Mont Saint-Michel is a Normandy monastery built on top of a very big rock in the middle of a bay. It gets surrounded by treacherous tides which totally cut it off from the land. All of which begs the question; “Why would you build a garden-shed in such a place, never mind a great big church?”
Only in France perhaps, except that Cornwall has one too.
If the truth be told it doesn’t get cut off from the mainland anymore because somebody has built a road-bridge out to the island. This is to transport the millions of tourists that visit Mont St Michel every day. Indeed such is the combined weight of these tourists that the ‘Mont’ is actually sinking rapidly into the mud of the bay. It was once 260ft high from its top to its bottom, but now only the last 5ft of the topmost spire is visible above waves. Even this almost disappeared completely when, 13 year-old and 350lb, Chuck Wzzznowsky from Oregon decided to visit Mont St Michel.
However should you get there at low tide you stand a good chance of seeing this remarkable edifice in all its glory, and it is indeed a spectacular sight. On the rock itself there are twisty little lanes that meander through a medieval town. They continue their meandering right up to the monastery itself. These lanes are filled with over-priced restaurants, souvenir shops selling Mont St-Michel-shaped tat and dubious little museums proffering such thrills as a waxwork of a drowning pilgrim. Nice.
All these commercial establishments do tend to give it the feeling of an authentic looking, and very crowded, theme park. Crowds aside it is one of those places that it is beautifully fascinating because, like Venice, you just keep asking why.
The monastery right at the top seems rather less crowded when you eventually get there. This is possibly because the combined weight of full shopping bags, and full stomachs impede any upwards progress of your average tourist.
Crowds are undoubtedly the biggest drawback on a visit to Mont St Michel, indeed I can’t recall being anywhere that was as rammed. So get there early in the morning or out of season. Right on top of the highest spire is a gold statue of St Michel himself, with his sword in his hand. He’s probably climbed up there for a bit of peace and quiet, or he’s had enough and is going to jump.
Once you get to the monastery there are educational displays, architectural models and slots in the walls to pretend you are shooting arrows from. This should be enough to keep two small boys occupied for hours, or so you would have thought. However, if they are the sort of kids that got bored in Pompeii (a town that was dramatically buried by an exploding volcano two thousand years ago with loads of people dying in horrible ways), don’t expect a few stained glass windows and an imaginary bow and arrow to hold their attention for too long.