Tag Archives: Mont St Michel

Postcard From Mont Saint-Michel, France

Mont St Michel Postcard

From the Visitor 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.

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France, The Medieval Walled Town of Dinan

Even as we arrived in Dinan I was thinking half an hour might be more than enough but I was forced to recalculate very quickly when we arrived in the old town which is a warren of narrow streets where it appears that time has stood completely still.

Dinan it turns out is one of the best preserved medieval walled towns not just in Brittany but in all of France.  After only a moment or so in this picturesque setting I had elevated it straight into my top ten of favourite places even leaping above Santillana del Mar in Spain, Shiltach in Germany and Hallstatt in Austria and before very long we were looking in the Estate Agent’s windows.

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A Competition, Compostela, Cahors and a Chateau

In the early summer of 1998 the Times Newspaper ran a daily competition one week to win a prize of an all expenses paid trip for two nights in an up market Relais and Chateau Hotel somewhere in Europe.  One day the competition required answers to three questions about Santiago de Compostela in Galicia and the Way of St James.  I was confident of the answers and telephoned them in several times over the course of the day.

Over the following couple of weeks I forgot all about the competition but one day was surprised to receive a letter from the Times telling me that I was the winner and that the prize was first class air travel to Toulouse in South West France, car hire and two nights all-inclusive at the Château de Mercuès just outside the provincial town of Cahors.

Chateau de Mercures Cahors

Early in the Autumn we flew with British Airways in a first class cabin that we shared with the actor Robin Ellis (Ross Poldark) and his wife (his real wife not Demelza)and enjoyed a silver service meal and complimentary champagne.  When we arrived at Toulouse in the early afternoon we picked up the Renault hire car and set off in a northerly direction on our way to the Chateau.

On the way we stopped at the town of Cahors and after we had walked around the centre, sitting within a protective loop of the River Lot, we found a traditional patisserie and sat and gloated about our unusual good fortune.

The village of Mercuès was just a few kilometres west of the town and eventually we set off again following the course of the river as it swept through the countryside and soon in front of us we saw a splendid castle with soaring towers and blue slate conical roofs and we imagined that it looked somewhere interesting to visit.

After only a short distance there was a sign to our hotel and we took a narrow road that climbed high away from the river and after one final turn we were confronted with the entrance to the very same magnificent building.  This was the Château de Mercuès and way beyond the standard of any hotel that we had ever stayed in before.

The car had hardly come to a halt before a porter rushed through the front doors and took our luggage from the car and indicated that we should follow him to the reception.  Inside there were wonderful furnishings and treasured artefacts and I worried that we were in the wrong place.  But no, it was true, this was prize for winning the competition.

After registration we were shown to our room at the very top of the tallest tower with stone walls, wooden beams and an external walkway on the outside with long distance views over the Lot valley, the Chateau gardens and the raging River Lot rushing by below swollen by days of heavy rain and carrying fallen trees and other debris hurriedly downstream.

Chateau de MERCURES

Our room at the top of the tower with personal balcony!

It took a while for all this to sink in but fortunately there was a complimentary bottle of Cahors wine to help us and when we had settled down we took some time to explore the castle and its gardens, its wine cellars and it public rooms.  Dinner off of an expensive menu was included and I remember that this was the first time that I ever tasted Foie Gras and feeling guilty about it because I was certain that my vegetarian teenage daughter would certainly not approve.

For our full day in France after breakfast we chose to drive the thirty-five kilometres north to the tourist town and Christian pilgrimage centre of Rocamadour.

At first the road was straight and driving was easy but the final few kilometres were on twisting bendy roads that swooped through gullies and over ravines as we got closer.  Rocamadour is one of the busiest tourist sites in France because the picturesque town is built almost vertically into the side of the mountain with its golden houses overhanging a rocky gorge and the River Alzou below.  The car park was at the bottom of the mountain and to get to the entrance gate of the town required an ascent up several flights of wooden steps that eventually brought us out at the main tourist street.

It was quiet today because this was October and outside the main tourist season but the summer months bring thousands of visitors to this place daily.  Years later I visited Carcassonne and Mont St Michel and found them rather similar in a touristy sort of way.

It didn’t help matters that the weather was rather poor and although it wasn’t raining it was misty and rather damp and the honey coloured stones looked disappointingly dull and lifeless today, the place was full of tourist shops that weren’t doing enough business to justify being open and we had the streets and medieval staircases almost to ourselves as we wandered past churches and chapels on ancient streets punctuated with shops and restaurants every few metres.  We stopped for lunch and then made our way back down the steps and drove back to the Chateau where we enjoyed a second gourmet meal in the expensive dining room.

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The next morning when it was time to check out I suddenly began to panic in case I had to pay for any of this unaccustomed extravagance and finery that we had enjoyed and the thoughts got stronger as I waited behind an American guest who settled his obscenely large bill and then made a dreadful fuss about being charged a couple of Francs for a postcard that he picked up while waiting.

My hands were sweating and I avoided the postcards but I needn’t have worried of course, the whole bill was taken care of by the Sunday Times and with the sun shining now we had one final walk around the delightful gardens before setting off for the return journey to Toulouse airport.

Entrance Tickets – The Sculptured Rocks near Saint Malo

Les rochers sculptés

The entrance ticket is just about as exciting as the attraction!

On a trip to Northern France we visited the delightful medieval town of Dinan and clutching a fist full of property details followed the road back to the coast and St Malo.  We were behind schedule so the sensible thing to do now was to go directly to Mont St Michel but Kim was intrigued by a visitor attraction marked on the map called the sculptured rocks so sensing another unexpected delight we left the main highway and set out on the coast road.

Let me now give you a piece of advice – unless you are really determined to see rock carvings do not take an unnecessary detour to Les rochers sculptés!  We were expecting a stack of rocks standing in the sea pounded by waves into interesting formations but the site is a small area of stonemason carvings in the side of the granite cliff.

Rock Sculptures St Malo

These sculptures were carved just over a hundred years ago by a hermit priest, Abbé Fouré, who had suffered a stroke and lost his ability to hear and speak and the story goes that he began these sculptures as a means of alternative communication. I am not trying to underestimate the value of the work here you understand, what I am saying that it is a tedious detour and unless you want to go round twice which is highly unlikely I have to say the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes or so.

If you do want to go and see them then I would do it soon because after one hundred years they are seriously eroded by the sea and the rain and it can’t help a great deal that visitors are allowed to climb all over them.

After the disappointing visit I was impatient to get to Mont St Michel but stuck on the coast road progress was infuriatingly slow as we passed through several towns and villages all with inconveniently snail like speed limits.  Out in the Gulf of St Malo we could see the abbey on the island but it seemed to take a frustrating age to get there as the road snaked around the coast and every few miles or so we came across a tractor or a school bus which slowed us down even more.

Several times I cursed the decision to go and visit Les rochers sculptés.

Les rochers sculptés St Malo France

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because 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.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gathering

Mont St Michel and Sheep

The very rural Auberge where we were staying was situated on a minor road next to a farm and in the morning we discovered why there was so much lamb on the menu as several hundred sheep were escorted past the hotel and across the road for a day of feeding on the sea grass.

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Auberge de Bain Mont St Michel

Brittany, Abandoned Plans

Auberge de Bain Mont St Michel

The very rural Auberge where we were staying was situated on a minor road next to a farm and in the morning we discovered why there was so much lamb on the menu as several hundred sheep were escorted past the hotel and across the road for a day of feeding on the sea grass.

This is a daily event by all accounts as for obvious reasons they cannot remain in the fields during high tide.

After the success of the visit to the delightful town of Dinan we changed our plans today and instead of driving to the busy city of Rennes and, once again based on postcard pictures, we agreed that we would instead go to what looked like another charming small market town, this time nearby Fougères, back in Brittany.

To begin with everything went according to plan and after an excellent breakfast we drove south towards our destination.  The journey took more or less forty minutes and when we arrived there we were surprised at just how busy the place was.  We tried several car parks but failed to find an empty space until we came across a rather remote patch of tarmac with one last remaining place.

The reason it was so busy was today there was a market in town which stretched for almost half a mile all along the main street and everyone from miles around had come to take a look.  Ihad woken up in the middle of a nightmare!   I like local markets but this was a tatty affair selling cheap rubbish and designer fakes and it soon became clear that this was probably not the best day to see the town centre so after a very quick look we left the town and drove instead to find the nearby fortress.

Castle of Fourgeres Brittany France

This is a famous fortress, probably the best in Northern France and the town makes the bold claim that this is the biggest medieval fortress in Europe.  This is a massive claim indeed and one that is challenged by Carcassonne in the south of the country.  In fact neither Fougères or Carcassonne can claim the bragging rights on this one and it is generally agreed that the biggest castle in Europe is Malbork castle in Poland but as I have said before you have to be careful about these claims because all of the contenders seem to apply different rules to suit themselves to gain the advantage.

Unfortunately I am unable to help with this one because although we saw the Fougères fortress from the outside we didn’t get to go inside.  Once again the car parks were packed solid and there was simply nowhere to safely leave the car.  It seems that Fougères is rather fond of cycle racing and today there was a big event which meant that we were about two hours too late to get parked.  There also seemed to be a definite danger that parts of the town were going to be closed off later in the afternoon and so as we were due to fly home today and needed to get to the airport we didn’t need the additional worry of being locked in and unable to get out.

Northern France Wissant

So we were obliged to change our plans and drove out in the general direction of St Malo.  Now we had a potential problem because I wasn’t exactly sure where I was and Kim was in charge of the map.  Kim (she won’t mind me telling you this)  is completely lacking in map reading skills and I always know that I am in trouble when she keeps turning the map round to face the way we were going.  This invariably means one of two things, either we are lost or we have just missed an important turning.  I always know that this is the time to start making preparations for a u-turn.

We always fall out in these situations and today was no exception.  Kim gets tense, I get irritable and she gets moody and then starts saying unhelpful things like ‘take a left in about one inch’ and when I ask her to convert this to miles ‘it’s difficult, the map is in kilometres’.  We generally stop communicating after about five minutes or so, and so it was today.

It was disappointing not to see Fougères but on the plus side it gave us the opportunity to revisit Dinan and find somewhere for lunch down by the river.  As it turned out Dinan was also a lot busier today and parking became another challenge but after we found a space we walked again amongst the medieval half timbered buildings and enjoyed a final pot of moules in the sunshine.

Too soon the short break was over and we were making our way back to the airport but Brittany is a place that I am sure that I will return to.

Brittany Map Postcard