Tour Daze France Part 5 – Mont-St-Michel and Normandy

By - December 11, 2006 (Updated: October 19, 2015)

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Tour Daze France 2006.

Mont-St.-Michel rising out of the bay

Mont-St.-Michel rising out of the bay

From the Dune du Pyla we headed north and inland towards the Loire Valley. We had hoped to drive along the river and see some of the castles, but it was not to be. The rain started and we decided just to head for our hotel.

The hotel was located on an island in the middle of Saumur. It was dark by the time we found it and got settled so there wasn’t time for sightseeing. (Andrew and I have added ‘visit Saumur and the Loire Valley’ to our to-do list) We did have an ‘interesting’ dining experience at a restaurant across the street from the hotel. The food was down home French (and nothing to write home about) but the décor was Wild West, Cowboys and Indians… very strange indeed.

The next morning we hit the local bakery and butcher for some picnic supplies and headed for Mont-St-Michel. Despite the convoy of tour buses and the signage for chambers d’Hôtes as far as the eye can see, there’s no doubt that the approach to the Mont is impressive.

The abbey is the crown atop the Mont.

The abbey is the crown atop the Mont.

Mont-St-Michel is basically a rock, called Mont Tomb, which juts out of the sea at the mouth of the river Couesnon, in Normandy. In the 8th century, someone decided this was a great place to build an abbey. Over the centuries, the monastery grew and eventually a medieval town emerged from the rock. After the revolution, the abbey became a prison. These days it is a national monument visited by millions of tourists each year, via a causeway in the bay. The Mont takes its name from its patron saint whose gold statue now adorns the church steeple.

It is easy to see why enemies would be intimidated by this huge rock emerging from the mists of the bay. Crowned with the abbey, it looks like a dark, foreboding pyramid in the water. Surrounded by a walled fortress, the inhabitants were protected from any intruders, who they would have been able to see coming for miles, from the lookouts at the abbey.

We spent the better part of an afternoon, wandering through the narrow streets, now home only to souvenir shops and restaurants. We made our way through the abbey and tried to imagine what life would have been like here – cold and lonely would be my first guess.

Overall, Mont-St-Michel has rightfully earned its place on the list of France’s top tourist destinations. It was a truly spectacular sight.

Much less spectacular was the hotel that we stayed in that evening and the supper that we ate there. I would highly recommend staying and eating outside the village closest to the Mont, as things seem to be over-priced and bland.

The following morning we were up before the sun. As we were leaving town we were stopped by an early morning traffic jam – caused by the local shepherd.

A bombed out German bunker from WWII still overlooks the beach.

A bombed out German bunker from WWII still overlooks the beach.

We made our way north again to the D-Day beaches. It is difficult to imagine the devastation that occurred here as you wander through the prosperous little villages. But as you stand looking at the bombed out German bunkers and out over the coast-line, the near impossibility of the mission becomes clear.

Canadian Memorial at Juno Beach Centre.

Canadian Memorial at Juno Beach Centre.

We visited several sites that were of particular interest as Canadians. As I’m not the war buff of the family I’ll leave the details to Andrew. However we did spend an afternoon at the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer. This is a new museum, opened in 2003, which presents the war effort made by all Canadians, civilian and military alike, both at home and on the various fronts during the Second World War, as well as the manifold faces of contemporary Canadian society.

It was a well presented museum that really brought to life the challenges faced by not only the soldiers but Canada as a new nation. (I was even surprised to see a photograph taken at the fish plant in Maces Bay, outside my hometown of Saint John.)

Inner courtyard of Les Granges.

Inner courtyard of Les Granges.

That evening we stayed in another lovely little B&B called Les Granges, in Menilles. We were given a suite for 4 people that was two levels. The top floor had exposed wooden beams and a beautifully tiled bathroom. Our hostess was very friendly and helpful and booked us a table at a fantastic restaurant for supper.

At the Auberge des Roy we feasted on their specialty, foie gras, and regional cuisine, not to mention some stunning wine. It was a cozy place with a roaring fire, a resident dog and a chef that came to see that our meal was alright – It was definitely more than alright!

The following morning was, for me, one of the highlights of our trip. But you’ll just have to wait to read about it next time.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Di

    Di December 11, 2006 at 18:43

    As ever, my reading of this was puncuated by ‘Oh, I want to go there’ and ‘Oh, I must go there’.
    Sigh, sounds marvellous.

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison December 12, 2006 at 09:48

    Di – As I write I think ‘we need to go back there… we need to go back there…’ You do need to do Mont-St-Michel. It’s a weekend trip that your Belgian could probably survive 🙂

  3. Comment by Di

    Di December 12, 2006 at 17:26

    He’s getting there … I think he’s done as many kilometres in the time he’s known me as he’s done in the rest of his life and if it’s not true, it will be soon.
    The trip has to be done, what a stunning place!

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