St. Malo France
Tuesday 4 June 2019 we are tendering in to Port of St. Malo off the Brittany peninsula on the north west corner of France. An old walled city, with quiet cobblestone alleys, maze of narrow medieval streets lined with shops, restaurants, spas, churches and gates to the outside of the walls. Tides are important here, reminding folks to pay attention as they are coming and going by sea. As we sail in closer, we see small uninhabited islands, fortress and lighthouse structures. Very exciting as the vistas keep changing and more of this location is revealed.
The landmark of interest is Mont St Michel, the large 17 acre property, legend has it, inspired by Archangel Michael in the 8th century. It took several centuries to build between 11th and 16 centuries, and suffered many collapses. It is a full km out of sea and the tides have a strong variation of 4 to 6 feet, which means that when the tide comes in, some areas can be covered (even parking lot!). Warnings and instructions to respect the timing of the tides are provided to tourists taking in this historic site. Two causeways have now been built for easier access, costing some 200 million dollars to build. The structure is some 300 feet high.
In 1869 the prison (along with dungeons) that was located on the island of Mont St. Michel was shut down, the Abbey still remains on the site. The tapestries and frescoes are gone, the walls bare.
Cathedrals, castle houses and extensive gardens remain and attract tourists. Restaurants serving galettes and crepes, savory and sweet along with seafood offerings (local oysters, fish and mussels) accompanied by cider, popular fares in the Brittany region. Picturesque, this area feels inspiring to artists and visitors alike.
Marcia deSanctis writes about this place in her book 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go. I hope she does not mind me borrowing her words as the description she gives is marvelous and awe-inspiring and I keep re-reading it to myself and aloud ….. “Mont-Saint-Michel inhabits its bay like a monarch occupies its throne. It is arrogant, aloof, arrestingly dignified. All a person can do is supplicate before it. When it comes into view floating in the sun or rising from a great sea of vapor, you can’t help but see it in the context of the interplay between our own human strengths and weaknesses, an effect that sometimes occurs when confronted by works of sublime genius. Strength from the faith and gall to think man could—and did—build an abbey atop a sharp granite outcrop in an angry sea whipped by some of the strongest tides on earth, corralling all the knowledge in Christendom of stonemasonry, mathematics and engineering. As for frailty, where do I start? The briefness of even the most extraordinary lives, and how temporal we are compared to this stone edifice and the rock it stands on, the ocean it rises from, and the God it was built for. The abbey might be just a lovely relic if not for the milky expanse of the bay in which it sits. Each can only be understood in relation to the other—the ocean’s perilous strength against the architectural beauty and vice versa. For centuries, the faithful and the curious had to take caution and wait for low tide to venture across the sand to the Mont. The natural causeway was built in 1879, but even then, people continued to get swallowed by quicksand and swept away in the tides that change, in Victor Hugo’s words, “at the speed of a galloping horse.” Today, there are still dire warnings posted and the occasional rescue of someone with too little fear of the currents.”
“The abbey can look opalescent and pink or swarthy and glowering, and its countenance can alter in minutes”….. “at the turn of the 20th century, someone called it “the most beautiful kilometer in France,” and the moniker stuck. From this vantage point, the Mont looks confident in its realm, a fairy castle that rules the waves.”
Update, no taxis available to get to this site of Mont Saint Michel, all tours booked up. St Malo was beautiful, photos on facebook!
Tomorrow, Honfleur, with population of about 9,000. This has been an artists community since 1027 and remains an important port city.