The mother of a good friend of mine was going on and on about how I should visit Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, if I ever had the chance. So, when I did get the chance a couple of years later, I went without knowing what exactly to expect.
For example, I didn’t expect my first approach to the island to be so fascinating. It’s a tidal island, which means that high tide blocks the entire island from the mainland as it is surrounded by water on all sides. The most fascinating aspect of the island is Mont Saint-Michel Abbey, which crowns the top of the island and has been an integral part of the island’s characteristic skyscape, since medieval times.
For obvious reasons, the entire island is navigated by foot only. Wandering up the steep, rambling alleyways that coil around the island and eventually lead you to the Abbey, you realise pretty quickly that the island still preserves most of its medieval character. Over time, as local merchants, suppliers and servants relied more heavily on the Abbey’s finances to provide them with a living, they moved onto the base of the island so that they were less reliant on the tides to give them access to the Abbey and provide the monks that lived there with the support they required.
The Abbey is a strange mix of Norman and Gothic architecture and there’s now a bridge connecting the mainland with the island. I visited it around 2002 when one still relied on knowing the tides to get there, or risked being trapped on the island overnight. Just be warned that those quaint medieval narrow streets on the Mont also get packed full of tourists very quickly and you’ll feel like you’re in a crowded cattleshed. Still, it’s a pretty special place and I’m very glad I got to visit it when I did. This unique UNESCO World Heritage site is definitely worth a visit, just be warned that’s it’s one of Normandy’s premier tourist attractions.
The medieval Breton town of Dinan is a short drive away from Mont Saint-Michel and is worth a poke around if you’re exploring the area.
Visited in 2002