I can’t tell you the first time I saw an image of Mont Saint Michel but what I can tell you is that I knew I would one day have to visit there. The need was immediate and strong. I saw an image, probably on PBS or in a travel magazine, of what I likely thought was a romantic castle on a granite island whose access would wash out twice daily with the tides.
Only later did I realize it was first an 8th century Monastery, ultimately a Jail, and now one of the most glorious and interesting and beautiful locations to visit in France. The opportunity to go to France with my husband came up (honeymoon!) and I won’t lie. I was more excited about visiting Mont Saint Michel than I was Paris. And this Normandy island beauty did not disappoint.
My first distant glimpse of the 247 acre UNESCO heritage site was from miles away. I had been staring so hard in the direction of the island I was trying to will it to be closer and nearly jumped out of my seat at the first site of it. My dream was really coming true. This was frankly, the main reason I wanted to visit France and the time was finally here. The land that surrounds the island is moderately flat so one can see it for miles as they drive towards it. We couldn’t help but stop at the final approach to take a photo of the entire island, still from a short distance away, knowing once we were on the rock we wouldn’t be able to capture its full glory on film. As sometimes happens the sunset helped make my moment even more perfect.
While pilgrims once made the journey to the 8th century fortified Monastery, through the mud at low tide, there is now a small road that allows visitors to park their cars at the base of the island. Visitors must schlep their luggage, on foot, up the steep hill to their accommodation should they be staying on the mountain. I would highly recommend this because seeing the area lit up at night, largely without tourists, is worth every penny. The architecture is gorgeous with stained glass, interesting doors everywhere, small single lane cobblestone walkways. Everything, however, is up hill and uneven. The island is peaceful and charming and invites you to walk around and explore its soul.
The monastery tour gives you a lot of history behind the creation, occupation, politics, and present state of the buildings on the island. The grounds are lovely and the view is beautiful. The island is so small it wouldn’t make sense to miss the tour! One can take guided tours or take the recorded and informative tour and explore on your own.
Mont Saint Michel on the bucket list…CHECK! I can tell you that I will never grow tired of looking at this island from any angle in any light at any tide. It is an amazing idea, an amazing feat of engineering, and most importantly an amazingly romantic dream come true no matter the reasons behind its creation.
Incidentally, I only recently learned that Mont Saint Michel has a similar location in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount. You know I am going to have to go check that out some day…