After visiting the landing beaches, we drove a couple hours through the Normandy countryside to reach Mont Saint-Michel on the western coast. All we knew about it before our arrival was that you had to either walk or take a bus over the causeway and it was a church on a hill on an island. Since our B&B hosts highly recommended a visit, we decided to make the drive. We parked about three miles away, because that was as close as we could get, and were blown away by the sight of Mont Saint-Michel glowing in the sunset.
As it turns out, Mont Saint-Michel is not just a church on a hill on an island. It’s a town carved into a rocky outcropping on the tidal plains with a MASSIVE abbey and cathedral at the summit. After the 3 mile dramatic walk over the bridge towards the island, we entered through the archway and were thrown back in time. A tiny, weaving street rose through the shops, hotels, and restaurants, and spiraled its way up through a small church, graveyard, and to the entrance of the Abbey. Laurel pushed to pay the 9 Euros per person and see the Abbey. Brian wasn’t convinced it wouldn’t be like the other churches they’d already seen. Laurel prevailed, and she was right. It was awesome.
We arrived after the last guided tour had departed, so we partook in the self-guided tour where you ramble through the rooms with a pamphlet that explains the original use of each one. It was one of the better laid out tours we’ve been on, and many of the rooms had special additions such as music or videos to give a better sense of what the room felt like when it was built in the 13th, 12th, and in some cases 11th century. Although some of these additions – fake flames projected on the wall of the fireplace, videos of devilish figures in the old crypt – were a bit cheesy, the musicians stationed in some of the rooms were wonderful. There was a harpist in the old Monks’ Promenoir, a flutist in the dining hall, and a cellist in the main Abbey Church performing musical pieces from the Middle Ages. They were all excellent, and we spent more than a few minutes enjoying the peaceful music in a gorgeous setting. The windows and arched doorways allowed natural light into the rooms, which we hadn’t seen much before in other grand cathedrals. It was the first church we’d visited on this trip that felt more soothing and peaceful than bold and imposing, and experiencing what life in the abbey was like in the 10th-12th century was well worth the 18 Euros.
We left Mont Saint-Michel feeling calm and at ease after a full day of touring the Normandy area, and we drove back to our B&B for a much-earned night’s sleep. The next morning we were off for Paris, with a quick stop in La Cambre to visit the German cemetery. Not one we’d heard of until Matt had mentioned it, this cemetery a simple but very solemn one holding the remains of 20,000 German soldiers. The darker color, rough cutting, and smaller stature of the stones lent a gothic feel. It was well worth the 45 minute side trip to see the human toll of the Germans, and it was interesting to see a very different kind of testament to the Normandy battles.
Mont Saint-Michel Photos:
View of Mont Saint-Michel from the parking lot
Approaching on the causeway
The entrance gate
Tiny, narrow streets packed with tourists. We couldn’t imagine what it would have been like earlier in the day with tour buses shuttling even more people in.
Shops and restaurants everywhere
Every time we turned up a street, we looked out over the roofs of the one before.
The Guests’ Hall in the Abbey where pilgrims of nobility were welcomed
The Thirty Candles Crypt where the monks used to light 30 candles for the morning mass. The statue of the Virgin dates from the 13th century.
The Abbey Church
The Refectory where a monk would read from the pulpit while the others, in silence, ate and drank. When we visited there was a flutist in the corner playing beautiful music.
View of the tidal plains from the terrace of the Abbey
Mont Saint-Michel at night as we walked back…all…the…way…back…
German Cemetery Photos:
The German cemetery – A very different feel from the previous days’ cemetery visits
Closeup of German gravestones. They’re buried two per plot.