department: manche (50)
here rest the souls of the dead
It is difficult not
to be impressed with Mont-St-Michel, an extraordinary site with a rich history
and superb architecture. The streets below the abbey and church are invariably
crammed with visitors, served by restaurants, a few hotels and souvenir shops
selling products of variable quality.
But it is the overpowering sense of isolation that
dominates, especially on the few occasions each year when the sea finally
isolates the granite island. According to mythology, Mont-St-Michel was the
abode of the souls of the dead.
In its time, Mont-St-Michel has served as a prison, and in
the mid 1960s, the abbey was symbolically returned to the Benedictines. It
became a World Heritage Site in 1979.
In 2012, it was decided to end the ability of visitors to
drive onto the causeway and park beside it, as part of a proposal to restore
the causeway. Visitors must now park off-site and either walk (3km) or take a
shuttle bus to the island, from near the car park (charge €11.70, 2016).
Ongoing development is intended to restore Mont-St-Michel to its nature marine state. As part of this work, a 760m bridge from the coastline of
northern France to the World Heritage Site opened in late July, 2014, 19 years
after the government decided to restore the historic venue to its island glory.
The existing causeway, which has stood for 135 years, was destroyed to
allow the sea to completely surround the historic site again for the first time
in more than a century.
Bear in mind that with Mont-St-Michel, you are paying for the location, and that means everything is just that little bit more expensive than elsewhere, e.g. a regular flat white coffee costs €5 compared with €3.20 in Caen city centre.
When to Go: It is always exciting, and a little
intimidating, to go at high tide as the sea surges in.
How to get there: Walk, or ride the free shuttle over the bridge
connecting the mainland parking lot and Information Centre to Mont St. Michel.
Where to stay: Like spending a night in the citadel at
Carcassonne, doing the same on Mont St Michel, and walking the ramparts after
the tourists have left, will be a memorable experience. Les Terrasses Poulard
has 29 rooms in two separate buildings, although getting there is not for the
faint hearted, and involves climbing steep stone steps. So, to make the climb
easier, just take a small overnight bag and leave any large luggage in your car.
However, there are numerous hotels just on the mainland: Hotel Mercure, St Aubert Hotel, Hotel Vert, Le Relais du Roy, Hotel de la Digne, Relais Saint-Michel Hotel.
Top Tip: Go in winter and spend the night on the Mont. The
weather is dramatic, and the crowds are virtually nonexistent.
Crossing the Bay to Mont-St-Michel
It is dangerous
to cross the Bay alone. Rivers, sand
bars and large expanses of mud and quicksand are different from tide-change to
tide-change affected by currents and winds, and the sea level can rise as much
as 15 metres, with the incoming tide at a speed sometimes said to be as fast as
a galloping horse – that probably isn't entirely true, but it comes in faster
than you can walk...or run.
So, for your
safety, cross to Mont-St-Michel only with one of the licensed Bay guides, the
first of whom were the Bay’s fishermen and hunters who then passed their
knowledge to the next generation from which many of today’s guides come.
To obtain further information, or to make
reservations (essential), apply to the Office de Tourisme Intercommunal de
Sartilly Porte de la Baie at either 4 place des Halles, 50 530 Genêts Tel: 02 33 89
64 00, or 13 rue Pierre Lejaudet, 50530 St Jean le Thomas Tel: 02 33 70 90 71. www.tourismebaiemontstmichel.com.
guide companies organise
crossings to Mont-St-Michel:
Chemins de la
Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, 34 rue de l’Ortillon, 50530 Genêts. Tel: 02 33 89 80 88. www.cheminsdelabaie.com.
Découverte de la
Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, La Maison du Guide, 1 rue Montroise, 50530 Genêts. Tel: 02 33 70 83 49. www.decouvertebaie.com.
There are also a
great many private guides conducting interesting specialised tours (nature,
history, as a pilgrimage, etc.). Consult the listing at www.tourismebaiemontstmichel.com.