It was gloomy the day we decided to visit Mont Saint Michele and I was disappointed since clouds usually equal bad photos. For some reason, thought, the gloominess seemed to add to the mysterious allure of the place.
Mont Saint Michel is a monastery built over the course of 1,000 years. It is the result of the Archangel Saint Michael appearing in a dream before the bishop of Avranches. The first chapel built on this small island was built in the 8th century, while the current-day Benedictine Abbey dates from the 13th century. Look closely and you will see the statue of Archangel Saint Michael sitting 560 feet above the English Channel. During the French Revolution, the abbey became a prison for political opponents.
Mont Saint Michel was an island separated from the mainland by one mile of sand at low tide, or by water at high tide. By the end of the 19th century, a causeway was built linking the island to the mainland. I had read that the timing of visiting the abbey was most important. The range in tides can be 46 feet between high and low water levels, and the rising tide can sometimes rise "as swiftly as a galloping horse," as described by Victor Hugo.
I had read about these tides and how people were rushing to get to the Mont with rising water on their heels, or how people couldn't get off the Mont because the island had become surrounded by water while they were visiting the abbey. Not being raised by the sea and not understanding the lunar and tide cycles, we didn't know what to expect, adding even more to the mystery of the Mont and our visit.
I later learned, the causeway provides access to and from Mont Saint Michel no matter where the tide is. Only those who choose to walk across the tidal flats find danger from tides and quick sands.
Crossing the causeway takes you directly to the fortified walls and entrance to the village. It's pretty touristy with hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. Follow the main road, Grand Rue -- the only way to go is up -- to the abbey. Once inside the abbey, I highly recommend taking a tour or using an audio guide. Either way, expect to spend several hours touring the abbey itself, and expect to be blown away!
There are many technical marvels within the abbey. One being the Great Wheel that was used to move goods from the ground to the abbey. It was powered by up to six men who would walk on the inside of the wheel and propel it winding a rope pulling the supplies into the abbey.
Mont Saint Michel and the abbey are open daily except for January 1, May 1 and December 25. Ticket prices start at €8 for adults. Visit the Mont Saint Michel website for more information on access, lodging, restaurants and visiting.
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