We arrived in Bayonne on the day celebrating France’s liberation from the Germans, observed nationwide on May 8. It has now been 70 years since the Allied troops began marching through the country, village by village, town by town.We attended Bayonne’s official ceremonies, which consisted of a military band marching and playing with an honor guard, short speeches from several local dignitaries, including the mayor, school children singing songs and reciting patriotic poetry, and finally, the laying of several wreaths in front of the War Memorial, following the singing of La Marseillaise. Very moving and heartfelt.
It is amazing to look around this lovely town, which experienced 300 years of English rule long before the Germans arrived, and imagine what life must have been like. Today, of course, most everything was closed. But we did manage to see Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, begun in the 13th century and completed at the beginning of the 17th. It is one more station on the Pilgrimage Way of Santiago de Compostela.
The architecture of the old town seemed to us to be a combination of medieval English and Basque styles, and very pleasing it is.
Bayonne has always been a busy port, and for 500 years it has been known for the chocolate made from the cacao beans brought by sailors from across the Atlantic. There was one artisanal chocolatier open today, and naturally we found it. (One has to support local industry.) We started the day preparing by visiting the museum of chocolate in nearby Biarritz. It did not allow photos, but did provide samples, so we were properly primed for Bayonne. The city is also know for its ham, which we have yet to sample, and is quite possibly the origin of mayonnaise (corruption of Bayonnaise?), so we have a lot to thank Bayonne for, including a lovely lunch. Much nicer than its namesake in New Jersey!