Like a jewel in the crown, Mont St. Michel is a beautiful sight to behold and a great place to visit during the different seasons. This part of France is best explored by car and is an easy 3-hour drive from Paris using the peage (toll highways). Avis and Hertz provide cars equipped with GPS, so getting lost is not a problem! If however, you need to get there by public transport, the TGV will only bring you to Rennes, where you need to take bus service operated by ‘Les Courriers Bretons’. Alternatively, book a day trip with any one of the many reputable travel agencies in Paris.
For us, it was in the road trip around Normandy (read here) where we first made a landing here.
When we got to the town of Mont St. Michel, we felt the typical tourist atmosphere of hotels, shops and restaurants. This is all part of the experience, before we made our way to the monastic abbey on a crag of rock in the English Channel. Just to be clear, the abbey was only connected to the mainland by a sandbank which at high tide would be covered by the sea.
The high tide comes in at 6pm. Depending on the time of the year, the tide is not “high” enough to cover the causeway and it is safe. Today a paved road bridge connects the abbey to the mainland and the sand banks from which one can take pictures of the abbey are paved with cement. So much has changed since the time we were last there.
Parking in town is now mandatory (it was option before) and it forces one to walk to the monastery village. Take a walk along the causeway linking Mont St. Michel with the mainland appreciating the views of the abbey. In summer, the cloudless skies provide an excellent background for photo buffs. As the evening rises, various colors of the sunset accentuate the silhouette of the monastery. You can literally spend a whole day here.
The best view of the abbey is definitely from afar, to take in the beauty of the surroundings that it is set within. The contrasting photos of the abbey in the day and evening illustrates the infinite number of photo combinations.
Starting from the foot of Mont St. Michel, we ascended along the ramparts that led to a series of lookout towers. The monastery is built on higher ground and a “village” surrounds it at the base. Walking further up, you will came up to the entrance of the Abbey.
The abbey itself is nice for a walk through without guidance. Be prepared for the crowd (and pickpockets)! At the top of the abbey, you will be treated to the sight of the English Channel (hopefully at low tide) and on a clear day, perhaps you might be able to see England! Unfortunately for us, we did not. This stretch of the English Channel is very shallow and ranges all the way to Belgium far up north. This is also the very place the Spanish Armada was grounded temporarily in 1588 while on its way to attack England.
The abbey still has serving monks, though only a small number. Its beginnings sprang from the 8th century and was built in stages from patronage of Bishop of nearby Avranches. A high point came in the 13th Century when King Philip granted funds to build the gothic sections of the monastery. Throughout the 14th and 15th Century, the monastery came under attack several times from English forces, hence the fortified structures that remain till this day. Beautiful huh?
Our visit to Mont St. Michel was not complete without sampling the local cuisine. Being a ‘seatown’ by default, it is naturally famed for its seafood. We had been recommended to try a lunch of mussels cooked with white wine and was that not the best ever! Accompanied by locally brewed cider, one can only say cest magnifique!
The experience is by no means over after the visit to the monastery. The countryside in and around the monastery boasts of large numbers of fruit orchards cultivating apples and pears. These orchards typically harvest their produce and convert them to cider. We drove to one of them and saw another car with a “DK” plate. This Danish couple had driven all the way to bring home crates of cider! Naturally we did the same after sampling some really good stuff. By the way it was not expensive too.
If that was one thing to be back for…
The journeys were made in August 2004 and June 2005