Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mont Saint Michel

"The following morning at dawn I went toward it across the sands, my eyes fastened on this gigantic jewel, as big as a mountain, cut like a cameo, and as dainty as lace. The nearer I approached, the greater my admiration grew, for nothing in the world could be more wonderful or more perfect". Guy de Maupassant, The Legend of Mont Saint Michel

Mont St. Michel from the causeway

It's hard to forget the first time I saw Mont Saint Michel from the bus window. I saw its fairytale like silhouette from a distance and I was captivated. So this time around, I waited with bated breath as the bus approached Mont Saint Michel but alas, we took a different route and I didn’t see the Mount until I had walked up the causeway from the new village that grew in recent years. Our bus from Dol dropped us in front of the tourist center where free shuttle buses ferry visitors to the foot of the Mount. I opted to walk the 2 km distance so I could see the Mont from afar and feel its magic. It was sprinkling a little bit so the Mont was shrouded in mist that partially covered its spire. And it was low tide so the bay was quite dry.

The Bay of Mont Saint Michel

The approach to the Mont has changed dramatically from my visit ages ago when visitors were dropped off close to the foot of the Mont. The bay surrounding the Mont has silted up due to land reclamation, intensive farming and a host of other human activities including the use of land for parking and the construction of the old causeway. The Mont is increasingly engulfed by sand and salt marshes. The French government and local authorities are now correcting this problem by addressing the causes of the problem including building a new dam over the Couesnon River which will flush sediment out to sea. The parking lot has been moved to the mainland where thousands of flora and fauna have been planted to provide a green landscape.  And the old causeway will be replaced by a footbridge which will be more in keeping with the environment. They estimate all phases of the project to be completed in 2015. And Mont Saint Michel will once again be surrounded by the bay and rise from the sea as it has in the past.

The half timbered houses of the Mont Saint Michel

As I had visited the abbey in the past, I spent my time walking along the ramparts and going up and down steep stairs wet from the early morning rain. It was a good (if not precarious) way to see the village with its narrow passages and remaining half timbered houses.

Grande Rue

The Grande Rue is the main street of the Mont. It's lined chock a block with souvenir shops, restaurants and houses which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries. Walk past the shops and go up the Grand Degre or Grand Staircase toward the ramparts and abbey for great views over the rooftops of the village and the bay beyond. But don't miss the village church of St. Pierre just off the Grande Rue. It's a respite from the hectic street below and there's a beautiful stained glass window inside.

Stained glass window inside the Church of St. Pierre

To get to Mont St. Michel from Paris, take the TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Rennes and transfer  from there by bus to the Mont. Alternatively, there are trains to Dol or Avranches where you will again transfer by bus to the visitor center near the Mont. A free shuttle called Passeur takes passengers to the Mont. It's a short walk from the shuttle stop to the gate of Mont Saint Michel. There's also a horse drawn carriage which takes visitors to the Mont for a fee. But the best way to approach the Mont is to walk up the short distance and be rewarded by exceptional views of the Bay and the Mont. The restrooms are just outside the gate as you enter the village.

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Images by TravelswithCharie

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