Saturday, August 17, 2013

Herded like sheep to the slaughter at magnificent Mont-Saint-Michel

I think this was either my fifth or sixth visit to Mont-Saint-Michel, one of the most spectacular Medieval sites in Europe, and one of the most visited. When I was last here in 2012 with a group of 40 some high school students there was word that they were going to completely reconfigure access to the site, remove the causeway and put an elaborate parking and shuttle service in. Not rumors. they've done it. And the result in my mind seriously erodes the experience for the visitor. We felt like cattle, ridiculously goaded onto roundabout sidewalks we absolutely had to stay on, and no access anywhere near the mount from private car or tour coach. All of this means that you will spend considerably more time jostling in vast lines with other frustrated tourists wondering why this is the most visited site. In my opinion, if they continue on this course, it will rapidly fall from that distinction.

Here's a few suggestions to sweeten the experience (see photographs below): If you feel like you must actually go onto the narrow winding medieval streets and stairs of the mount itself and visit the labyrinthine bowels of the Abby itself, then park where they will herd you and take the horse draw conveyance up to the mount. Because it will cost you 5 Euros per person the line is hugely shorter than the free shuttle and it takes an interesting circuitous route where you can see up close the new dam to control the tidewater and various interesting angles on the exterior of the mount.

My first suggestion, however, would be to take a different approach altogether. Unless you find crushing mobs appealing, don't go onto the mount at all. There is a beautiful drive from the Norman villages leading to the mount where you will enjoy spectacular views, and see local farms and farming, and a windmill or too (not the si-fi horrors of quixotic-reversal alternative energy fame). And you may very likely enjoy stopping and watching artists paint this stunning scene--from outside the walls. There are a number of local restaurants where you can order Moule frites and a glass of Normandy cidre and have a peaceful lunch gazing out the window at the mount (reminding yourself of what it would feel like to be a live gasping sardine moving in shoulder to shoulder convoy with a vast throng of other sardines also wondering why they didn't take the advice of this blog and view in tranquility from the shore).

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