A Day in Le Mont Saint-Michel, France
Le Mont Saint-Michel or more casually known as Mont St. Michel is probably one of the most photographed sites in France (after the Eiffel Tower). I was there in 1977 and remember being taken aback by the site of the towering island in the distance, charmed by the narrow stone streets for pedestrians only, and being served a huge omelet for lunch, which is what the town is also famous far. Flash forward 34 years and not much has changed.
Mont St. Michel is a rocky island in Normandy, France about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Caen. Made primarily of granite, Mont St Michel is surrounded by water, quick sand (really), and marshy silty plains during low tide. Although the whole island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the monastery and cathedral are the primary architectural sites with the stone walkways leading up and around the town a tourist draw.
Originally established about 1300 years ago with a small church, Mont St. Michel attracted a group of Benedictine monks who built a larger pre-Romanesque church followed by a monastery building, a cloister and a refectory. By the time of the French Revolution (1789), there were only a few monks left and the abbey was closed and converted to a prison for several decades. The prison was closed in the 1863 and in 1874, France declared Mont St.Michel a historic monument.
The tourists come by the thousands to Mont St Michel every day and after walking the streets and seeing the monastery and the cathedral, a traditional lunch is a great way to relax and talk about the experience. You won’t find a Michelin star restaurant in Mont St. Michel but you will find a good meal at La Mere Poulard located on the Grand Rue near the entrance to the town. Make a lunch reservation as this restaurant stays busy. La Mere Poulard has been serving their famous huge souffle like omelets since 1888. The eggs are beaten until very frothy and then cooked over an open fire in a copper pan. Various additions can be added to the omelet or you can choose lamb, fish, or a salad entrée as an alternative. For dessert, order the traditional french apple tart: tarte tatin – caramelized apples in a buttery crust.
Mont St. Michel is breathtaking from afar but up close, the site is disappointing. The town itself has good bones and the charm is evident if you can see past all the touristy shops selling all kinds of crap along the narrow street (the Grand Rue) going up and around the mont. When my husband and I were walking up the Grand Rue, we couldn’t help but imagine how amazing this place could be if the town was turned into what it was, along the lines of Williamsburg, Virginia. Close all the touristy souvenir shops in these architecturally significant walls and allow visitors to see what it was like 100, 200, or even 500 years ago with shopkeepers dressed in period costumes. Have patisseries, cafes, and storefronts selling souvenirs that don’t affront the historical sensibilities of the site. Williamsburg managed to recreate the scene that provides a historical lesson to visitors while also entertaining them. The French could, too.