Sunday, May 7, 2017

May 2-5 - A touch of Brittany and a taste of Normandy Day 2

Today we head to Mont St Michel which just on the edge of Normandy. (See the map on the Day 1 post.)

This UNESCO World Heritage site is the most popular tourist attraction in France and it's easy to see why. Religious or not, this is a pilgrimage site not to be missed.

A small rocky island of granite at high tide, Mont St. Michel is separated from the mainland by only 670 yards which becomes an exposed sandbar at low tide. It's highest point is 300 feet above sea level and the climb is steep on this tiny island.
Looking down from atop the Mont
Looking down from atop the Mont

High tides can be up to 46 feet higher than low tide. The pilgrim needs to beware not to be caught by the quickly rising tide or become trapped in quicksands. The modern day pilgrim is bused across a permanent causeway which is above water except in the highest of tides. This new causeway allows water to flow through and around its pillars and will allow the tide to reclaim the build-up of silt that has happened over the last 140 years.  The parking area near the entrance to the medieval town, used by workmen and delivery vehicles,  is only temporary. It is under water at high tide.

An older permanent always-dry causeway that was built as a berm in 1879 and removed in 2015 trapped silt behind it, threatening the island ecosystem. 
The Romanesque cathedral

Since the 8th century, this rock has supported an abbey dedicated to Saint Michael. The Romanesque cathedral was built at the pinnacle of the mount, requiring many below-ground chapels and crypts to support the weight of the new cathedral.
Mix of Romanesque and Gothic

The Gothic chancel

The Gothic chancel

a cool window

A 12th century siege of Mont St. Michel burned the town and destroyed the roofs of the abbey buildings. The cathedral was rebuilt in Gothic style and the refectory and cloisters added.
pillars in the cloister

another cool window
The refectory

By the time of the Reformation, Mont St. Michel had lost its attraction as a pilgrimage site and there were only a few monks remaining. But since it had a reputation as a stronghold, it was used as a prison during the French Revolution and up until 1863.
This wheel in which several men walked to make it turn was used to haul supplies up the side of the abbey to the top.

As a pilgrimage site, it developed services needed by pilgrims: hostels, restaurants and souvenir stores. A medieval village developed that still clings to the lower base of the island, inside the fortified walls.
Entry gate

The streets are so narrow that in times of large crowds, it can take an hour to negotiate your way to the abbey. We were lucky that it was a quiet day at the abbey.

View of the narrow streets full of restaurants, snack bars, and souvenir shops, just as in the good ol' days
The same services are offered the modern pilgrim, perhaps with more emphasis on souvenirs than in the past. A permanent population of 43 manages all this with the help of many who travel to and from the island daily from a village just at the end of the causeway.

Dave, Janis and Clark climb up through the city to the abbey to tour it's marvelous buildings, in awe of the skill and daring of the engineers and builders of this homage to the Christian faith.
The stairs to the abbey

And the stairs seem never-ending - remember it's 300 feet of vertical to get to the abbey

While they climb and tour, I indulge in the tourist services offered in the medieval city. First stop, butter and sugar crèpe and hot chocolate, the perfect warm-up against the dampness of the morning mist, eaten while looking out onto the bay from the restaurant's terrace.
My chocolate stop - I sat under the red umbrella along the ramparts
Then a little exploring of the ramparts and fortifications in that part of the city.
looking back toward the causeway

fortifications along the ramparts
I also watch groups of school children on the sand exposed by the low tide.
Many groups seem to be picking up trash left behind by the high tide. Their laughter rises to the ramparts, softened by the morning haze.

Among the most famous of services was the restaurant of Mère Poulard who found omelettes a great way to feed pilgrims who arrived according to tidal flows rather than at appointed meal times.
Her restaurant still flourishes today and in fact, seems to have multiple restaurants in the medieval city and outside the walls of Mont St. Michel.

I have always wanted to eat at Mère Poulard's, but it has always been so cost prohibitive. Today it is time to finally eat a Mère Poulard omelette, price be damned, as this is possibly the last time I will ever visit Mont St. Michel. So we stand in line for just a brief time around 1:30 and get a table in the window of this famous restaurant.
kitchen at Mère Poulard's - the tub in front is butter melted into the long-handled cast-iron omelette pan, the excess then poured out onto the fire before adding the omelette mixture.
 (It should be noted that while the island is crowded with people, many are tour groups and student groups and so demands on this restaurant are lighter than they would be at other seasons of the year.)
when the excess butter has been poured onto the wood fire

We each purchase the 35 Euro menu which includes an entrée (first course), plat (the omelette main course) and dessert.
This is the bacon omelette that Clark and I ordered. All the fluff is creamy omelette
Dave notes that for the price of this lunch, we could have purchased over 1000 eggs from our neighbor across the street in La Frémonière. This is an extravagance, for sure, but a delicious one.
The omelettes are whipped in copper bowls (to a syncopated beat),
then cooked over a wood fire.
They are like eating air as the omelette just melts in your mouth. Different than any other omelette I have ever had.

As is usual in France, the meal is never rushed and it is 3 pm when we leave the restaurant to catch the shuttle back to the parking lot. We have to travel 1 1/2 hours to Bayeux where we will spend the next two nights.

We've decided that we will find a grocery story in Bayeux and get some cheese and bread for dinner. We are all too exhausted (and too full) to go out for dinner. More tomorrow as we head to the D-Day beaches.


  1. Lynn, your writing is becoming more and more poetic. You may have a new vocation.

  2. Thanks Chuck. For me, I treasure the sounds and smells as well as the sights and I'm trying to capture them to remember them. Not an easy task for one who sometimes has a hard time remembering her own name.