Mont Saint Michel

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There are a few names of special places that conjures up magic in my brain. Names like Casablanca and Zanzibar. Mont Saint Michel sound like dreams come true to my ear. As a child I read about this island stronghold surrounded by sea, only reachable at low tide. According to the story the tide came in at the speed of a horse at full gallop. This sounded like true science fiction at the time. I was surprised to learn that the difference between high and low tide can be as much as 14 meters here. From the ramparts one can watch the process of the tide coming in. Over the wide sandbanks one can see the ocean streaming in.

Low tide
Low tide
High tide
High tide

The tides can vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres between high and low water marks. Popularly nicknamed “St. Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast.

Because of its  location 600 meters from the mainland on the coast of Normandy and the unique tides surrounding it, the island was a refuge from war since the ancient Roman times. In medieval times the monastery was established here. Low tides made it accessible to the many pilgrims to its abbey, but defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned, would-be assailants. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War; a small garrison fended off a full attack by the English in 1433.

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The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times and since the 8th century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores and housing; and at the bottom, outside the walls, houses for fishermen and farmers.

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The beautiful cathedral and monastery with secluded gardens is like a hidden world within the town. from the monastery garden one can see the ocean and tides coming in. Ideal for meditation

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One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The town is a good example of Carolingian art and buildings.

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Surrounding the Mount polderisation and occasional flooding have created salt marsh meadows that were found to be ideally suited to grazing sheep. The well-flavoured meat that results from the diet of the sheep in the pré salé (salt meadow) makes agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb) a local specialty that may be found on the menus of restaurants that depend on income from the many visitors to the mount

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As an UNESCO site the Mount has been beautifully restored. One get the feeling of being in an medieval dream walking the steep and narrow streets. This place is worth a detour. The rest of Normandy is an ideal holiday destination as well

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One thought on “Mont Saint Michel”

  1. A trip down memory lane … thank you for the tour, so beautifully accompanied by word and images.

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