I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur (Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.
After taking the tedious coast road route I was becoming increasingly impatient to get there and we eventually arrived at the elusive abbey and made our way to the car park. Until quite recently it was possible to drive across a causeway (at low tide – very important) and park close to the walls but in 2012 all of this visitor convenience was ended with the demolition of the causeway (due to environmental (some say economic) reasons) and its replacement with a bridge and a new car park and a swanky visitor centre about a mile and a half away.
Having recently visited Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the horrific National Trust rip-off I was worried about cost but I was pleasantly surprised to find a flat rate car parking fee and no charge to enter the centre.
There is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance. I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.
Once inside I wasn’t so keen because here was a busy tourist street lined with souvenir shops and bars that reminded me of Rocamadour and Carcassonne in the south of France and I was glad to elbow my way through the trashy commercial parts, which made it seem like more amusement park than UNESCO World Heritage site, until the crowds thinned out and we began our weary ascent to the top.
There were an awful lot of steps but at the top we were rewarded with fine views over the sandbanks of the gulf of St Malo and inland towards Normandy on our left and Brittany to the right. It has to be said that this is a truly wonderful spot and a great place to build an Abbey and later a walled fortress.
From the Abbey’s highest point we admired the natural beauty of the bay and were convinced that we could see the Channel Islands in the distance. The river below us marked the historic border between the two regions of Brittany and Normandy who have long vied for geographic ownership of Mont St. Michel. In fact, the river used to pass Mont St-Michel on the other side, making the abbey part of Brittany. Today, the river’s route is stable and the abbey is just barely, but beyond challenge, on Normandy soil.
According to legend (and the travel writer Rick Steves), the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to “build here and build high.” and added “If you build it…they will come.” Saint Michael, whose gilded statue decorates the top of the abbey’s spire, was the patron saint of many French kings, making this a favoured place for French royalty through the ages.
I always thought that quote came from the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams but it seems the scriptwriters must have borrowed it because it wasn’t only Archangel Michael who said it but also President Theodore Roosevelt who used it to encourage the financial backers of the Panama Canal project.
I expected to stay longer at Mont St. Michel but the truth is that it is rather tiny and once you have climbed to the top and then back down again there isn’t an awful lot left to do so after a couple of hours we left through the main gate and made our way back to the car park.
It was getting late and no one was really enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk so we lined up instead for a shuttle bus. This being France there wasn’t a queue but rather a bit of an unruly rugby scrum that would have had a referee reaching for his yellow card and we wondered how long we might have to wait. We needn’t have worried because Kim is just as an accomplished a queue jumper as any Frenchman and she pushed her way to the front and dragged us all along with her until we had elbowed our way onto the first bus.
One very good reason for remaining longer would have been to have stayed on the island overnight in one of the hotels. I investigated the possibility of this but when it comes to hotel prices I have a tipping point and hotels on Mont St Michel were way beyond mine so I had made alternative arrangements inland.
As it turned out I was really pleased about that because at a fraction of the cost we found ourselves staying at a local Auberge. It was only £50 a night, with a magnificent night time view of the Abbey from a restaurant that specialised in lamb dishes fed and fattened on the local seawater grass and over evening meal we watched the sun disappear into the sea and the Abbey slowly illuminated in the gathering dusk.
I had not been disappointed by Mont St Michel.
What is top of your bucket list?