Mont-Saint-Michel: Worth a look

I think I have this poster from college.

There is a huge decision to make for those visiting Normandy.  ‘Should we visit Mont-Saint-Michel even though it’s one of the more popular tourist destinations in the world?’  After all, it’s not an easy place to get to unlike many other cathedrals and small churches you can encounter on your average Church Walk.

To help out those facing this quandary here’s a short quiz:

  • Do you like spectacular views?
  • Are you interested in history?
  • Can you tolerate at least a full day in a huge crowd without letting it ruin your day?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to all of the above then a day at Mont-Saint-Michel is worth your time.  Here’s some more good news: Getting to the island is a lot easier than it was back in the 8th Century when the abbey was built.  Up until a new bridge was built much more recently, pilgrims would have to wait until the tide was low enough to walk across the sand flats.

We could be down there!

In fact, some modern visitors prefer to re-create that walk in order to experience approaching as a medieval pilgrim would.  For the less romantic and more practical there is the option of shuttling from your parking spot to the bridge then walking across.

Once you’re on the island there are two main paths up to the abbey.  The first is the town street and the second is along the ramparts.  Both are a good uphill workout. We took the town road up to the abbey then the ramparts down until we came to a spot with wine and crêpes for a break.

Are we there yet?

Unfortunately, unlike most other cathedrals all the artwork and interesting abbey accessories were removed when the abbey was converted to a prison in the 1400’s. For a fee there is an unguided tour you can take through the empty abbey.

A beautiful emptiness

It’s tempting to declare myself ‘done’ with Mont-Saint-Michel but the truth is if I’m fortunate enough to find myself in this part of the world again and am with a companion who has never seen it I would have a hard time denying them the experience.  I’d skip the walk through the empty abbey though unless there is a compelling new reason not to.  Instead, I’d send my companion off with promises of crêpes later on then I would walk along the ramparts until I would find a nice spot with a view of the sea.  There, I would order a glass of wine and drink a toast to all the previous visitors to the island – pilgrims and prisoners alike.


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