Mont Saint Michel Nostalgia
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We fell in love with the Mont Saint Michel on the very first day we saw it. It was in June 1987, one of our first holidays together in France. The sight of the Mont as we approached over the causeway was breathtaking and got us hooked. However, this first visit was just an introduction: we wandered through the village, went round the island getting our feet wet and enjoying the sun. As we drove away we swore to come back as soon as possible.
And so it came that every time we were passing near the Mont on our way to Brittany, we would make a small detour, sometimes for an hour or a day, sometimes staying longer, like the year when we crossed the bay on foot with a guide from the village of Genêts opposite the Mont, an impressive experience.
In the 1990s, for a few years, we took on the habit of spending the last full night of the year, from 30th to 31st December on the Mont. We used to stay in a hotel of the village and have a nice meal to celebrate the end of the year.
We have wonderful memories of those evenings when all day trippers have disappeared and the Mont is left to its own devices, walking alone through the village, the winter fog enveloping the medieval buildings and creeping through the narrow lanes.
Then for some reason, except for a few flying visits, we had a long break not returning before 2014.
The first shock came when we checked the hotel prices. With the smaller independent hotels disappeared spending the night on the Mont has got quite expensive; gone are the 1990s and their affordable hotel rooms! In fact, the whole site has become a huge money machine. Of course it has always been like that, but the difference is now the incredibly huge number of visitors and the utter commercialisation of simply everything. Most disgusting of all is the “Mère Poulard” operation swamping the village with hotels, shops and restaurants, all offering the same industrialised and hugely overpriced stuff, being the so-called “omelette de la Mère Poulard” or tins of butter cookies sold kilo-wise to undemanding tourists.
Sleeping on the Mont being now unattainable for our purse, we decided to stay in a chambre d'hôtes, just opposite the Mont in the hamlet of La Rive. A good compromise: first, there is free parking on the premises and second, it is in easy walking distance of the Mont. With the new access regulations, there is now a free shuttle service from the road end La Caserne to the entrance to the Mont, so it is still easy to spend the evening on the Mont as we used to in the past.
But the romantic times when we felt alone in the world wandering through the site are well over… La Caserne has seen an incredible increase of hotels catering for tour groups and of course they also want their share of magic. As we were looking for a restaurant, we were told in a not very friendly manner to come no later than 6.30pm as all were fully booked by groups afterwards. We complied and regretted: the food turned out to be nondescript, sparse and expensive, a big disappointment and a rip-off. We felt suddenly very old and nostalgic as we ambled afterwards through the lanes in the company of too many Japanese tourists, their flashing cameras lightning the darkness.
I guess this is the way things are going. The masses of pilgrims worshipping Saint Michael have only been replaced by crowds of tourists venerating the Travel God and today as in the past, there is always good money to be done by the happy few drawing the strings in the background. As for our lonely wanderings in the night, well, we have to accept that times have changed. This is the price of global tourism.
And you know what? somehow, all these changes as sad as they seem have not hampered our enthusiasm for the place: we keep and will keep returning.
The Mont is still an incredible place and should not be missed. But be prepared and maybe take our advice: if you can, visit in winter and not on a week-end in order to minimise the crowds.
You should also treat yourself to a visit of the abbey which is really worth seeing. Furthermore, we recommend taking the time for a walk in the polders west of the Mont which provide great views and make for an atmospheric outing.
If you have even more time and are staying in the area for a few days (and are not visiting in winter), we strongly suggest that you consider crossing the bay by foot with a guide. The guide is a must as the bay is dangerous with quicksands and strong currents, there are many companies around the bay offering their services. Believe us, it will be an unforgettable experience.
We have some photos to whet your appetite.
$updated from: Blog.htxt Sun 13 Dec 2020 16:00:13 trvl2 (By Vero and Thomas Lauer)$