Welcome to the second installment of “18 hours on Mont St. Michel.” When we left off last time, my husband and I had just checked into our tiny room with an enormous view.
We met up with our dear friend Des some minutes later and continued our climb up to the abbey. I was glad to have sort-of-insisted on the taxi ride, because otherwise we would have missed seeing the abbey entirely.
According to legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to bishop Aubert of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky island. That’s how this monument to faith got its name (“Michel” is French for “Michael”). That’s also why you see depictions of the archangel at every turn.
Bishop Aubert followed his instructions quite literally, by somehow building a church directly onto the mountain. I loved how the masonry blended into the rocks.
The 11th and 12th centuries brought construction of a bigger abbey, with round Romanesque arches and heavy stone pillars.
The abbey was further enlarged between the 13th and 15th centuries. The result was a hodgepodge of architecture: You could see the evolution from Romanesque to Gothic to Flamboyant Gothic, simply by turning left or right.
My favorite section was the gorgeous, verdant cloister.
Only later did I realize it was perched on the edge of a cliff.
The view from the ramparts was breathtaking, too.
It was interesting to get a bird’s-eye perspective of the new causeway. (The old road blocked the tidal flow, leading to the formation of silt flats. In time these will disappear and Mont St. Michel will once again become a true island at high tide.)
Out on the bay you could see groups of tourists with guides. In the next installment I will explain why you should never, ever venture onto the bay without a trained guide.
Among the tourists there were also a few pilgrims, like this couple who stood motionless in prayer.
Alas … we were the last tour of the day, and it was time to go. The docent was lovely and patient as I lagged behind the rest of the group to snap photos.
Only in hindsight did I realize I’d gotten a rare opportunity to see some of these places more or less empty.
It was I who felt empty by the time we exited the abbey, however, so off we went in search of dinner. We inquired at La Mère Poulard, but were told with some disdain that we should have made reservations.
That’s how we discovered that nothing was open except a crêpe vendor and a single small restaurant. Des’ steak looked like leather, poor fellow.
Except for a general impression of beauty and calm, I barely remember the walk back to our room because I was so tired. But I do remember thinking how privileged we were to have these ancient streets to ourselves.
I’ll be back soon with Part 3 — in which I meet an adorable snail, get stuck in the mud, and wobble down hundreds of stairs to the cheers of Chinese tourists. In the meantime, You can also read Des’ own account of the trip here.
IF YOU GO:
• Give yourself at least two hours to tour the abbey (preferably with a guided tour).
• Make dinner reservations ahead of time, as few places stay open after dark.
• Although it’s possible to visit Mont St. Michel as a day-trip, I recommend staying overnight. I’ll be back soon to show you why.