Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mont Saint-Michel

After visiting the Normandy Beaches, we spent the night in the very cool 1st century B.C. (!!!) town of Bayeux. Ginny found a hidden gem of a hotel for us to stay in for the night in what turned out to be a fun place to visit. Bayeux has the distinction of being the first town that was liberated during World War II and was fortunate to remain relatively unscathed during the war.

After waking and eating a breakfast of coffee and pastries, which were to die for, in a local sweets shop, we drove about an hour or so to visit Mont Saint-Michel. I had seen pictures when Ginny first talked about it last Thanksgiving (while I was in Philadelphia) but it was even more amazing in person. This is what it looks like from a few miles away:

Mont Saint-Michel is a (very) small town built entirely on a tidal island just off the coast of Normandy. It was originally connected to the mainland by a small strip of land that was completely covered during high tide, which can be up to 46 feet (14m) above low tide!!! Today there's a paved road and parking lots that run between the island and the mainland. The lots get covered with water during high tide and the town cleans them each day during low tide. There are big signs that warn that you need to move your car before a certain time or else... No kidding!

The town is restored and well maintained and reminds me a lot of Carcassone, which I visited last July. It reminded me of it so much that I remarked to Diana that Mont Saint-Michel reminded me of a French version of Carcassone! Doh! She reminded me that we were in France but it occurred to me that I really think of Carcassone as a Catalan castle. :-)

After crossing the thin strip of land and parking on the wet sandy lot, you enter the town through a couple of drawbridge-style gates, which I just love.

There's a "main" street that runs through the town that has shops and restaurants. As you can imagine, it's super touristy with crepes (and crap) shops but I still really enjoyed walking around.

There are a handful of private houses on the island with about 40 or so full-time residents. The houses are all beautifully restored and have great views of the surrounding tidal area. I'm guessing that it's a bit busy during the day especially in summer but I'm sure that it's dead quiet and quite nice at night.

The island has had a town on it since pre-Roman times. The first monastery was built around the year 800 A.D. with the current form being from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The church is built in the Romanesque style and has a variety of crypts and chapels below the main worship space. I especially liked the crypts and a room that served as a dining room. The outdoor spaces are limited due to the contour of the island but this courtyard in the center of the church buildings was a nice open space and reminded me a lot of one of the courtyards in the Alhambra.

I'm glad that I had the chance to visit Mont Saint-Michel. Even though it's another church, the abbey building is architecturally interesting and the whole place is in such an unusual setting that it's worth the visit. This last photo shows me getting ready to save move the car from one of the wet and sandy lots "out front":

Our trip to France was a great time. I was bummed that we didn't get to spend more time there as it's turning out to be one of my favorite countries to visit. Thanks once again to Ginny for all the work planning the trip and choosing great places to sleep and eat. Let's do it again soon...maybe in the south of France next time.

(Side note: I rented the car through a popular travel website with the pickup location at the Louvre and the drop off at the airport. I didn't notice when they emailed me the confirmation, when I picked up the car, or even when I dropped it off that the return location had been reset to be the same as the pickup location. I believe that the change happened when I was entering information and had clicked the "Book Trip" button. The page probably reset because I was missing some piece of information and I didn't notice it at the time. I figured that I'd get mega overcharged by the rental agency but it didn't end up being too bad, only like 50 Euros. So, what did we learn, check the contract when picking up the car AND, if you're a web designer, create your forms so they don't loose information that was entered if data is missing and the page reloads. I hate when that happens.)

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