Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mont St Michel - a UNESCO World Heritage Site



UNESCO World heritage site - Mont St Michel is an island off France's northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River. From the moment I saw a photograph of it, I wanted to go there. I was further intrigued by the fact that the site was first founded by an Irish hermit. Us Irish get everywhere, though we're such a gregarious bunch, I can't imagine an Irish hermit!

We decided to take the Ouibus from Paris at 7.30 am (Mon Dieu!) which got us to the parking area just north of Beauville by 12.30pm. A cheap and efficient way to travel, I was impressed by how smooth and enjoyable the bus trip was. It took me back to my Oz  and Kiwi Experience days with quite a whiff of nostalgia... good job too because it helped distract from the whiffs of strong body odor from  the late-teen-early-twenty-something-old-enough-to-know-how-to-wash-but-won't boys in front us. Olfactory - the one downside of the superb public transport here!

The parking area is a pleasant half hour walk for anyone going to the island since there is no parking on the island.You aren't allowed to take you car onto the island which is great (especially if, like us, you haven't got a car.) There is also a regular free shuttle that will take you. We walked. After the stifling heat of Paris, it was bliss to have fresh air and an ocean breeze (small as it was) in our faces.

You can also pay for a horse drawn cart to drag you there.



As soon as you get of the bus (and probably before too, if your nose isn't stuck in a book as mine was) you can see the Island, topped off with the abbey. The whole thing made me think of a giant cupcake with ornate icing on the top.


Right at the tip top, instead of a cherry, there's a golden statue of St Michel himself.

 

The Ouibus returns to Paris at 5pm.

 

You'd have time to explore the Abbey and the little medieval town nestled at it's feet ...


...grab a bite to eat or a cup of cider (it's a thang there)...

 

...and get back to the bus before 5pm, arriving into Paris no later than 10pm. Not bad for twenty Euros each way.

The streets are really narrow.


The Island was easy to fortify and you can see why.


The monks used this wheel to haul goods up to the abbey.


This is the track they used.


But it's steps for the rest of us.


And a real live priest/brother - It's not just a tourist attraction.


The abbey has some fun additions ...


 Hitchcock would have a canary at this!


And I wonder what creature this claw belongs to?


There are amazing views both inland over the river delta...


...and out to sea from the top of the abbey.


Seeing the people, ants crawling over the sands, made my heart flutter with fear for them - what if they were to get trapped by the incoming tide? The very thought of it made me break into a cold sweat!



The insides of the abbey are pretty spectacular too.




In theory you could do the trip to Mont St Michel all in one day, which I'd only advise if you get full tide happening between 3.30pm and 4.30pm. Watching the tide coming in may sound like an activity akin to watching paint drying, but I promise you it's not. A very high tide was expected the day were were there.


And the water did come up and cover some of that area at full tide - but there was no reason for alarm - you didn't exactly need your water wings!


In other places, the tide came in with a rush and formed a tidal bore. I'd never seen one before, so this really fascinated me.



There where whirlpools that reminded me of that TV show I loved as a kid - The Valley of the Dinosaurs.

You have time after this to get up on the ramparts and view the incoming tide from different places too.





We took a picture of the same spot every 60 seconds:







I'd imagine  the bikes against the wall here are fairly banjaxed (that's a technical term!)


Visit the tourist office on the Island to get recommendations for where to eat, when to see the tide and the best spot to view it from. The woman we talked to was really helpful and welcoming. They seem to be the only people on the Island not jaded by tourists.

Our hotel, Le Terrasses Poulard, was slap bang in the middle of the village, overpriced for what you got in terms of room size (teeny tiny but with a nice view of the abbey from the window) but you couldn't beat it for location.


The staff didn't seem to give a hoot about their customers. They were strict about not letting us check-in before 4pm, but did let us leave our bag in the foyer at 2pm when we'd arrived and tried to chance our arm at checking in (the beauty of not having expensive stuff is that you don't need to worry about it getting stolen!)

When we eventually gained access to our room - four flights of narrow stairs up, it was tiny and without air-conditioning. Fortunately, the windows opened onto quiet back streets which lead up to the abbey and let in a nice breeze. There was about 6 inches between the bed and the wall on all sides. My Husband took one look and said, "What's that thing people say about having room to throw a cat around." It always make me laugh (and love him even more) when he gets his English sayings a little muddled.

There was a large pod coffee machine which took up most of the desk but without coffee or cups. I traipsed the four sets of stairs down to the reception to explain to the guy at the desk (in French at least to begin with - he switched to English for some unfathomable reason to me!) that there was no pods or cups.

"Oh, you buy the pods here." He lifted a little net bag with four different coloured pods in it and jangled it in front of me. "One Euro per bag."

"Fine, but I still need cups."

That required him to make a phone call in rapid French that I couldn't keep up with. At the end he hung up, looked me in the eye and said with a shrug, "Sorry, there are no cups."

Next morning we bought our breakfast at street vendors and saved the disposable cups so we could have a wee cuppa back in the room before checkout at 11.30am (the confirmation email said 12 but we'd been told 11.30 at check-in.)

My Husband went down to buy the 1 Euros pod bag and came back furious. Overnight inflation had caused the price to increase by 500%! They were now looking 5 Euros for a bag. Not that it was going to break the bank, but it was the principle of the matter! In the end, My Husband managed to buy just 2 pods for a euro each.  Well, we only wanted one cup each... I suppose we've been a bit spoilt by the service in the USA.

And one last negative word - please, if you value your taste buds do not eat in L'Auberge Saint-Pierre. The food is really bad. I do not give a bad review lightly - but this place was awful. It's looked lovely, but I couldn't eat my dinner. People who know me know that I can pretty much eat anything!

By the time we left still starving, having not been able to force the food down yet paid for it (being too wimpy to protest!) It was late and many other spots had closed for the evening which is another reason to not stay the night if you can catch high tide during the afternoon. No late dining here nor any nightlife to speak of! We found a place further up the hill (I think it was called Le Croix Blanche) that did nice oysters. They were local, from Granville and some of the best I've eaten. Oysters must be the thing to eat in Mt St Michel.

The tourist office had recommended a different place and unfortunately we didn't follow that advice until the next day. That restaurant - Le Du Guesclin - was amazing. We went for lunch and sat at the window overlooking the ramparts and the ocean. The service was great, the food both reasonably priced and very tasty. I had the special of the area - lamb that had grazed on the salt marsh and the meat was salty too. It was the perfect way to while away the afternoon before taking a leisurely stroll back to the Ouibus parking lot on the mainland.

When you get to the parking area where the bus dropped you off, wander up and down a little. The bus didn't leave from the exact same spot it dropped us off...

So in summary:

Don't walk on the sand flats at low tide without a guide.
Don't eat at L'Auberge Saint-Pierre. (Please note, I have never panned a restaurant in my blog. I don't like doing it, but felt I had to warn folk.)
Don't try to drive onto the island.
Don't leave your bicycle outside the ramparts!

Do consider taking Ouibus as a 1 or 2 day trip from Paris.
Do walk from the bus stop to the island if the weather is nice. It's flat all the way.
Do visit the tourist office.
Do make sure you catch the high tide.
Do explore all the way to the top of the Abbey.
Do eat at Le Du Guesclin.
Do eat oysters.
Do eat the salted lamb.
Do take a million photo's - we sure did.



Byddi Lee


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