On the third day of our trip, we hit the road early once again to make the trip to Mont Saint-Michel, our last stop in the Normandy region.
Mont Saint-Michel sits on an island in the middle of the Gulf of Saint-Malo. When this floated into view along the horizon, I was speechless. And, as most of you probably know, I’m rarely at a loss for words. I think it’s safe to say that this is one of the most magnificent sites anywhere in the world.
Mont Saint-Michel was originally used in the 6th and 7th centuries as a castle, a fortress against invasion, and a place where hermit monks lived. It became an important pilgrimage site for Christians in the 8th century, when the Archangel Michael (supposedly) appeared to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the site. When asking nicely didn’t get him anywhere, Michael burned a hole in St. Aubert’s skull with his finger, and the church was finally dedicated in 708 (I really must learn that trick). The monks built the site 500 feet high in the rock, to get as close to heaven as possible. Mount Saint-Michel became a major pilgrimage site, even though visitors had to navigate through quicksand and unpredictable tides to get there. During the French Revolution, the site was used as a prison.
With all of this beauty and history, it’s no wonder that, according to our Fodor’s guidebook (and Chester, who actually read it!) it’s the most visited site in France, after the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. It’s a bit easier to get to now, since there’s a nice causeway and parking lot, so getting there is a lot easier. But, you still need to follow the directions carefully when you park, or your car may be under water when you get back from you visit.
We made our way into the village which grew up around the abbey. Today, it’s lined with hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants, museums, but with the crowds of people all around, it was probably very similar to what pilgrims to the site experienced centuries ago, as they made their way up the narrow, cobble-stoned main street leading up to the abbey and its church.
It’s best to stop for breakfast before you start the climb.
Rest assured, you can find the perfect gift here for the Michael Jackson fan in your life.
We finally reached the top, for our visit to the abbey.
After our tour, we stopped for lunch in the village.
I was torn between a scallop dish, and the traditional fish stew of the Normandy region. I ordered the scallops, but the waiter bought out the fish stew. Something must have gotten lost in the translation. I was kind of glad for the mix-up though, because this dish was excellent. The scallops, salmon, sea bass and mussels in the stew were some of the freshest I have ever had. They were served in a creamy broth that had a hint of white wine and lemon.
Chester had the pork chops, which were topped with bacon. You can never go wrong with pork and more pork. I like how they included about four carrots, just to break up the pork overdose.
And then, we had some more cheese.
After lunch, it was back to the car for our three hour tour to the Lorie Valley. This region, located in central France, is known for being a production center of fruity crisp wines. Throughout the area, there are also many extravagant chateaus.
Our first stop was the town of Amboise, which was once the home of the French royal court. Leonardo DaVinci also came to live (and eventually died) in the town, at the invitation of King Francis I.
Dinner time rolled around, and for some reason, there was nothing that the both of us wanted more than a burger. We found a place in the main town square that served them. Strangely, there was a fried egg on top.
As Chester said, “well, they tried their best.” It was good, but not great. I think Bobby Flay may need to consider going over there and opening one of his burger palaces.
While Amboise is a lovely little town, I would not recommend the Hotel Chaptal, where we stayed that night. This place has the distinction of being the worst hotel that we stayed in on the trip, and perhaps the worst hotel that I’ve have ever stayed in.
I’m 99% sure that we were the only people staying there, but they put us in a room at the furthest corner of the hotel, which we had to walk through dark, creepy hallways to get to. The room was stifling hot and I’m pretty sure that the mattress was carved out of stone. Worst of all, it was eerily quiet. Well, except for the sound of bats outside. We slept with the television on that night.