Georges Rouzeau - 2008-10-20
Legend has it that Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, came to Mont Tombe in 708 to dedicate a sanctuary here to the archangel Saint Michel. 1,300 years later, there’s still time to visit this masterpiece of religious architecture, which occupies a wonderful site above the sea.
With some three million visitors each year, Mont-Saint-Michel suffers not only from silting up but also from congestion. This is one of many reasons to spend a night on this sanctuary.
From 5pm, motorists are warned by loudspeaker to move their vehicles on account of the strong tides. Leaning on the rampart walk you will effectively see the vast expanse of sand, which blends into the grey sky on the horizon, gradually being invaded by tongues of water that suddenly appear from nowhere. The seagulls, golden plovers, crested lapwings and black-tailed godwits head for home.
As night falls, the last visitors walk down the single Grande-Rue lined with ancient houses and pass through the successive gates of this fortified town to reach the car park. The third gate, known as the Porte du Roi (15th century) because it housed the symbolic contingent that the king kept here, still has its machicolations and portcullis. At 6.30pm, the bell rings for the Benedictine service at the abbey: why not go along, it is an excellent way to soak up the mystical charm that shrouds this unique place. As you leave, you will see cats - which form by far the biggest population on Mont-Saint-Michel - voraciously attacking the bins. We humans dine at LaMère Poulard, where chef Michel Bruneau now officiates. Beneath its historic panelling, where François I and François Mitterrand once sat, the man works wonders with produce from both land and sea - salt-meadow lamb and free-range pigs from Normandy, sole and oysters from the bay, Calvados and Pommeau.
You can visit the abbeyas soon as it opens the next morning and enjoy this masterpiece alone and in peace. The first stones were laid in the 10th century, and the many campaigns of construction and reconstruction have resulted in a complex building whose layout is difficult to understand. All the more so since your visit will not be by period or by building but, more prosaically, by storey and through a labyrinth of corridors and flights of stairs.
We will not go into all the details here, but merely draw your attention to a group of buildings consisting of six halls set out over three levels and called LaMerveille (the Marvel): this is probably one of the finest examples of 13th century monastic architecture in the world.
You will be struck by the perfection of the cloisters, hanging between sky and sea - the view of the grasslands and vast stretches of sand and water is unforgettable. These cloisters give an intense feeling of serenity, dictated in part by their bold architectural forms, such as the forest of small columns arranged in a quincunx, which creates a striking perspective effect. From one room to the next, visitors are filled with wonder by the faith, hope and elbow grease that has been poured into the stone...
Comité départemental de la Manche (Tourist Board)
Comité départemental d'Ille et Vilaine - Haute Bretagne (Tourist Board)
Maison de la baie
Two companies offering trips:
Découverte de la baie
Tel: 02 33 70 83 49.
Chemins de la baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Tel: 02 33 89 80 88.