One of the iconic images of France is the island on which sits Mont St. Michel. Usually photographed at high tide to capture the reflection of the monastery on the water that surrounds it. It is a short hour(ish) drive from Bayeux; we gotta see this thing. Hope no one else has the same idea.
Here is the deal. You need to get to Mont St. Michel early or late to beat the crowds. Which we all knew. And that is why we slept in until 9:00am and didn’t hit the road until late. Because we dig crowds.
The drive, once we got underway, was pretty easy, other than google trying to take us into exits instead of entrances. We made our way easily to the Mont and made it in just over an hour. Even from a distance, the Mont is impressive. You can see it from miles away and it is like a beacon to tourists or pilgrims, sucking them and their wallets closer and closer to see the famous place. As it has for literally hundreds of years. Well…other than the time it was used as a prison.
We parked and found out that the secret was out and we were definitely not the only ones that were here today. The parking lot was crowded. We walked to the visitors center and discussed the three options to get to the island which was about 3km away. First was by bus which was free, but there was a line and you had to sit on a bus. Second was horse drawn bus. All the downsides of the free bus PLUS you had to pay and you had to smell horse manure the entire way to the mont. Or we could walk. Two of the three of us were up for walking and HRH AJ voiced his dissension but was overruled.1
The walk was excellent. The monastery is in front of you and grows larger and larger as you pull closer. From mainland you take a (relatively) new causeway across the mud to the island. Enter the gates into the town. At which point begins the ‘gauntlet.’ This is not an official word sanctioned by Mt. St. Mchl. This is what I use to describe, if you arrive in the middle of the day in the middle of tourist season, what happens between the time you walk in the front gate and the time you get to the ticket center for the actual monastery. Which are some distance apart. Primarily vertical distance because you are walking up. It is a narrow street which gets progressively both more narrow AND more crowded with people. There are shops, restaurants, hotels and museums or attractions that you can stop at, or (alternatively), stop outside with your huge backpack and stare into the shop without actually entering, deciding if you want the Mt. St. Mchl keychain or perhaps the Mt. St. Mchl magnet for your fridge except that color wouldn’t got well with stainless steel and what DOESN’T go with stainless steel, so maybe back to the keychain except I just got a keychain three stores ago for the neighbor and that would be tacky to get the same gift and look they have ice cream and it is hot and I’d like some ice cream to take up to the monastery and did they brew beer here in the monastery because that would be HUGE sell on a day like today with thousands of people all trying to get up this narrow road
AND YOU ARE BLOCKING THE ROAD AND STOPPING EVERYONE FROM GETTING TO THE TOP YOU IDIOT!
The bottom part, if you hadn’t figured it out, is a medieval town like most other towns in the area except it wasn’t bombed to snot in any of the previous wars and it goes UP and not out. The up thing is cool for a bit, until you get tired and then it is definitely ‘less cool.’ Eventually you get about 2/3 of the way to the top and you get to the ticket center. We didn’t buy these in advance but not problem, short line and we are at the ticket counter and then we head off to get the audio guide.2
A side-note: If you are thinking about visiting Mont St Michel and are wondering should I get a tour or not we can say that the audio guides they provide are excellent and provide a good overview of what you probably want to get out of your day in the Mont. There are a bunch of places that can be really in depth and tour guides can give you the anecdotes that an audio guide doesn’t, but for 2Euro it was good enough for us. Plus we didn’t have to stay in a gaggle of people in a very crowded place.
The monastery was excellent. Really, really, really good. I won’t bore you with details but will highlight that they had a hamster wheel that they used to get supplies to the top, but it wasn’t hamsters that turned it. Six prisoners did the work.
Tour done, we drop off our headsets and walk outside and find a patch of wall on which we perch and eat our lunch while looking out over the bay and the
idiots people walking across the mudflats. Then we claw our way back down through the town, across the causeway and then to our car to head back to Bayeux.
Tomorrow we leave Bayeux and head off in search of some moulets.
1 There is one more way. You can, at low tide, walk across the mudflats to get to the island just like they did in the olden days. And you can walk from just about anywhere on the mainland providing you have enough time and light before the next high tide comes back. Oh yeah. And provided you don’t walk into quicksand and die. Which is not a joke….there is actually quicksand out there. And in spite of the fact that there is quicksand, people were walking out there in the mudflats. I get a lot of freedback on our trip planning on how it isn’t relaxing enough, but I would never put “walking out onto mud flats” on our list of things to do.
2 We are offered German guides initially. More on that later.