Mont St Michel World Heritage Site
Aug 23, 2012
|Mont St Michel - World Heritage Site
We set out with great anticipation for Mont St Michel. This famous and stunning World Heritage Site is on the coast of Normany, a stone's throw from Brittany.
We got an early start because we had been told that high tide was at 11:30am and we would not be able to access the island after 9:30 am. We arrived at the base of the causeway to the island at 9 am after a 1 1/2 hour drive. The reality is that the tidal flow has been altered so much by human intervention that water never crossed the roadway.
Mont St Michel has a spectacular abbey perched on top of a steep granite island. The first devotional building on the site was built in 708 AD. In 966, the Duke of Normandy gave the site to the Benedictine monks. They so strongly fortified the island that it was the only site in northern and western France not taken by the English during the Hundred Years War even though it was besieged three times! The island was turned into a prison after the French Revolution but it was returned to the Benedictines in 1966.
According to the tour Barb and Pierre were on, there are now 13 monks, 7 male and 6 female (actually monks!) living in the abbey.
Various houses and small buildings have filled the rest of the island over many years. Streets are steep and cobblestoned; no vehicles are allowed there. There are hotels and we saw staff struggling with patron' luggage, taking it manually to small vehicles outside the walls of the island.
We took tours of the Abbey: Barb and Pierre with a live French guide who was very interesting and knowledgeable; Grammar and I with an English audioguide (plus dropping in and out of the French tour). There are three levels of buildings in the abbey. Archaeological innovation was everywhere. For example: the bottom two floors have massive and beautifully vaulted stone roofs; the top floor has a wooden roof, much lighter than a stone one would have been.
On our way home, we stopped to taste and buy some Calvados - a yummy apple liqueur. Then we went to Dinan, on a long bay inland from St Malo.
We poked around this interesting town for a while and then asked for a recommendation for a restaurant. We set Danny the GPS to go to the restaurant and he took us down an incredibly steep cobblestone street that got progressively narrower and narrower, steeper and steeper. Pedestrians peeled off to both sides of us as we descended what soon was apparent to us to bea non-vehicular street. Up ahead outdoor tables for a restaurant appeared in the street. Pierre got out to see if we could squeeze by. We did - barely - in fact one waiter did move a table. There was absolutely nowhere to turn around and unlikely that a vehicle could have driven up the hill. Suddenly we saw a real road and we popped out on a major route. What a relief all round!!
We stayed in Dinan for a long, slow dinner and then drove home with some very unsatisfactory (read:scary) headlights. Our host's father has since told us that we can adjust the elevation of the low beams on the car with the turn of a dial. Hurrah!