29 August 2009

Mont Saint Michel or French Tourist Trap

When Don and I were in architecture school, our architectural history professor told us about the 8th Wonder of the Western World. Mont St. Michel, a cathedral on a mountain rising out of the ocean on the Normandy coast of France. At certain times of high tide, it is an island, at low tide, you can walk right up to the village. A true geographical and architectural wonder. How cool, we thought, since we'll be in France we could go see it.

So we booked one night at a hotel there. We told several people, including some French ones, that we were planning to go. All gave good remarks. "Is very nice" "Really beautiful" "Stay overnight" No one was honest. Although it is beautiful and a wonder and all that, we quickly discovered the reality upon arriving - it is a tourist trap full of cheesy souvenirs and terrible food. Seriously - simultaneously the worst post-cards and food I've ever experienced.

(Hi! We're disgruntled tourists.)

We decided we'd make the most of our fate, however, and do what we could to enjoy ourselves. We made a goal to find the cheesiest postcard on the island to send to my offices (both of which never arrived). We toured the cathedral & monastery (which is now functioning again). Built into the side and top of the mountain, it is truly a wonder. We ate a mediocre crepe and watched people walk through the strange muck that is supposed to be sand. We retreated to our hotel room, which gave the highest view in the village, to watch the tourists flee to their cars when a rain storm moved in.

This last part, the hotel room with the cool view was one of the only redeeming features. As the rain came down, the tide was also rising, and we were able to experience one of the coolest sights - a peninsula became an island in a matter of minutes.
View from our hotel room. You can see how the whole thing is surrounded by water - a few minutes before, it was just sand out there.

After watching some French tv, we decided to head out for some dinner and had what was hands down the worst seafood in the history of man eating seafood. Don ordered a mixed seafood plate. Since we were basically in the middle of the ocean, we thought, hey, probably a good place to order fruits of the sea. Most of it tasted like it had been floating in a bucket of stale salt water for a week. I had a baked seafood and pasta dish which was better, but still not great.

The next morning, we caught an earlier bus so we could get out of there as soon as possible. On to the next French adventure, please! I'm glad we saw it but I would not go back. Consider yourself warned. If you're stranded in Normandy, I'd recommend seeing anything but Mont St. Michel. Or go for about an hour and then leave.

inside the old monastery mess hall

from the top of the hill/cathedral

view from the bus window as we were leaving...


axelskater said...

I just read this along with several reviews of Mont St Michel (my husband was there as a child in 77) and I appreciate your candor. It sealed the decision for me - we will be in Normandy mostly to see the D-Day sites, but will also tour Calvados distilleries and maybe some coastal towns with views of the Mont intsead of the Abbey itself. In pictures of the crowded streets with tourist shops it almost looks like a Disney version of a monument than a historical site. Loved the "Disgruntled Tourists" picture.

Nicole said...

Very Disney-esque... I think the rest of Normandy should be much more satisfying!