Mont St Michel
The island abbey of Mont St Michel had been on my bucket list since I first saw an image of it years ago. So it was definitely on the list when we planned our trip.
Mont St Michael is four hours from Paris, so it was a fourteen-hour day on the bus tour between travelling and time on the island. The island is just a few hundred metres from the mainland and only accessible at low tide. This makes it accessible to pilgrims at low tide but defensible at high tide. Some people still cross to the island across the mudflats in the traditional way of pilgrims hundreds of years ago. Apparently, you need a guide to take you over to avoid the quicksand. (we took the shuttle!)
World Heritage site
Before constructing the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Just over a year later, a small church was consecrated on 16th October 709. In 966, a community of Benedictines settled on the rock at the request of the Duke of Normandy and the pre-Romanesque church was built before the year one thousand. With the Hundred Years War outbreak in the 14th century, it became necessary to protect the abbey behind a set of military constructions. This enabled it to hold out against a siege lasting 30 years. Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Over 60 buildings on the island are protected in France as monuments historiques.
Car free island
In 2014 a new causeway was opened that gave access to the island for shuttle buses and pedestrians. The old road covered at every high tide was then removed. However, the area is known for spring ‘super’ tides, and in 2015 the tide was so high it covered even the raised causeway. We arrived around midday and enjoyed a delicious lunch with a pear cider before taking the shuttle bus to the island. No cars are allowed on the island. Even residents must take the shuttle bus from the mainland carpark across the causeway or walk. We all had headphones supplied by the tour company, and the guide supplied loads of info about Mont St Michel. While setting a cracking pace up the 350 steps to the top!
At the base of Mont St Michael are shops and houses – the island has a permanent population of 50. Just below the top sits The Merveille (the marvel). Added in the 13th century its three layered levels, culminating a height of 35m supported by 16 powerful buttresses. The Merveille took 17 years, and each level had different functions. The building of which was an amazing feat of engineering for the time.
On the ground floor, is the cellar for storing food and the chaplaincy for welcoming pilgrims. The second floor contains the dining hall with its imposing fireplaces, reserved for special guests. On this floor is also the so-called “knights” room, the former scriptorium. The “knights” room was also called the scriptorium. For a long time, the scriptorium was thought to have been the place where manuscripts were produced and illuminated. However, it would seem that it was in fact used for reading and studying. The final level contained the cloisters and the monks’ refectory.
At the very top stands the church – topped with a 32m steeple and a statue of St Michael.
What a Day!
Once at the top, the guide left us to our own devices for a couple of hours. We had to be back on the bus by 4.30 pm. We meandered our way back down (much slower than the going up), taking photos along the way. Boarding the shuttle bus back was problematic as the first one was packed. I couldn’t squeeze on, we were running out of time to get back, so when the second shuttle bus came, we were a bit more aggressive and managed to squeeze on. Fortunately we arrived back to our tour bus with about 5 mins to spare. Though being stuck on St Michel overnight wouldnt be such a bad thing.
The tour bus left Mont St Michel at 4.30 pm. With a 30min stop halfway back to Paris for toilets, food, and drink, we arrived back in Paris around 9 pm. Found a cab. Cabbie spoke only french, we spoke only English. Rue de Rennes merci… confusion… Rue de Rennes. I showed him the address on my phone…. ahhhhh!! Oui, Rue de Rennes… I thought I said that! 10 euro later we were back at our hotel, and I think about ten mins after that I was in bed asleep!