St. Malo, The Mystical Mont St. Michel, and the Walled City.

(Day 5:  24 September 2021)

Day 5 started with an incredible sight as we pulled in to port at St. Malo.  The morning had a slight chill in the fresh smelling air, and I was struck with the stillness of the water.  There was a beautiful glow over the water, as the sun was rising over the cliffsides surrounding the cove our ship was nestled in. 

Sunrise as we approach St. Malo, France

Sailboats were still rocking in the sleepy haze of dawn.  There was a lighthouse type turret structure built from rock that brought us back to a time when a ship like ours might have been considered a foreign enemy.  But today, it was more of a welcome beacon, coaxing us to come on shore and mingle with the locals.

Today, we would have to board a tender to go ashore, and I was looking forward to the adventure!  We had a half day excursion booked to visit a place called Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey.  I had no idea what this excursion would be about, as this was one of the last-minute port changes that had to be made because of COVID restrictions for Americans in Ireland. Right now, as I was basking in the sunrise, I really just wanted to relax and soak in the local scene.  Reluctantly, I finished my coffee and avocado toast.  Leaving my “good” camera behind (because I didn’t think we were going anywhere very special), I followed my husband to the tender pickup. 

We jumped on the tender for the quick ride to shore and immediately hoped on the bus.  As we started out of the parking lot, the bus turned, and we were faced with a massive walled city!  I looked at my husband and commented that we would definitely need to check this out when we got back from this excursion to the Abbey.  All I knew about Mont St. Michel is that it was advertised as “mystical” and that we would have a hike to get there.  I was pretty excited about a hike, so that we could get a little exercise. 

Upon the approach to Mont St. Michel, we passed through a little town that had a bunch of painted cows. 

It looked like a cool little place with small hostels and B&B’s.  It had an artistic type of vibe to it and I noted that I might want to come back here at some point.  Finally, we reached the parking area for the bus and were told we would have to take a small shuttle bus to the Abbey, or we could hike about 45 minutes on our own to get there, but the guide noted that we would have about 2-hours in total at the site, so hiking on our own would cut in to that time.  I still hadn’t seen the actual Abbey, so I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.  It was raining and pretty foggy, so it was tough to see anything beyond the parking area.  As we waited in line for the shuttle, the fog started to lift and, in the distance, this massive castle like structure started to appear. 

It was then that I realized what I thought was a small, little one-room abbey was a massive city type structure inside of a castle!  I felt a surge of excitement as I thought, this just might exceed my expectations.

Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

As we approached the structure, the guide was telling us that this was a special place because the water around the castle recedes throughout the day for low tide.  I thought, “big deal”, the water recedes.  She stated that we would notice people in shorts and barefoot, waiting for the water to go down so that they could enter the estuary and explore. 

School kids with guides entering the low tide estuary at Mont-Saint-Michel

She said there would be bus loads of school children and scientists when we arrived, but we should NOT try to enter the water on our own because there was quick sand all over the place and we could rapidly find ourselves up to our hips in muck.  She said it happens all the time and we would likely see this for ourselves when we were leaving.  I still couldn’t picture what she was talking about but was looking forward to the spectacle!

Reflection at Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

Mont St. Michel might be one of the most special places I have been thus far. This was actually a working Abbey. There were nuns and monks that live on the property, and we were lucky enough to be there during a noon mass.

The chanting was incredible, and even though several tourists were talking loudly and completely clueless that this was an actual church, with an actual service happening,  my soul was singing along with the chanting in complete happiness.  Our tour guide had to ask people to take their hats off and to be quiet.  It was kind of embarrassing.   

It was a little tough (okay downright difficult) to walk up the stairs here. I was shocked to see an older gentleman who could barely walk, slowly and painstakingly in what seemed like a daily pilgrimage for him, making his way up the stairs. It was very moving for us to watch him. He was hunched over and was walking up the wrong way because the tourists were pushing him out of the way and inhibiting his journey. It seemed as though the staff at the Abbey knew who he was because he was able to bypass the ticket taker and requirement for the health pass (QR code) for entry. And it was at this point, several folks from our group peeled off and decided to wait at the bottom because the walk up was way too intimidating!

The structure is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and was built in honor of the Arch Angel Michael (which they refer to as Saint Michael).  The Arch Angel Michael is actually my favorite angel, so this was kind of a serendipitous tour for me!

What I found cool about this place was the working town within the walls.  There were shops, restaurants, and garden areas. 

Interestingly, our guide recommended we not eat at the Abbey, because the food wouldn’t be that great, but if I were to go back, I would absolutely eat there. I am a little bummed we missed out on this experience. There is even a Michelin star restaurant (2019), Le Mere Poulard (known for their omelettes) in the little town, so I feel like I really missed an opportunity here.

That being said, the architecture was incredible and once inside the Abbey, there was a certain feel or energy that really drew me in.  At one point I expressed to my husband, that I would love to stay an evening or two just to pray in one of the prayer rooms.  He laughed and asked what I would pray for?  I said, I didn’t know but probably healing and love for the world.  You know, the usual stuff!  I just wish for people to be happy and healthy.

As we were walking out of Mont St. Michel, there was a little alley way leading up to a bar.  Apparently, the thinnest street in the World?  Don’t fact check me on that…I was just eavesdropping on another group’s conversation!  I had my husband stand in the street for a photo op.  He is such a good sport!

We finally made it back out to the rally point and sure enough, all the water that was surrounding the Abbey was gone! I couldn’t believe it. We had barely been inside for an hour and a half. How in the heck did that happen so fast?! I guess this place really is mystical!

Low Tide at Mont-Saint-Michel

Boarding the bus, we headed back to St. Malo.  I still couldn’t believe what a cool place Mont St. Michel ended up being.  The drive was about 30-minutes, and I was excited to explore that walled city next.  We had about 2-hours before we had to board the ship.  Just enough time to find a quick bite and a beer! 

Once in side the walled city, we decided to follow this very hidden little walk way that took us to the top of the wall.  We could actually walk along the top of this massive wall! 

View from the top of the Walled City

The views were amazing and it was now that I noticed the water recession wasn’t only unique to Mont St. Michel.  There were sailboats that we had passed on the tender earlier laying on their sides! 

Low Tide at St. Malo

This could not be a good thing and I could not figure out why people would anchor their boats in an area with such a severe low tide?  What the heck were they thinking?  It was crazy.  It took about 35-45 minutes to walk around the city and we were getting hungry and more importantly thirsty.  So, we found a little place, in a courtyard area to sit down for a beer.  Jake had an Edelweiss, and I had a Rose.  Thank goodness Jake speaks just enough French to order and the young lady was amused enough to bring us our drinks. 

We spent about 30-minutes watching people walk, eat, talk, and smoke.  A LOT of smoking here too.  This seems to be a theme throughout our European travels thus far.  We talked about our day at Mont St. Michel and then decided to find another place for a beer.  We walked down a little alley, away from the tourists and found a table at what seemed to be a local place.  I tried to order an Aperol Spritz and the bar owner looked at me with complete confusion.  Then Jake ordered a beer, which the owner understood.  And I tried to order the spritz again.  He just nodded his head no and pointed to the beer taps.  I said a beer would be great and a beer I received!

After about twenty minutes, we looked at our watches and determined we would be cutting it close for the last tender.  Looking for the blue tent that signaled our tender dock, we began to run.  The tent was gone, and our tender was pulling away!  We got to the dock and asked the attendant if there would be another boat? He said, yes (thank God!), one more would be here to pick us up in about 15-minutes.  Whew!  I guess all that praying at the Abbey paid off. 

All in all, this was a magical day for exploring and casting our fates to the wind!  We had no idea what we signed up for, but apparently the word “mystical” is a good indicator that something pretty special is going to happen.  So, when in doubt, go for it.  You just might be pleasantly surprised.  If you are a photographer looking for a unique location, I would definitely recommend this place to you.  Both the Abbey and the walled city have some great locations!   Also, make sure you try the local Breton Cakes.  These are like crepes but made with butter and sugar.  I’m typically not a huge “sweet” fan, but YES, these are fabulous! 

Breton Cakes with Butter and Sugar on Oceania Cruise Ship Marina

Published by Analiese Kennedy

Ecology and anything outdoors is my Jam! We love exploring new places and connecting with others over a good meal and wine.

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