Here it is: gloomy, mystical and grandiose. The spear of medieval town scratches the sky. But the bottom is surrounded by water and quicksand. This is how my geographical dream looks like. It is called Mont Saint Michel.
Mont Saint Michel is the tidal rocky island, topped by the abbey, from which it draws its name. It marks the border between Normandy and Brittany. But regional claims were not the most important thing for locals to be concerned.
Mont St-Michel has been doing battle with flows since its creation. First it was natural flows – tides. For centuries Mont Saint Michel was isolated from the whole world when the tide was high. You were not invited if the nature didn’t want it. Monks had to wait for low tide to enter the abbey on the sandy causeway. So did enemies. The natural peculiarity helped fortress to stay unconquered even during Hundred Years’ War, while the rest of the country was already under English rule.
Nowadays due to its popularity Mont St-Michel also fights with people flow. I am a part of it. To be precise, I am one of 3 million tourists who come here each year. Around 8,220 people visit this medieval fortress daily. I can imagine what 50 residents of Mont Saint Michel think of it. But even if the bridge allows to visit the town anytime, medieval charm and mystery of Mont St-Michel didn’t vanished with tourist flow.
Vincent, the friend of mine from Normandy, kindly adviced that if you want to enjoy Mont Saint Michel, you need to come here after 7 p.m. When the Abbey is closed. He was here around 10 times, so he knows the point. It was such a brilliant advice. By the way, I visit the island thanks to Vincent and his car. Before recently it was quite problematic to reach this place without a car. But now when they launched a train from Paris, the small area of the island (100 hectares) will be even more crowded.
I wanted to visit Mont Saint Michel since I first saw it in a book at school. Many many years ago. And now I face this impressive Normandic island, bearing strong wind and cold. It’s seems weather do not care that it is officially summer.
I don’t see any people. No, there are some tourists around. But I notice only the rock. Since 8th century it was slowly trasformed into this masterpiece. The construction of the monastery required to bring granite as far as 35 km away from here.
At this time of the day (evening) the island is not covered by water. It’s low tide, so you can see the bottom of the ocean. And it is silver grey. The color matching well the greenish fields on the background. The scenary reminds me of Iceland, my favourite county. Here you can find the same contrast of raw colors, which is difficult to find anywhere else.
The wind is strong. It bring waves back to the shore – The waters can withdraw as far as 25km from the shore. In few hours the island will be cut of the shore with grey cold water. It happens almost every 25 hours. The water can cover more than 6 km of land within the hour. And you can actually feel the power of the tide – one of the strongest in Europe. And it makes me speechless.
In Medieval times this natural phenomenom scared people. They explained it with religion. No wonder why Mont Saint Michel became popular for pilgrimage, just like The Camino de Santiago in Pyrenees. For thousand of years men, women and children overcame hundreds of kilometers to pray here. They believed that the monastery was built due to the will of archangel Michael. The legend says, that he appeared to bishop of Avranches in 708. But bishop was now sure whether he saw an angel or a dream. After several ineffective attempts Michael lost angelic patience and burned a hole in the bishop’s skull. Some business can be achieved only by force.
When sun disappeared behind the horizon, we went to the hotel. But the next day we came back to Mont Saint Michel again. The only street that lead to the top is called Grande Rue. It is very narrow. Now it is crowded like a hell. Ironically speaking, the way to the abbey passes through the hell. To be serious, the monastery ones reminded such an unpleasant place, when it was prison (1792). There were no chance to escape – the walls are thick, the tides are dangerous, the quicksand is deadly.
It is dangerous to walk around the island without a professional guide. A lot of people died ‘cos of quicksand. But danger attracts. There are so many tourists hiking on the sand. And I am sure, not all of them have guide. A lot of people have perished because they thought they knew better. Mont Saint Michel doesn’t like those who are against the flow. Because this is the privilege of the island.