Bucket List: Le Mont St. Michel

1300 years of history, a unique fortified village built on prayer and torture that has never been defeated, and a world heritage site like no other. That is Mont St. Michel—or “Le Mont” as it is affectionately referred to around here. The Mountain or Mount.

As mountains go, the Rockies in Colorado; the Pyrenees in Spain and France; and the Alps in Austria, Switzerland, and Italy, all made me feel tiny, overwhelmed, and respectful of Mother Earth’s magnificent production/symphony. And I don’t know, because I haven’t been there, but I can imagine that the 110 peaks of the Himalayas reaching up to 24,000 feet would feel like gazing into the eyes of God.

The Mount, a tidal island rising from the beautiful bay between Normandy and Brittany coasts, doesn’t reach anywhere near those heights. It is quite tiny, yet it looms large, and what it lacks in volume, it most certainly makes up in magnificence.

Goodness, I don’t know where to begin! I’m sure after reading a few of my blog posts, you’re aware how much I appreciate the medieval stuff. Visiting a site that is historically rich unbolts the floodgates to my creative juices. Not just sometimes. Every. Time.

Call it an obsession or a hobby, I don’t know but I like to read an entire cookbook before selecting a meal to prepare and typically read travel guides from cover to cover before a trip. Yet, in neither scenario do I ever follow “the recipe” to the letter.

Perhaps because of a truly big desire to see it, I’d made a choice never to read anything about this particular bucket list item. In fact, the first time I ever saw The Mount described at all was in a book called The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, whose capturing of its energy was spot-on with how it lived in my own imagination.

My husband and I are fortunate to have coinciding bucket lists. Granted, wild-camping and doing “business” in the woods is not something we can totally agree on, but for Mont St. Michel we shared the hope that a lack of prior knowledge would be the key to our experience.

So let me tell you about it.

There’s a “free” bus ride from the parking lot to The Mount and when the doors to the bus opened, we were welcomed by bulldozers. The welcoming committee had something to do with the mountain being all over the news in the week we arrived in France.

Late in the 19th century, a dry boardwalk was built above the highest water level, preventing the tide from hooking its treacherous fingers around the island and washing away the silt. To create pastures, the flat land by the coast was turned into polders. Also, the Couesnon River was canalized, resulting in a reduced water current. These three actions had devastating long-term consequences to what is an area incredibly rich in fauna, flora, and agriculture.

As the currents could no longer wash away the sea’s silt deposits, this very unique island in the bay was becoming a very large rock protruding from the seabed-turned-salt-march.

In 2005 a costly project was put into motion to turn the rock back into the tidal island it is meant to be. A hydraulic dam was put into place and a new bridge was built to allow tidal waters to flow freely beneath and over it. The bulldozers clawed away meter after meter of silt. Ten years later, on March 21st, 2015, the new bridge became submerged for the first time and Le Mont St. Michel became a sometime island again. Whew!

On to the rock! Which, by the way, we could see from around 25 miles away looking quite surreal. As we approached, the seemingly tiny place grew and grew into a gorgeous hunk of granite with layer upon layer of potential for adventure.

Walking beneath the main gate of the outer rampart, and then through the über-fortified second gate into the village’s main street, pretty much medieval-ed us right out of our shoes! My first thought was Hello, dream! Welcome to my life and thank you for coming true!

We made our way along medieval half-timber structures whose beams seemed curved with the weight of ancientness. We marveled at the many stairs leading onto ramparts and bending between buildings higher and higher, to the abbey in the sky.

After a wonderful meal created with products from the land surrounding The Mount, we began the ascension. It’s not an unhazardous climb when walking around marveling with your mouth wide open. If asked to describe the place in one word, I’m afraid to have to borrow it, because what comes to mind is Hogsmeade* or for imagery’s sake, picture the Japanese Manga artist Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle**.

As the village shuts down for the night, and the sun started its descent into the sea, we climbed up and down and over, found the darkest corners, felt the wind against our faces, inhaled the wonderful sea air, and got what we’d truly hoped for: to experience Le Mont St. Michel while pretending we were several hundreds of years in the past.

As for this dream come true, we have slammed a high-five, taken Le Mont St. Michel and tucked it into our pocket.

More pictures here.

Bucket List Item: Le Mont St. Michel
Cost: gas money and parking. Parking costs a whopping E12.50 (about $14, a flat fee but free arriving after 7:30pm) This outing can be really cheap or free, or very expensive. Stay out of the tourist traps and away from expensive restaurants. If you don’t, put yourself on a strict budget! Also the museums are incredibly cheesy, not worth the cash; however, the abbey is a must-see and will not break the bank at E9 pp.
How far from home: there was no traffic whatsoever, about 1 hr and 15 min
Picnic: food available up and down the main street; all budgets, but some are really steep. Absolutely possible to take a picnic. There are some quiet spots with benches and amazing views.
Overall experience: knocked our socks off!
Repeatable? repeated and soon to be repeated again

*(see Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
** (see Howl’s Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki)

The facts of Mont St Michel are detailed on the official website and in an interesting Smithsonian article. And Wikipedia.

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