Mont Saint-Michel is, geographically speaking, a tidal isle. To you and me, this means that when the tide is low the mount is connected to the mainland, to Lower Normandy, by a narrow strip of land, but when the tide is high the mount is an island that propels 92 meters (300 ft.) into the sky some 200 meters (650 ft.) off the coast of France.
This is what makes Mont Saint-Michel so special; what makes it breathtakingly beautiful. Romantic. Spooky. Stay for a night in one of the isle’s numerous small but comfortable hotels, and I expect you would hear the sea drumming the rocks, the distant coastline wrapped in a light mist, and you only have to close your eyes to imagine wolves howling at hobgoblins and demons and old warriors, maces and axes upraised– why not a vampire, too? – lurking behind the isle’s centuries-old ramparts.
But beyond such Halloween fantasy, the Mount is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions – 3.5 million visitors annually. Therefore, once you have passed through Mont Saint-Michel’s wooden gateway and are on its main street –
Grande Rue, narrow, steep and winding its way to the abbey, now over a thousand years old (Benedictine monks began to construct it when they settled on the islet in 966) – you will be back in the land of the living. Grande Rue is a moveable feast of seafood restaurants, crêperies (pancake bars) and souvenir shops that sell anything from tiny pewter Archangel Michaels to mass-produced tapestries. Easy for us vagabonds to pass by without stopping on our trek to the top.
The mount’s main attraction is the abbey. To reach it from Grande Rue, we climbed something like 19 sets of stairs – or at least that’s what my step tracker said. At moments there are great views out over the bay and village, but the climb does seem to go on and on.
We got to the abbey and bought our tickets and discovered there was an English guided tour starting immediately – so up to the Terrace as quickly as we could to catch up with the guide.
Our Guide, a lovely young woman, whose name I never quite caught, was very knowledgeable about the Abbey (well she is a licensed professional after all) and took us on a tour lasting about an hour and a half – through the
crypts, gardens, formal spaces and
working spaces including the big wheel used to haul stuff up the side of the rock.
We chose to eat a late lunch overlooking the beaches rather than hiking out on to them.
All in all it was a fantastic day and the weather could not have been better.