Long before CGI created the Island fortress of Dragonstone in Game of Thrones, there was the towering precarious fairytale abbey of the magnificent Mont Saint Michel. One of the outstanding sites in this part of France, this UNESCO World Heritage site is located on an island just off the coast of the region of Lower Normandy in northern France. The island is the site of the spectacular and well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel balancing at the peak of the rocky island, surrounded by the winding streets of buildings wedged into every possible nook and cranny of the multi layered medieval town.The worship of Saint Michel was introduced on the Mont in 708, and it became an important places of medieval pilgrimage. Benedictine monks started building an abbey here in the 10th century.
Look out from the ramparts
The heroic resistance of the Mount to English attacks during the Hundred Years’ War (14th and 15th centuries) made it a symbol of French national identity. Monks left the abbey in 1790, and it was listed as a historic monument in 1874. The whole site has been returned to its former glory thanks to on-going restoration work.
A slice of seascape
Entry to the Abbey was free on the day we were there and it is definitely worth the climb, both for the magnificent view out over the estuary, and for the beautiful ancient abbey itself, which exudes history and a wonderful peace and calm.
The tidal mudflats surrounding the island contain areas of deep mud and quicksand. Visitors to the island are advised not to attempt crossing the flats by foot but there were lots of people heading out across them when we were there, trailing footprints behind them which from a distance looked like bird tracks criss crossing the causeway. The tide here is one of the fastest-rising in Europe so you always need a guide.
The view from the Mont St Michel
We parked at the prescribed car parks a couple of kilometres out, which you have to use now and walked the route up to the Mont over the bridge. You really can't help but take multiple pictures of the surprising and surreal looking settlement.We walked up the the close set streets awash with souvenir shops and restaurants. Overlooking the sea we sat down and ate some galettes which are pancakes with savoury fillings and then a sweet version of a crepe with caramel too - delicious! It had been the nicest day of my trip and the lovely weather had brought out lots of visitors to this very famous French attraction.
Au revoir to the Mont!
On the way back we discovered a field of mysterious blue flowers which were ripe for a photo shoot, so we clambered in among them forthwith. We later found out that they were called Phacelia and they are sometimes grown as green fertiliser or as a treat for nearby honey bees, as they love their super sweet pollen. I do like a blue bloom.
Another good day out is a visit to the the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise only a few miles from the D Day landing beaches. This recently expanded French museum is dedicated to the memory of American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions who parachuted into Normandy on the night of June 5–6, 1944.
John Steele is still stuck!
There are lots of artifacts on show, a simulated operation Neptune where you can feel what it would be like to be in one of the aircraft, and show reels of fascinating archive footage. Famous stories include that of John Steele the paratrooper whose parachute got caught on the church steeple and despite being shot in the foot by the Germans managed to play dead for two hours dangling from the church, before he was rescued.
Macarons and coffee for dessert
Many BBQs have been had this summer at the Bell chateau - 74 in fact to date, but the weather had been quite iffy while I was there, so it was not until that last day that we were able to clock up BBQ number 75 for 2017. Merguez sausages, steak hache burgers, fresh river trout - all delicious - served with home grown new potatoes, Normandy butter and a fresh local salad, and of course the ever important french baguette.
The BBQ is on!
A feast for kings without doubt. As Charles says 'it's a millionaire lifestyle on a shoestring budget!' Normandy is beautiful at this time of years the grass is so green and lush and the trees are laden with apples and chestnuts and the hedgerows heavy with the sweetest blackberries. Hopefully it won't be too long before I get to return to this country idyll which has an undoubted charm all its own.