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.
It’s known for its American film festival but we only visited it for a few hours for a brief respite before my friend had to go home and dress up for his wedding! We had strict instructions from his wife-to-be to keep him occupied for the morning and away from the house as he was hyper-excited and getting in everyone’s way while they were getting ready for the wedding J We visited the famous boardwalk, glanced at older women strolling down the beach, keeping their plastic faces out of the sun and trying to be seen without being seen in fashionable swimsuits, beach wraps and wide-brimmed sunhats. It’s a town for the rich and the famous – where one is to dress a certain way to be seen. Striped beach cut a pretty picture of the beach promenade. But, to be honest, there’s nothing very interesting about the place. It looks manicured and set, the beach looks terribly boring and bare, except for a few posers around. One point of interest is the line of beach cabanas with entrance posts that are named after film stars like Burt Lancaster. Note how they misspelled Harrison Ford’s name! We took pictures as a reminder of the morning of the wedding, before loading ourselves into the car and high-tailing it back to the house to get ready for the afternoon’s celebrations.
I visited friends here – they’d gone to university here and had a history of living in this city that they wanted to share with me. I got to see the famous Rouen cathedral that Monet painted. I recall reading a story that Monet painted Rouen cathedral over and over again at a time when his eyesight was failing and he was only able to see everything in varying shades of yellow, red and purple. He painted lots of variations of Rouen cathedral but burnt many of them. Only a few copies survive in the world now.
A really picturesque fishing village that is full of money as is evident from the luxury yachts moored in the harbour and the elegant restaurants lining the fashionable promenades. Honfleur at night is really spectacular and very romantic. A great place for a honeymoon stop at a bed and breakfast where you can wake up to a view of the bobbing boats in the harbour. Lovely, though expensive, seafood. If you are in the Normandy region, this is the one town you must visit.