That myths and legends surround Mont Saint Michel seems fitting given its fairytale like presence as it rises up out of the sea off the coast of Normandy. With a history going back as far as the year 708, Mont St Michel has been a Benedictine monastery, a place of pilgrimage, a fortification, a prison and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visited by over 2.5 million tourists and pilgrims every year. According to legend Archangel Michael appeared to Bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky island and from a humble pile of stones on top of a fabled rock, this magical looking place grew.
Early one morning last week we biked the hour long journey, initially along a coastal path with views in the distance of the Mont shrouded in morning mist. The path then turned inland through the polders that are a feature of this area, disturbing waves of rabbits taking their morning constitutional along the path. We crossed the Couesnon River and then as we turned left along the riverbank the Mont was directly ahead. No matter how much distance we covered it didn’t appear to be getting any closer. It seemed to have an ethereal quality and only as we reached the causeway bridge that goes out to the island did we get the full effect. It was low tide and the marshes were exposed, when we left a few hours later the in-rushing tide had surrounded the island and flooded the tidal river, magical!
Our early start had paid off the bus tours and throngs of visitors had yet to arrive and having bikes meant we didn’t need to walk the exposed 2.2km causeway, or wait for the shuttle bus to reach the island. Once there we entered by a side gate to the left, where the bike park was. This meant we avoided having to run the gauntlet of souvenir shops and restaurants on the way to the abbey entrance. I would recommend this route, it had a peace and tranquility befitting the place.
Architecturally the abbey is a marvel with its towering spire topped by a golden statue by the man of the Mont, Archangel Michael. The buildings are perched on precipitous cliff edges and the church, reception rooms, terrace, garden and cloisters are impressive and has been a work in progress since it was first conceived. Build, rebuild, restore and repeat has been the order down through the centuries and so the work continues so that millennia from now visitors like us will still gap open mouthed at the splendour and beauty of this place. If you find yourself in the area, it is definitely worth a stop, if only to see it from afar, in someways that was the most magical part of our visit.