Sunday, May 22, 2016

Here and high in Mont-Saint-Michel

A view of Mont-Saint-Michel from the bridge connecting it to the mainland

I've dreamed of visiting le Mont-Saint-Michel for a long time. And I'm not alone: With more than a million tourists annually, this majestic medieval walled city is France's top tourist destination outside of Paris. Located where Normandy and Brittany meet, Mont-Saint-Michel stands by itself on a granite outcrop, surrounded by the flats of the Couesnon river estuary.

View of the Couesnon river estuary from Mont-Saint-Michel

We arrive early on a spring morning. It's a weekday, but also an unofficial holiday, so by the time we leave, the massive parking lot will be full and traffic will be backed up for 10 km along the access road. We take advantage of the W.C.'s at the visitors center then board the free shuttle bus which takes us two-thirds of the way across the modern bridge across the mud flats. (My friend had recommended that we hike to le Mont, but we aren't that hardy and we haven't packed the appropriate attire.)

Fishing boat on the flats of the Couesnon estuary at Mont-Saint-Michel

It's about a five-minute walk (more with with stops to take pictures) from where we disembark the bus to the city gates. We join a hefty crowd and slowly inch our way up the main rue past dozens of souvenir shops and restaurants. I note that that the famous omelets served at Restaurant Le Mére Poulard cost €35 (about $40). Soon the famous eatery will be packed with hungry tourists.

The base of the busy, and oh-so-narrow shopping
street in Mont-Saint-Michel

How much would you pay for a world-famous omelet? Mére Poulard's are 35.

Actually, most everyone here is a tourist. The village has about 30 residents. Despite the crowds, there would be something quite magical about having le Mont-Saint-Michel as your address.

Pretty home in Mont-Saint-Michel
Rooftops and a French flag as viewed from Mont-Saint-Michel

Once off the main drag, the throngs dissipate and we are free to explore the narrow streets and leisurely walk along the ancient ramparts. 

A cemetery on the way to the abbey in Mont-Saint-Michel
Saint-George and the Dragon inside
 Église Saint-Pierre on Mont-Saint-Michel

Le Mont-Saint-Michel's monastery was considered to be one of the great places of learning during the Middle Ages. Its strategic location was important in wars between the Normans and the Bretons, the French and the Normans, and the French and the English. Eventually, William the Conqueror/Duke of Normandy, set up his court at Mont-Saint-Michel. The French captured and burned down the town in 1204, then subsequently rebuilt it. Later, the English tried, unsuccessfully, to re-take Mont-Saint-Michel during the Hundred Years' War.

A grand stairway leads to the entrance to the
Benedictine abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel.

Our visit includes a tour of the Benedictine abbey that sits atop the mountain. The foundation of the massive abbey is 1,000 years old. According to legend, the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to "build here and build high." The church's architectural potpourri ranges from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century when its iconic spire was added. 

Relief sculpture of the Archangel Michael offering a suggestion to the local bishop 

Cloister at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Window and bench in the Guests' Hall at
Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Light art is reflected on pillars in the crypt at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey.

An enormous wheel in the monks' ossuary was installed in 1820
and used to hoist provisions to the prisoners held in
Saint-Michel Abbey when it was a prison. It's a replica 
of the pulleys used for hoisting building materials in the Middle Ages.

Knights' Hall at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

On the way back to our lodgings near Caen, we talk about our visit to Mont-Saint-Michel. The village and abbey are impressive, but the crowds are  outrageous. If you plan to visit, do so in the off-season on a weekday and arrive early (although Mont-Saint-Michel at night is supposed to be pretty spectacular). We picked a good weather day ... always a bonus. We are proud that we skipped the overpriced food and chachkies, but wish we had packed a picnic. We're starving, but €35 for an omelet? Sheesh!

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