Mont Saint Michel and all its wonders
Mont Saint-Michel - as any travel guide to France will tell you - is the second most visited tourist destination in the country, after Paris. During the summer season, especially in August, the local village at the foot of the monastery is overflowing with people. But what makes so many visitors flock to this medieval abbey on granite rock?
Rock St. Michael sits exactly on the border of Normandy and Brittany in a large bay, where three rivers meet. This means that whichever side you're approaching from, expect the impression that the rock has a pointed spire, making it seem as though it is suspended in the air, hovering over the concave bay. The abbey's steeple: a spire with a gilded figure of the Archangel Michael creates an instantly recognisable silhouette of Mont Saint Michel. Before the construction of the first monastic establishment here in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel's instruction until Michael burned a hole in the bishop's skull with his finger.
Initially, the rock was an island only accessible during low tide, which moves at a swift pace, before a road to the site was built in the 19th century.
The best time to visit here is early in the morning, during a warm season of course, when the sunlight begins to gradually fill the stony walls of the abbey, and eventually shines on the figure of the Archangel Michael. Another spectacular sight to see is through staying for the night to witness the ebb and flow of the tide. Take a walk around and generally absorb the theatrical sunset to mouth-watering colours worthy of an Impressionist painting at dawn. Another tip would be to spend a fantastic night in the company of howling wind and a starry sky; truly breathtaking.
The only route here is via one street in a medieval village at the foot of the abbey. Its home to the famous restaurant Mere Poulard that boasts one legendary (and somewhat surprising) dish of scrambled eggs - which are made using copper pans with long handles, a wood stove, Breton butter and Normandy eggs. Simple but delicious.
If you are willing to climb more stairs, we suggest you go through the upper gate at the monumental abbey, and see the home of the best Gothic choir, Le Merwe. From there the view is unrivalled, in all directions from the bay of Saint-Michel – from Normandy to Brittany. But the magic here is a courtyard and covered gallery. Elegant alabaster columns with carved artwork and a wonderful frieze where grape leaves are replaced by oak and ivy, ever changing over each column. One wall has three windows in the floor overlooking the bay down to the steep, picture-worthy rock bottom.
The monastery, which was built more than a century ago, is divided into three levels. Below it stands Chevalier Hall, the chapel and the crypt where Romanesque columns and arches are all maintained in Gothic splendour. The most amazing of them all is a crypt with thick column rows, around which tourists roam the like an enchanted forest.
The most spectacular sight of all, though, is still to be discovered. On leaving the abbey, we advise to go down and walk around to the back of the building, the best time of day to do so being the afternoon when the tide is slightly out. Take your shoes off, go to the bottom of the bay and try to walk as far as you possibly can on the soft sand of the subtlest grey, covered with a layer of silvery sludge. And then, turn around and look back at the Mont Saint-Michel from the pearly shore of the bay – it appears to grow like a magic castle with a radiant golden angel in the sky... providing a scene you will never forget.