Mont St-Michel, the Medieval Sea Fortress
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Stepping through the time portal you arrive just past the fortress gates of Mont St-Michel. Stepping over the draw bridge and through a second gates lead you onto a narrow 17th Century Street lined with small merchant shops and restaurants. The half-timbered buildings lining the roadway solidified any doubts that you had, in fact, traveled back in time.
We approached Mont St-Michel from the west along the coast line which served to build the anticipation. The mount first appeared as a ghostly apparition rising out of the sea. As we approached, we stopped at every lookout point only to witness a clearer image. It is truly a sight to behold.
The final approach to Mont St-Michel is down a causeway which leads to the island, almost a full kilometre into the ocean. We had arrived at a time of particular importance, there are tides as high and as swift as you would ever see around this old girl. Tides would vary 14 metres or 46 feet between high and low levels. We were told where it would be safe to park to avoid having the car float away since we were spending the night there.
Despite some of the normal tourist trappings, the island fortress is truly amazing. It offers a respite from the normal busyness of touring around and forces you to slow down. The island is pedestrian only and there are very few streets on which to walk. If you wander off the main path however, you can find many other nooks, crannies and vantage points to explore. If you choose to stay on the streets, you find yourself winding your way up, up, up to the abbey atop the mountain. Along your journey, the opportunities for photos seem almost infinite.
The 11th century Abbaye du Mont St-Michel is well worth the visit. It is easy to appreciate the effort that was made to construct it over the centuries. It is as every bit as large as it looks from below. It is interesting that the mason’s original markings are visible on paving stone along with other details cut into the stone and gargoyles.
Our evening was spent at one of the restaurants overlooking the ocean. It seemed appropriate that our meal included lamb and seafood (angeau avec moules et frites) given what we’d seen in the surrounding countryside all day. It was particularly amazing how fast the sand flats that stretched for hundreds of metres in all directions around the island became nothing but water in a matter of minutes. The posted warnings to not go for a walk on the sandy tidal flats would be well worth heading.
We spent the rest of the evening enjoying the full moon walking about while trying to capture some night time photos of our impressive surroundings. It was no less impressive at night.
By morning the sea had receded. We were once again surrounded by sand flats but found ourselves somehow relieved to find our car had not been swept away with the tide.
We were off to Dinan as our next destination. Dinan was another walled, medieval town with narrow, cobble streets and half-timbered buildings. As anticipated, we once again stepped through the time portal coincidental with passing through the fortress gate in the wall.