I remember scanning through an article on high-energy places to be found in France. Mont Saint-Michel topped the list, which, having made it into the UNESCO record of World Heritage Sites, attracts over 3 million tourists annually. I made my mind up immediately - I, too, wanted to see the place.
It took me a year to organise my trip. I was warned off the summer months when the landmark was sure to be swarming with tourists - I ended up picking July for the train trip. My friend and I set off the Gare du Nord at 7 o'clock in the morning. We reached Rennes - 3 hours later, before hopping on a bus for another hour or so. We were dropped off yet again, only to embark on a 15-minute ride by shuttle - we opted out of the option to get there on foot 40 minutes later - which crossed the bridge between the mainland and our final destination. We were indeed regretting making it there in July - the heat was hardly bearable.
The area immediately surrounding this wondrous site was devoid of water, the low tide having taken the sea away. People were walking around an area normally explored by boat, probably in search of quicksand. Impatient, we charged towards the entrance - wooden gates left ajar under the ancient stone portal that leads you into the one cobbled street spiraling all the way up to the island's summit.
The walk up that road seemed surreal. I decided immediately that I'd found the only place completely immune to the feel of the modern world. Nothing contemporary could seep into this secluded piece of land that seems to have seized its evolution in the Middle Ages. Even the souvenir shops didn't appear misplaced. You could picture the pilgrims walking by what-once-were the laborers' stores, and for a moment you'd wonder whether they could still be walking that same path in a parallel universe.
The town's composition reflects the feudal society that constructed it: on top, God, the abbey and monastery; below, the great halls; then stores; and at the bottom, outside the walls - the houses of fishermen and farmers. The commune's position - on an island just 600 m from the mainland - made it accessible at low tide to the abbey's pilgrims. The Mont remained unconquered during the Hundred Years' War. Louis XI turned it into a prison which concluded that the abbey should be used more regularly as a jail during the Ancien Régime.
The original site was founded by an Irish hermit, who gathered a following from the local community. Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe. According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared in 708 to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.
Since 2001, a community of monks and nuns of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem sent from Paris have been living as a community on Mont Saint-Michel. The community meets 4 times a day to recite the liturgical office in the abbey itself, which we happened to witness and thought magical. In this way, the building keeps its original purpose as a place of prayer and singing the glory of God.
Descending back to the foot of the isle, we stopped for lunch at La Mère Poulard - it's perhaps the most famous local restaurant. Everybody who passes by should try their omelet! We made our way back to Rennes and as we had another couple of hours until our train was due to set off, we got the chance to see some of this historical city too!
Rennes is the capital of the region of Brittany. Its history goes back more than 2,000 years, at a time when it was a small Gallic village. From the early 16th century until the French Revolution, Rennes was a parliamentary, administrative and garrison city of the historic province of Brittany of the Kingdom of France.
I fell in love with its run-down houses painted in brick red and ochre, their wooden boards framing the façade. Narrow streets covered in cobblestone probed in between them. We made our way to the Rennes Cathedral, which is among the most beautiful cathedrals I've seen in this country! Right in front of its back entrance, we found the most quaint shop selling vintage clothing. It had its own little terrace which the owner had turned into a home for birds fallen out of their nests. The lady made our day!
The journey home was less arduous, probably because we weren't hurried to go away so soon. The area we'd visited emanated an unforgettable air of tranquility. I was feeling lucky to be part of the thousands who flock to experience the mystical energy of this beautiful spot.