Posts filed under ‘Mont St-Michel’

Cow Crossing and a Medieval Abbey

Mont St-Michel is the most popular French tourist attraction outside of Paris, but like the D-Day Beaches, it was an attraction that my mom had managed to miss on all of her previous trips. So on Day 17, we woke up early and headed for new (to us) territory.

Once again, we had to leave before breakfast at the hotel started, but the lovely morning view from our top-floor window eased the pain a bit, as did the pain au chocolat at the local bakery. We were a little worried that the small-town bakery would be closed on Sunday morning, but one thing that you can always count on in France is fresh bread, every morning of the week.

So we headed west for Mont St-Michel. Just as we got our first view of the island and started to get even more excited, we were stopped…

cows in the road
…by a farmer who was taking his cows across the road to the pasture. Fortunately, I had my camera put-together and close at hand!

Mont St-Michel
A few minutes later, we were at the base of the mountain! Mont St-Michel is an island in the mouth of the Couesnon River, and it is connected to the mainland by a causeway. The causeway widens at the base of the island and is turned into a parking lot. Various parts of the parking lot are roped off at different times of the day, due to the tides. We were directed to park a little too close to the edge for my liking, but at least it was on high ground.

Mont St-Michel
The lower part of the island is a town, although it definitely caters to tourists. The narrow stone streets are full of shops and cafés, and are often packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. We most wanted to see the Abbey and the Church, which are at the top of the rock, so we had to climb a series of staircases. Mont St-Michel is a pilgrimage site, so pilgrims who visit will climb the steps on their knees. We didn’t see any that morning, though.

At the top of the steps, we bought entrances to visit the church and abbey. The admission price included a tour, and an English-language tour was leaving about 15 minutes later, so we decided to wait for it. I’m so glad that we did, because the tour was so informative and our guide did an excellent job. I would have enjoyed the visit without the guide, but it wouldn’t have been as interesting.

View from MSM
We also had plenty of time to enjoy the view! This photo looks south, towards the mainland. The causeway is in the centre, and the Couesnon River is on the right of the photo. The land east of the river is Normandy, and the land west of the river is Brittany. Next year, plans have been made to destroy the causeway and replace it with a bridge, which will allow the water to flow more naturally. Visitors to the island will park in lots on the mainland and will be taken across the bridge on shuttles. The decision has been controversial, and our guide was worried that her business would decrease because people would be deterred from visiting.

Speaking of visitors, our tour guide told us that only about 1/3 of the visitors to Mont St-Michel actually go up to the top of the island to visit the abbey. The other 2/3 are content to stay on the crowded streets and shop in the overpriced tourist trap, which I do not understand at all! It is quite a hike, though, and visitors do have to be physically able to climb the steps. I hope that they are looking at options to create a way to the top for people that have limitations that prevent them from climbing to the top.

Seeing the church in the bright morning sun is something that I will never forget.

I took a few panoramic photos of the view from the terrace, and this is my favourite. Click here to see a bigger version.

Inside the church
Mont St-Michel was a revered abbey for a long time, but in the 18th century, many of the religious institutions in France had lost popularity, and it was closed, left to ruin, and turned into a prison for a time. In 1863, the prison closed, and in 1874, the island was designated a historic site. However, during the dark years of Mont St-Michel, much of the original splendour of the church was lost, including its stained glass, which is why the interior of the church seems a bit stark. I think that the architecture is still quite beautiful, though.

I loved the cloisters, the part of the abbey where the monks can go for a bit of solitude in nature. Our guide gave us some time to walk around the cloisters, too.

Our guide had all kinds of information for how they built the church so high on the point of the mountain, and how it was balanced and basically built around the rock. It’s quite a feat of engineering, especially considering that the oldest parts of the church were built before 1000 A.D. I should also mention that a few monks still live and work in the abbey, sharing the space with 3 million tourists each year. I cannot even imagine what that is like. We saw one of the sisters walking through the church and she seemed to be unfazed by the visitors. I suppose you get used to it fairly quickly.

We had worked up an appetite and didn’t know what we would find on the road, so we decided to grab some lunch at the bottom of the mountain—a ham & cheese sandwich and a Nutella & banana crêpe. Of course, the crêpe was warm, so we had to eat dessert first. Quite a hardship.

Not ever using a little camera has really made my self-po skills slip…I need to get back in shape.

View from Afar
We backtracked a bit to get the “faraway” view of Mont St-Michel, not too far from where we’d been stopped at the cow crossing. No cows this time…

Attention aux Moutons
…but we were warned to watch out for sheep.

And then a final parting gift from La Normandie…as we drove south, back towards the highway, I saw a windmill up on a hill. I think my mom barely got out the question, “Do you want to stop?” before I was exclaiming, “Turn here, turn, turn!” I had never seen a windmill up close before and hadn’t expected to have the chance on this trip. Very cool!


December 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm 3 comments


A serial road tripper chronicles her adventures.


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