Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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An unplanned stop in Normandy, France

My husband and I were traveling from Paris to the area of Mont Saint Michel in Western France.  We set out by car,me organized with my navigation plans fully planned out.  My husband noted that we would be driving through the Normandy area. Thinking it was a site not to be missed he wanted to take a “quick” detour.  I had carefully planned out our route and this was going to throw off my plans significantly which immediately set off my anxiety button.  But, instinctively, I knew he was right.  We headed for the Juno and Utah beach areas closest to our previously planned route.  And, I am so grateful we did, despite my fear of missing out on anything at Mont Saint Michel.

It was an honor to visit the area and a few local museums.  The museums were naturally filled with veterans of the war on both sides with honors going to all countries who participated.  How meaningful and moving it must be to come back to the location of the invasion so many years later with one’s children and grand children in tow.  It is really easy to see the area on PBS specials, movies, and books.  It is all very real and very breathtaking standing on the beach and seeing shells of tanks, giant metal obstructions placed in the water to impede boats from coming on shore, and cement bunkers still standing in place.

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I was particularly impressed with an art installation on Juno Beach at the Canadian Juno Beach Center representing the soldiers who fought and who were lost.  I was also equally impressed and shocked to see how far soldiers had to make it from the beach to their varying assignments if they were fortunate enough to survive.  It is a testimate to the bravery of these soldiers no doubt.

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It was a humbling and beautiful experience to visit and I am grateful my husband insisted we go.  Sometimes, the unplanned moments on a trip become the highlight.

For more information on the Normandy invasion click here.

Utah Beach Museum