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Mont St Michel, Normandy

Le Mont St Michel, Normandy

Le Mont St Michel, in the bay of the same name, is France's most visited tourist site, and with good reason. A church was first built on this rock in 708, extended in the 11th century and burned down in the 13th.

In the 1400s Normandy became part of France (reluctantly) and the French King appeased the Normans by building the present Gothic abbey complex here. Visitors can only enter the eccesiastical buildings as part of a guided tour, which get booked up very quickly. Even if you miss a tour, just walking the little alleys that run through the upper part of Le Mont St Michel, and around the ramparts, is worth the visit.

One particularly beautiful spot is La Merveille, at Abbey level, where there's a roof garden that conjures up an feeling that you're floating suspended between the earth and the sky, looking out over the little garden to the sea. You can still see the giant windlass used to raise supplies through a shaft cut in the rock; the supplies were delivered by boat – a journey across the sands at low tide was still too dangerous for supplies to be delivered by horse and cart.

You can buy all sorts of tacky souvenirs in the shops at the bottom level of the Mount, but you can also get some fine food there as well. An omelette at La Mère Poularde is a special treat. I imagine the early pilgrims bought their own souvenirs here as well, perhaps a scallop shell to keep them safe on the journey to Santiago di Compostela in western Spain.

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