When I visit places that were built thousands of years ago, my thoughts always jump to imagining the effort it took to create the places. My visit to Mont St-Michel created a flood of such imaginings. The granite outcropping of Mont Tombe, its original name, was a strategic stronghold as far back as the sixth century. It's in a tidal plain on the northwest coast of France connecting to the English Channel. A sanctuary honoring the Archangel was built in the eighth century, then later an abbey with construction beginning in the eleventh century. A village grew below the abbey and reached the base within a few hundred years. By the late eighteenth century, few monks were in residence. The abbey was closed and the Mont converted to a prison, remaining so for nearly one hundred years. It was declared a national historic monument by France in 1874, and was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. The abbey eventually reopened and operates today.
The site is spectacular, with breathtaking views all around. Rising to about three hundred feet (ninety-two meters) at its highest point, moving from place to place requires nearly constant ascending and descending stairs. A statue of Saint Michael, wielding a sword and a scale, tops the spire. Mont Tombelaine, another granite outcropping to the north of Mont St-Michel, is a destination for visitors during low tide. The cloister itself is beautiful and serves as another location for breathtaking views. Looking across the tidal plain from above, Mont St-Michel presents itself as a silhouette.
Tens of thousands of people visit Mont St-Michel each year, but with a limited number of hotel rooms, most visit only during the day. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to stay overnight on the island. The quiet darkness created a feeling of serenity. Then, awakening before dawn to catch the early light on the Mont and the sunrise extended the feeling. As visitors arrive, the mood shifts to more energy as people move about. The village offers shopping and dining, including the famous omelettes at La Mère Poulard, a restaurant dating back to the late 1800's. It was a wonderful visit. I look forward to returning some day.