St Malo Was The Base For Our View Of Mystical Mont St Michel
Our visit to northern France started in the small port town of Honfleur. It was a lovely little town to walk around. The next port was St Malo. From the port we headed off for a view of mystical Mont St Michel. This loverly hilltop abbey was on our wish list for a long time. We were so happy we finally saw it!
Our Oceania Cruises ship was anchored in the bay off of St Malo. From there, guests were tendered to shore in small boats. There were some great things to do out of St Malo. And it seemed like everyone wanted off the ship at the same time. Tendering made unloading almost 1,000 people a challenge. When one of the tenders had mechanical problems, unloading backed up for several hours. So we were very happy we got off the ship early!
From the ship, the town of St Malo looked like a charming fairy tale city. We saw a little of the town of St Malo from the bus on our return trip. But we had no time to explore the city on this trip. We knew we would be back one day.
The bus was loaded and we set off for our first view of mystical Mont St Michel.
Our First View of Mystical Mont St Michel
Our bus took the faster highway route to Mont St Michel. At one point our guide pointed out the window at the first view of mystical Mont St Michel. The building of mystical Mont St Michel began around 708AD. In the 10th century it became a major pilgrimage site and the village grew. By the 14th century, it was expanded down to the base of the rock that the abbey was built on.
Mont St Michel was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. When we went inside the abbey we saw a series of models that showed how the site had grown.
The bus parked in a parking lot located quite a distance from the base of Mont St Michel. We hiked from the bus to the shuttle stop and loaded into a small shuttle bus. The shuttle took us through the modern town and stopped at several points. We were then let off on the causeway that led to mystical Mont St Michel.
At this point we got our first really good look at the fairy tale abbey on the hill. The tide was out and all around the base was a sea of glistening mud.
It would have been amazing to see Mont St Michel standing like an island with water around it. But the wet mud beside the causeway meant that it was just a matter of hours before it would again look like an island.
Walk Up To The Abbey
We entered through the main gate. The was our meeting point after our tour. Some people felt they could not make the 300+ feet climb so they stayed and enjoyed a visit to the small town. Our guide spent so much time getting us to and through the abbey that we ended up with little time to wander in the small town.
We started up on a steep set of stairs. Every now and then our guide stopped for the group to all get to the same point. As we climbed we got a great view up the steep sides of Mont St Michel. While mystical Mont St Michel was certainly a religious site, it was also a strategic stronghold. Its ramparts and fortifications have withstood all attacks.
At one point the guide stopped at a large stone with seams of graphite. She said this was a magical rock and that we should feel electricity if we touched these seams. Nobody who touched the rock felt anything. There was also a small natural reservoir in the top of the rock. The water that collected in that area was also said to have magic properties. Maybe that is why this was typically called mystical Mont St Michel?
Views As We Climbed Higher
At several points we stopped and looked out at the view. The first stops gave us a good look out over the small town inside the walls.
The higher stops let us view the vast field of mud that surrounded mystical Mont St Michel. We saw the causeway that led back to the parking lot. We also saw the small river and the dam.
Even if you never made it all the way up for an Abbey visit, climb up to the higher viewpoints. We were rewarded with great views.
A Visit To The Abbey
The abbey at St Michel was unique in its design since it was built around the large pyramid shape of the rock it sat on. The abbey church sat at the top. The weight of much of the building was taken by crypts that created a platform underneath the church and were anchored into the rock.
When we hit the final stop on our climb, we looked up and saw the abbey church at the top. At the top of the 100 foot spire was St Michael looking out over the entirety of mystical Mont St Michel. We also saw a statue of St Micheal as a warlike angel with a sword and scales as we left the abbey.
We entered the church and began a long trek up and down through the various buildings that made up the abbey. In the large open church we saw small alcoves with side altars and the remains of the organ.
We were lucky we found the main structure devoid of scaffolding for renovations. The cloister was the only part of mystical Mont St Michel where work was in progress when we visited.
Inside Rooms In The Abbey
The rooms in the abbey were all empty. The high inside walls were make of large stones. In places the ceilings were made of what looked like cedar shingles. In other places, stone arches rose to the roof.
The windows were varied. Many were leaded and simple in design. Yet other had coloured glass and were quite decorative. But they were not the beautiful stained glass works of art we saw on our visit to the Canterbury Cathedral.
Every now and then we saw wall carvings and statues that were still in good shape. We also found metal statues modern art statues on display.
In one room we saw a large wooden wheel that used to be powered by prisoners. That walked around inside the giant wheel that turned the pulley was used to set supplies up from lower ground.
It was a long way up to the abbey on a visit to mystical Mont St Michel. But it was definitely worth the walk up!
An Easier Path Back Down
After our tour, we exited at the back of the Abbey. We got a great view back at the Abbey and up the steep walls.
The path up was mostly steep and uneven stairs. The path back down had some stairs but they were longer shallower steps. Along the way we found many things to see and observation points to stop.
When we reached the small town, we saw a small church. The brilliant colours of the stained glass window drew us into Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre. We were on a fast march to our meeting point but took time for a quick look inside.
We rushed back down to the meeting point. The small shops sold everything from tourist trinkets to food. But we did not have time to shop.
A Return Trip Along The Coast
Our trip to visit mystical Mont St Michel was pretty direct. On the return trip, we followed the bay road. We went through many small quaint villages.
It was low tide and we saw long stretches of sand. Inlets contained small boats on their keels. This reminded us very much of visiting the Bay of Fundy at low tide. As we drove along we saw the oyster farms along the shore. With the tide low, we saw the fortress out on a spit of land.
We lazily watched the landscape roll by as we headed back to St Malo after our busy day.
A Quick Drive Through St Malo
On our way back to the ship, we drove through the older part of St Malo known as Parame. It was a richer area of town and had many beautiful houses.
The heart of St Malo came into view. St Malo was one of the big tourist spots on the northern shore. It had a long history of being home to nautical explorers, traders and pirates. It was from this port that Jacques Cartier sailed and discovered Canada.
The old part of St Malo was a walled fortress. Inside the walls there was a small beautiful town built in solid grey granite with black slate roofs. We only saw parts of the wall as we drove around the fort on our way back to the tender dock.
We passed several of the small gates into this walled city. It reminded us of the challenges of staying inside the town of Obidos in Portugal with a car!
The next time we visit northern France, we will definitely spend more time in St Malo.
We Were Glad To Visit Mystical Mont St Michel
We all have a list of things that we really want to see. Mystical Mont St Michel was on our list for some time. We were glad we got the chance and saw the great abbey as it rose up from the sea bed. A great stop as we cruised along the western coast of France.
The walk up to the abbey was a bit challenging. But we were happy we got the great views and saw the abbey. It was well worth a few aches the next day.
From St Malo we moved to Brest. We planned a much easier day as we explored the sights in the town of Brest.
Did you visit mystical Mont St Michel? Did you climb all the way to the abbey?
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