobra

The events will focus on the areas around Granville and Julloville which were both liberated on 31st July 1944.

Normandy liberation celebrations

Operation Cobra

Operation Cobra was the codename for an offensive launched by the First United States Army. The main activity took place from 25th – 28th July which was seven weeks after the D-Day landings. The aim was to attack while German troops were occupied in defending Caen. A huge, yet concentrated, aerial bombardment took place by Allied aircraft. As a result, German resistance collapsed and the offensive secured a victory in the Battle of Normandy.

Allied aircraft Allied aircraft

Event Highlights

Breville-sur-Mer – a reconstruction of an Allied military airbase Champeaux – a US military camp reconstruction
Granville – liberation parade, visits to the blockhouses and military camp at Pointe du Roc
Jullouville – International Airshow
Saint Pair-sur-Mer – Piper aircraft landing on the beach

Operation Cobra Normandy liberation celebrations

The liberation celebrations will end on Sunday 4th August with an airshow along the Granville to Julloville beaches. At least 40 planes and helicopters will take part. La Patrouille de France (the French equivalent of the Red Arrows) will also particpate. The timings are from 2 – 5pm. There will also be a static display of 350 vehicles from 10am to 5pm. At 5pm the vehicles will start the parade circuit. There will be parking restrictions and details of the route is on this website. There’s also additional information in English about the events here.

Normandy reconstruction camp Normandy reconstruction camp Granville blockhouse

This is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the Normandy liberation celebrations.

The Colourful Gavray Market in Normandy

Gavray market

The Gavray market happens every Saturday morning from around 8.30am – 1pm. It’s not a huge market but is very much a focal point for residents. It’s a great event for visitors to really experience rural village life.

Gavray market Normandy market

The majority of stalls are in the square near to the church. They are predominantly fruit and vegetable stalls offering a wide range of produce. They try and keep the food miles down by growing themselves or supporting local producers when possible. There’s also very little plastic used so it’s very environmentally friendly. You take along your own shopping bag or basket to transport your purchases.

Gavray market French market produce

I took all these photos yesterday (20th July). At this time of year the Gavray market is bursting with colour. Cherries, apricots, melons, nectarines and peaches are all in season. Tomatoes, avocados, celery and lettuce are great salad ingredients. The tomatoes really are flavoursome.

market produce summer market in Normandy

There are also a couple of fish and seafood stalls and a cheese van. Sometimes you can buy plants, honey and cider from time to time. A coupe of food trucks grill sausages which are served in a baguette or with french fries.

French cherries summer fruits at the market in Gavray

The shops, bars and restaurants are also open so it’s very sociable event. A couple of the bars are opposite the market stalls so you can people watch while you enjoy a drink.

There’s a smaller Gavray market held on Wednesday mornings near La Place du Champ de Foire. You can buy fruit and vegetables here. Find out when Normandy market days are here.