07 July 2006

Le Mont Saint-Michel

I can't believe it was as long ago as June 20 that we were at the Mont Saint-Michel. Since that day, we have made a quick trip to Paris to drop one friend off at the airport for her return to California and to see another old friend who's back in France after at two-year absence. Then we received two other sets of company, both couples with two children. We've been pretty busy, and time is flying. Here we are in July already.

The Mont seen from a dirt road lined with red poppies

So the Mont Saint-Michel trip is fading into memory. We left Domfront by car that June 20 morning and drove the hour or so it took to get to the coast. There wasn't much traffic, and the weather was gray and cool. We even ran through one rain shower on the way to our destination, I remember. The countryside was very green.

Sheep grazing in the salty meadows that now line the coast near the Mont

We took the little coastal road, the D75, once we got close to the Mont, because we wanted to get good views of the place before we arrived. At one point, to get an unobstructed view from the top of a levee, we stopped the car and walked a few hundred yards down a gravel road to reach what we thought would be the edge of the mudflats. We got the panorama, but we were surprised to find not mudflats but a pasture full of grazing sheep on the other side of the levee.

View of the Mont from the causeway connecting it to the mainland

The bay has silted up considerably over the past 150 years of so, and the Mont is now just barely an island. A government-sponsored project to return the bay to its original state is in the works. The causeway that prevents seawater from flowing around all sides of the Mont will be removed and replaced by a bridge. The hope is that the flowing water will wash all the accumulated sand back into the ocean.

The mudflats north of the Mont at low tide

Of course, some wise guy said global warming should take care of the silting problem whether the government undertakes this project or not!

When you get to the Mont and enter into the old town through big stone archway, the first thing you see is the most famous restaurant on the island, La Mère Poulard. The local specialty is the omelet, a concoction of beaten eggs that resembles a soufflé more than it does the standard French omelet. We didn't have one. I think the plain omelet at La Mère Poulard listed at about 20 euros -- that's 25 dollars in U.S. money. Obviously, the restaurant is trading on its reputation. An omelet served with fricasseed lobster for 48 euros (nearly $65), or an omelet served with foie gras and mushrooms for 45 euros.

Famous for its omelets

The other thing you notice when you enter through the archway onto the Mont's narrow streets is the crowd. The place was mobbed at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning in June. I can't even imagine what it is like in July or August, or on a Saturday or Sunday during high season.

We walked around a little, but by 11:30 Walt and I decided it might be a good idea to sit down and have lunch before everybody else on the island decided to do the same thing. We had intended to have an omelet, but as I said the prices were just too high, especially considering that we can buy a carton of 10 eggs for 75 eurocents at the supermarket and easily make a good omelet at home.

Outdoor dining at La Vieille Auberge on the Mont Saint-Michel

We looked at menus posted in front of some other restaurants and the offerings at a place called La Vieille Auberge (The Old Inn) appealed to us. It was early, so the place wasn't crowded. The restaurant had an outdoor seating area, and the weather was getting warm enough to make that attractive.

I took this close-up of our waiter when he wasn't looking

Sue decided she wanted to go shopping instead of eating lunch, so it was just me and Walt. We each ordered an assiette de crudités (raw vegetables with vinaigrette dressing) and a serving of moules à la crème avec frites (steamed mussels in a cream sauce, served with fried potatoes). We had a bottle of the house white wine, which was, I think, a Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine (where Saint-Aignan is located). The mussels were plump and tender in their shells, the cream was rich and tasty, and there were just a few French-fried potatoes to fill out the meal. The bill for all that and coffee came to about fifty euros. And it was all delicious. We spent about an hour and a half at the table, enjoying the people-watching and the food.

Both before and after lunch, as we were strolling along the old walkways around the edges of the island, we saw many groups of people out walking on the mudflats. Some were couples or groups of three or four, but several were larger groups of young people. They were probably school groups with teachers and guides.

A group of young people who seem to be trying to stamp on the sand
until it starts to turn into quicksand


The flats surrounding the Mont are famous for their patches of quicksand, and it is always advisable to go out with with a knowledgeable guide.

This group is crossing a low spot that will turn into a channel
of water when the tide comes in


High tide was at 1:30 p.m. the day we were there, and we were able to watch the waters rise over the course of the day.

These people on the island's walkways are watching the tide come in

After lunch we took the self-guided tour of the old abbey on the top of the Mont. It was built starting in the 11th century, I believe, and is a monastery. Rooms were added on top of rooms over the centuries. It's all quite impressive. Walt has some pictures on his blog.

These people are having a picnic in a grassy field on the lower part of the island

We plan to go back soon, but during the winter when there are fewer busloads of people on the Mont. We'd like to stay in a hotel on the island itself, not on the mainland, and be able to wander the streets early in the morning and late in the evening, when no one is around.

4 comments:

  1. Great entry, Ken! Mont-Saint-Michel is a place that has always intrigued me because it's so unusual and so stunning. I hope to get there someday.

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  2. Hi Ginny, hope you're having a good summer. We are having our second heat wave of the year -- temperatures in the mid-90s are predicted for later this week. Did you read Walt's blog entry about our World Cup championship soirée?

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  3. I just saw La Mere Poulard on the Travel Channel. Their omelettes looked great, but I agree it's a bit expensive for eggs. Your blog is wonderful!

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  4. Hi Run Around, thanks for the kind words. I get the U.K. travel channel on TV so I'll have to look for that show about La Mère Poulard.

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