Tag Archives: Normandy

Brittany (Normandy), Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel France

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.

Mont St Michel Normandy Brittany France

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.

Mont St Michel Door

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.

mont st michel Normandy France

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?

Mont St Michel and Sheep


Brittany, Dinan and The Sculptured Rocks

Dinan Brittany France

We had enjoyed two good days in Dinard and St Malo but the next morning it was time to move on.  We woke earlier than planned on account of some seagulls flying past our window and screeching so loud it was as though it was a fleet of police patrol cars driving by on the way to attend an incident with emergency sirens blaring.

Before travel I always carry out careful research but sometimes something just crops up while you are away.  At a shop in Dinard I was looking at postcards and came across one for the nearby town of Dinan and it looked exactly like the sort of place that we should visit.  Kim was elsewhere in the shop and spotted exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.  Simultaneously we said “come and look at this, I think we should go here” and we decided there and then that we should.

Dinan Postcard

It took longer to drive to Dinan than it really should have on account of major road works which required a lengthy and tedious detour which doubled both the distance and the time to our destination but as it turned out it was well worth the inconvenience.

Even as we arrived 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.

From the town we made our way down the steep Rue du Petit-Fort, which was Dinan’s main point of access until the eighteenth century. An uneven cobbled street, the stuff of picture postcards flanked with half-timbered houses and arts and crafts shops on account of the fact that Dinan has been designated a Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History) and is filled with artists, sculptors, engravers, bookbinders, glassblowers and more.

Brittany France Dinan

The road twisted and turned and seemed like it would never end as it spilled half or mile or so down towards the River Rance and the old port, passing through the ancient main gate of the walled town and down to a medieval stone bridge which crossed the river towards another labyrinth of tiny streets on the other side.

The sun was shining and the temperature was rising and there were a string of inviting bars and restaurants alongside the banks of the river so we stopped for a while before tackling the return journey back up the steep hill.

At the mid way point we climbed the fortress steps and took the path around the castle walls with magnificent and commanding views over the surrounding countryside.  The town walls are sadly incomplete so it cannot become my favourite walled city and that distinction has to remain with Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

What a fabulous place, what an unexpected find and if you take only one piece of advice from me then if you are ever in Brittany or Northern France then I urge you to visit Dinan.  At the end of the visit Kim declared it the highlight of the holiday and that included Mont St Michel.

Dinan Brittany France

Reluctantly we left Dinan clutching a fist full of property details and 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 second 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 the visit is going to be over in about twenty minutes.

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.

I was impatient now 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

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…