Wiggly, Wobbly, Wonderful Mont Saint-Michel

Written by on May 19, 2016 in Normandy

mont-st-michel

Sitting at the mouth of the Couesnon river, off the coast at Avranches, Mont St-Michel looks like a rather bad architectural pile up, not unlike a reject from the ‘Great British Bake Off’. Today, of course, it is an icon of France, one of the country’s most instantly recognisable landmarks, attracting millions of visitors each year who come to expend disproportionate amounts of cash on parking, food and drink, and dubious souvenirs.

In the good old days, you could drive almost to the gates of the island town, and pay a lot less for the privilege of leaving your car stuck in the mud, or to be washed away by the incoming tide if you got your timing wrong. Now you park a kilometre or so away, and pay €12.50 (2015) to leave your car in relative safety. But, to be fair, that €12.50 does get everyone (except dogs) free rides on the shuttle out and (hopefully) back along a new elevated causeway that is indirectly doing much to regenerate the original state of the bay and its island.

In prehistoric times, the Mont was just a minor bump on an expanse of dry land over which prehistoric man may have hunted buffalo, woolly mammoth, deer and moose, and been hunted in turn by sabre-toothed tiger and an assortment of beasties for whom mankind was simply a tasty snack taken in the al fresco dining tradition that was to characterise latter-day France. Then, as sea levels rose and erosion kicked in, outcrops of leucogranite started to appear, having resisted the attentions of the sea rather better than elsewhere nearby. One such came to be known as Mont Tombe. And so it remained until in 708 Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, on what liquid medication we know not, dreamt an encounter with the archangel Michael, who instructed him to build a church on the island. Three times the archangel instructed the bishop, finally, it is said, burning a hole in the bishop’s skull to drive home the merits of obedience.

mont-saint-michel-with-cows

Since then the island has long held strategic importance over the bay, and in time came to be the seat of the monastery from which it is now named, although pilgrims attempting the bay walk across the sands and mudflats, came to think of it as ‘St Michael in Peril of the Sea’. At a secular level, the island and its tortuous lanes and stepped alleyways is a place that deserves all the attention; it is constantly bustling and frenetic, given to wonder.

In a way you can’t help being excited by it all, but I’m guessing the majority can’t quite put their finger on what it is about Mont St-Michel that’s so special. Sure, there is its non-secular history, and even among the most heathen of us I suppose that earns a modicum of respect.

For me it’s the architecture, and the way the whole thing has been heaped up in a way that no doubt made sense at the time, but has resulted in a maze of ascending lanes and stepways that leave you breathless. For others it may well be the islandness.

Like Carcassonne, it is a great place to be at night, once the masses have departed; to wander lanes lit dimly, slipping through the shadows to watch the moon rise over waters moved by its influence. You find an inner peace then that may just be the contrast with the brouhaha of the day, or something more spiritual and calming, or the simple by-product of holiday escapism. Then, when the tide comes in and engulfs the land, the island state returns and, for a time, there is a keen sense of impregnability… a sense of isolation…a sense of place.

Read the full article in The Good Life France Magazine (free to read, download and subscribe).

Fabulous photo gallery of Mont-St-Michel  

Tags: ,

Related Articles

The prettiest villages in Normandy

It’s official – these are the prettiest villages in Normandy according to the Plus Beaux Villages de France Association. They award the coveted recognition to a handful of villages that have to meet strict criteria. Culturally rich, population of less than 2000, rural location and of course exquisitely pretty! Normandy has six recognised Plus Beaux […]

Continue Reading

48 hours in and around Le Havre, Normandy

Le Havre’s port is vast. And its contemporary architecture has UNESCO heritage status in recognition of its exceptional urban design on a grand scale. This cruise ship destination city is a vibrant, friendly and fascinating city to visit. The birthplace of impressionism with an arty vibe offers plenty to do in the town. And with […]

Continue Reading

5 must see WW2 sites in Normandy, France

To understand what WW2 was truly like, you must take a trip to Normandy, France to see where some of the most monumental events took place. The turning point of the war occurred in this region and the battle sites are meticulously preserved with many relics. It makes Normandy a must-visit to learn about and […]

Continue Reading

What to do in Lyons-la-Foret, Normandy

Lyons-la-Foret is a picturesque village, hidden in the heart of one of the oldest and largest forests of Normandy, where the beech trees are several centuries old. Like many pretty villages in Normandy, there are magnificent half-timbered houses, pink brick or tinted cob style, typical of the region and mostly dating from the 17th to […]

Continue Reading

The best things to do in Le Havre, Normandy

Le Havre in Normandy was once a hugely popular seaside resort. After the Paris to Le Havre railway line opened in 1847, it brought Parisians in their droves to enjoy the long beaches and take the fresh sea air. But these days it’s famous for its huge port and for its extraordinary architecture. A mid […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top