Looming impressively larger and larger as you approach it across the gently undulating landscape of Normandy, the UNESCO World Heritage Site ahead of you — Mont St. Michel — is indeed an awe-inspiring sight. And when you notice that the ‘small’ buildings at the bottom of the Mont are frequently 4-5 story houses, then your brain begins to wrap itself around the scale of the medieval monastery that hovers over the village below.
The approach to the Mont is across a causeway, a road across the marshes that is going to be completely removed quite soon and replaced with a bridge. The renovation project is running quite far behind at this point and should have already been completed. We have local friends who have told us that there is quite a lot of ‘drama’ surrounding this project, the funding of it, and the plans for the future.
In a nutshell, the very ugly dredging activity that we saw on either side of the causeway indicates that the clearing out of centuries of silt and debris is still an ongoing process. Upon completion of the dredging and the construction of the ‘flyover’ bridge that will link the mainland to the Mont, the island will once again be quite a separate place — a true island surrounded by water. And visitors will no longer be able to drive up to the base of the Mont itself. Only the few local people who live in the village at the bottom and a series of shuttle buses will be allowed to drive onto the bridge.
We drove up the causeway and were directed by a man in high-vis construction clothing to turn into a paid parking lot and were not allowed to proceed toward the village at the base. The parking lot is no longer free. There is quite a significant hike from that parking lot just to get to the base of the Mont and that is followed by an approximately two hour climb to the top!
I have just recovered — literally just this week — from a compression of the 4th lumbar disc and I’ve been in far too much pain to to risk aggravating that twinge-prone back again. So no, we did not hike up to the top of the Mont on that hazy day to get less than clear photos and, oddly, neither of us felt as if we had missed some must-see opportunity.
As a result, we did a u-turn, headed away from the Mont, and pulled over into the breakdown lane where we stopped to take a few photos. And we noticed that there were quite a lot of other people doing the exact same thing! We also noted that there were several dozen people who had parked in the village of Pontorson (which is miles away from the Mont!) who were walking along the sometimes-there-sometimes-not footpath leading to the Mont itself. As you can see in the photo below, some of the pedestrians were forced to walk in the breakdown lane for the cars since everything on both sides of the causeway is such a mess and so inconsistent.
There are several places on the exterior of the Mont where scaffolds are quite visible. I’ve read several articles over the last few years that indicated that there are simply too many visitors each year to this medieval wonder. It is not a theme park, it is not a medieval-themed shopping mall, and it was originally intended to be simply a village and a monastery — not the tourist highlight that it has become. But all of that tourist activity comes at a price, and parts of the Mont are apparently imperiled by the sheer volume of people who are shoulder to shoulder in those narrow streets and passageways in the tourist season.
The restoration of the water around the Mont and the construction of the bridge were meant to be completed this year and that is highly unlikely to happen now due to the multiple delays. Once everything is actually in place, the parking lots (paid!) will be several miles away in Pontorson and all tourists will be taken to Mont St. Michel in an official shuttle (paid!) and there are also rather sensible plans afoot to limit the number of people who are allowed onto the Mont each day in an effort to slow the erosion and destruction.
©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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