The Marvel of le Mont St-Michel
My first view of le Mont St-Michel is perhaps also my most memorable, that of the cone-shaped mount rising like an apparition above the verdant, tabletop landscape of the surrounding countryside. It’s already amazing that anything at all is built on a piece of rock which is cut off on all sides at high tide. What’s even more remarkable is the structure that crowns its peak.
Indeed, the abbey, dedicated to its namesake and started in the 10th century, is a maze of towering spires, airy garden, light-suffused halls and cavernous dungeons. It’s incredible that all these were constructed long, long before the age of concrete and heavy machinery. Appropriately, its peak dominates the landscape all around and is visible from miles away.
A sloping, paved walkway spiral upwards from sea level to the entrance of the abbey. Houses crowd both sides, and hang over the top, of the walkway. Unfortunately most of these are now converted into tourist shops or restaurants. Surrounding almost the entire island and protecting its vulnerable side is an imposing wall crowned with battlements and punctuated by massive defensive towers. The walkway on top of the wall is full of narrow arrow slots and openings for pouring burning pitch or oil down below. Walking on top of the wall one can almost imagine facing a vast army of warriors and siege engines. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Ring movie, the feeling is not unlike gazing onto the Pelennor Fields from the walls of Minas Tirith. In reality, though, this defensive stronghold has never been conquered in its thousand-year history!
Le Mont St-Michel is located just off the northwestern coast of France, at the border of Lower Normandy and Brittany. The island is accessible through a raised causeway which connects it with the mainland. The tide, visitors are warned, comes in at an incredibly furious pace. At high tide, only the causeway is above water. At low tide, visitors are allowed to park in the ample lots on both sides of the causeway. But as you can imagine, when the hour of high tide nears, they are required to move their car onto parking spots on the causeway itself. While I was there, this caused a bit of panic to a gentleman who couldn’t get his car started and his near-frantic wife almost bit his head off..
At the back side of the island there is small church which presumably remains above water at high tide. I thought the rock face, seen here topped with an old, gnarly stone wall, has a marvellous texture.
The Abbey, of course
Entrance costs 7 Euros when I was there, but it was probably the most worthwhile 7 Euros I spent on this trip. Don’t be fooled by appearance. You’ll get to go through, up, down, and under the abbey, see some amazing interior and learn quite a bit as well. The view from the top is unparalleled.
Some Mont St-Michel sights
Last visit: 2004 Pros: One-of-a-kind Cons: The crowds, the tide In a nutshell: Too amazing to be real