I kicked off my first afternoon in Normandy with a trip to le Mont-Saint-Michel. This has been a spot I have always wanted to visit on my trips to Paris, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there (without a car). There are bus tours, but the long hours on a bus did not appeal to me. For my time in Normandy, I rented a car and I zipped all over the countryside. It was time well spent.
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is as picturesque as it gets and I have to confess, I was more interested in the views of the abbaye then touring the actual abbaye itself. Part of the intrigue is the incredible landscapes that surround the island. The scenery changes from pastoral landscapes with grazing sheep to wetlands and stretches of tide-rippled sand. It finally culminates in an upclose view at the Abbaye and the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel. The bay eventually opens up into the Atlantic Ocean.
Driving this scenic route was one of the great treats of my trip. You can imagine the narrow road with traffic permitted in both directions, but the road only accommodates one car at a time. Little villages dot the route as well. As soon as I realized I was in an established town, I was already driving out of it.
Le Mont-Saint-Michel comes into view at a distance. It was terribly exciting for me. I was all to happy to be the car that pulls to the side of the road to let other travelers pass. At every angle, I was taking pictures. As I drove closer to the island abbaye, the church and town take shape. It was my own modern-day pilgrimage.
Le Mont-Saint-Michel built in feudal times demonstrates the structure of society at the time (around 8th century AD). At it’s highest point it honors God and religion with the monastery and abbaye. The next structural layer are the great halls and gathering places for the community. The lowest layer of the island is the housing and shops.
The island was used as fortification at various times during its past and also a highly effective prison starting under Louis XI. I tend to think of Le Mont-Saint-Michel in a religious light rather than a war prison. The truth is, it was both throughout history.
However, it is easy to imagine religious pilgrims journeying to the abbaye, navigating the tides and the steep rock fortification to renew their faith and pray at an ancient site. Today, the abbaye still functions religiously with monks and nuns living on the island.