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Mont St Michel

(written by Dave)

Today we visited Mont St Michel.  It was yet another confirmation that a pause here in Granville was a good idea.  Somewhere buried in a box, I have a copy of the book “1,000 things to do before you die”.  I’m certain that Mont St Michel is on their list.  Mont St Michel is scenic for the camera buffs, full of history for the historians, holds regular masses for the religious and even has some modern hydrologic works going on for the engineer types.  In other words, it has something for pretty much everyone, with lots left over.

To reach Mont St Michel, we took the once per day municipal bus from Granville.  We were a little concerned that the return departed 7 hours after our arrival and that we would get a little bored.  We even took a laptop so that we could find a café where we could kill a few hours.  We needn’t have worried.  We took our time looking over everything and actually were walking quickly back to the bus stop as we’d run out of time.

Going there in the off-season was probably a good idea.  I read that there are over 3 million visitors to the site every year.  It was pretty crowded today so I can only imagine it during the summer peak.  We went on Sunday because it fit our schedule and were lucky that we did.  Purely by chance, we ended up in the abbey as Sunday mass was starting.  We sat in the back and listened in for a while.  We couldn’t really follow as it was in French but the melodic singing of an all woman’s choir, coupled with the singsong sounding sermon given by the priests gave the high ceilinged abbey a real mystical feel.  Of course they had a priest with one of those “smoking balls on a long chain” as well, just in case the atmosphere weren’t authentic enough.  We’ve been in a lot of religious buildings during this trip but we’ve not been allowed to see an actual service that we can remember.  This was a nice change.

The Mont has a fascinating history.  The island was first built on in 708 and served as a place of worship up until the French revolution when it was turned into a prison.  While its role as a church was important, it was also of significant military value, serving as an impregnable fortress during the 100 years wars in the 1400s, between England and France.  Being an island on a river, Mother Nature, by pushing sediment up from the sea, was always going to turn the island into a peninsula.  The sedimentation was significantly accelerated by man’s activity, both nearby farming and the building of various causeways and parking lots over the years.  In 2008 the government decided to try returning the natural water flow around the island and saving it for a few more centuries.  This has resulted in a massive dredging and dam effort, as well as tearing out all the causeways and parking lots.  It will be interesting to see the place n 20 years to see how things have worked out.  The dam is up and operational currently and is quite interesting – it is designed to stop the sea from bringing in too much sediment – almost opposite of what we intuitively thought it would be doing.

While Mont St Michel certainly deserves a spot on the 1,000 things list, you could also add it to the list “1,000 things to do while you are still highly mobile” – if such a list exists.  If you drive a car to the Mont, you have to walk about a half mile from the new off-island parking lot to the island shuttle.  And that just gets you to the island foreshore.  If you want to visit and return from the Mont St Michel Abbey there are hundreds of steps, up and down and back up and finally back down.  We read several reviews about the island that gave it very low marks for “accessibility”.  It really did require good fitness and we saw lots of folks hanging on stair railings trying to get their breath back.  But really, it was about what you’d expect for a bunch of buildings cascading down an island, out in the middle of a bay that were designed and built over many hundreds of years.  The only vehicles allowed out on the island now are shuttle buses and the municipal buses which we happened to be riding.  This would have saved us from some walking had we not decided to walk the causeway back to the mainland anyway.  The Mont looks completely different from off the island and we wanted to savor the view.

We returned to Granville and our last night in our lovely guesthouse.  I forgot to mention that we had our third brekkie French lesson today – we’d be fluent if we stayed here a few more weeks.  The hosts here are great.  Tomorrow however, we are heading north-east to the Normandy WWII area.  We are still working out where we will stay and how we will get there.  The ride doesn’t look too taxing but the forecast looks absolutely dreadful.  There are couple train options if slogging it out in the single digit rains squalls looks like the riding option.  We’ll spend three days in Normandy, and then we’ll take one last train/bike ride into Paris.  I’ll stop there for today as I need to spend some internet time looking over guest houses for tomorrow.  My editor is currently sleeping off her big day on Mont St Michel and I don’t want to disturb her.

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5 responses to “Mont St Michel

  1. I love the description of the chanting in the abbey and singsong voices. I can almost hear it myself.

    • Nancy was happy to leave the subsequent church halls. For some reason, I found it compelling to “keep the chant going”, much to her annoyance.

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  2. Love the pictures & description of the service inside Mont St.Michel. It’s impressive from a distance & close up. Beautiful! I’ll have to read up on this! Nice hosts at the B&B!

  3. If you are heading to Normandy don’t miss the famous tapestry in Bayeux, the 360 degree movie at Arromanches and, of course, the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/page/?o=1&page_id=166608&v=1dh#top

    We loved the Mont. Wish that we had enough money to experience a few nights on the Mont. Bet it is nice once most of the tourists leave.

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