Along with Versailles, Mont St-Michel was on my 'must see' list for our time in France.
Although on the morning of our visit I wasn't feeling very inspired. Do you ever get travel-fatigue in the middle of a long holiday? We all had a touch of it that day, no doubt due to 8 days straight sight-seeing in the cold and rain. We Provence types aren't used to so much rain.
So sitting in the carpark with rain splatting on the windshield and wind rocking the car (it was gusting 70 km/hr), the last thing I felt like doing was getting four small people kitted out in waterproof attire and trudging up the top of a mountain.
But of course we did it and of course we weren't disappointed.
So, what's all this about Mont St-Michel? Briefly:
- It's old, old, old. The first chapel at the summit was built in 708 AD.
- Europe's highest tidal variations are experienced there - the difference between high and low tide can be 15m!
- It's terribly touristy (and very crowded), so be prepared.
- Have little kids? Forget about the pram and take the baby backpack. There are steps everywhere.
A small sample of steps
We saw these crazy people shoeless in shorts despite the weather conditions.
As we gained some height we could see them, with a guide, walking around the Mont at low tide.
Off they head, to the left there
We forged straight up to the top of the hill as soon as we got there and found a big, long line waiting to get into the abbey . So instead we wandered the streets a bit, checked out a newer chapel down the hill and had a spot of lunch.
By the time we finished that (after 2pm) we found the line had disappeared.
The abbey is spectacular, especially when you consider where it's built. Imagine lugging all that stone up the Mont.
These pictures are from inside the abbey church (Eglise Abbatiale):
From a quilting point of view I thought the stained glass windows provided tons of inspiration.
Elsewhere in the abbey, this large wheel (built in the 19th century) was used to pull supplies up the Mont. It was powered hamster-wheel style by prisoners (the abbey became a prison for a while after the French Revolution).
The view from the wheel (before the wheel they just dragged stuff up the side of the mountain with ropes):
You can go down amongst the foundations of the church too, where it's built on solid stone and supported by these huge pillars.
Some more quilty inspiration - this time on the floors.
There were also some old, spooky sections that the kids thought were awesome. Me, decidedly less awesome thanks to all the Stephen King I've read.
As always, you exit through the gift shop. I really liked this make-your-own cardboard model of the Mont, very cool:
Next door to the church is this gorgeous cloister:
The double arches around the grassed area were great for the kids to weave in and out of:
The awesome view from the cloister:
The refectory, built in the 13th century, has a pretty awesome rounded ceiling:
Which is actually based on triangles, as this model demonstrated. Isn't geometry sexy?
You can imagine how cold it was living up there in winter (we were pretty cold and it was Spring) - hence the need for these enormous fireplaces to heat the Guest Hall. You can see a lady standing in the other one to get a sense of scale.
Think of much wood would be required, and then think about lugging it all up the hill. Crap.
One final word on the new parking arrangements, which had just opened the day before we visited. The old carparks closer to the Mont have been closed off (they are sinking into the marsh) and now you park a good 2-3 kms away and take buses to the base of the Mont. The buses were free, the parking you pay for. Unfortunately the carparks are not sealed - this is what it looked like after 2 days of use:
I'm not sure how they're going to hold up, so think about your footwear!
A visit to Mont St-Michel is definitely recommended. Yes it's touristy and it's logistically difficult if you have little ones. However the views, the medieval ambience and the engineering feat that is its construction will leave you marvelling.