Well, that was a whirlwind trip! Him outdoors, my better half who loves to surprise, woke me one random, wintery Saturday morning saying he’d packed an overnight bag and we are off on an adventure. We hopped into the car and headed from London to Dover to the Eurotunnel, then off to who-knows-where. The only information revealed was that it was a ‘big drive’. I do love a road trip.
Our first stop on the continent was an innocuous aires de service, a French motorway service station, for coffee and a croissant to set us up for the trip ahead. The French take their baked products and coffee seriously, so even a lowly service station serves up decent fare.
Next stop was Rouen, just in time for lunch. Rouen is an imposing medieval city that Victor Hugo described as ‘a city of a hundred spires’. It was host to one of the most infamous events in European history: the trial and execution of Joan of Arc in the 1500s. It now houses the Joan of Arc Museum – well worth a visit. If you find yourself in Paris and need an escape from the hustle and bustle Rouen is only 1-2 hours away by train. Having devoured scrummy savoury crepes and enjoyed a brisk stroll around town (note to self: stay longer next time) we were back on the road.
I’m sure I was driving Marco crazy with my child-like ‘how much further?’, ‘just give me a hint’ and ‘are we there yet?’ Then, with dusk drawing in and no obvious end to the hours of driving, Marco let out a chuckle. He had spotted something. He chortled again and, smiling broadly, pointed at some lights on the dark horizon… A town, maybe? No – it seemed too high on the horizon. A town on a hill, maybe?
We drew closer and a distinct silhouette began to form – one I recognised from the lid of a biscuit tin of all things! (Yummy biscuits called Butter Galettes, named after baker Joseph Galette, who first made them in 1905). We were heading to Mont-Saint-Michel!
Mont-Saint-Michel is iconic with its imposing abbey atop a granite outcrop that can only be reached at low tide. A very popular UNESCO World Heritage site (1979), built over many centuries from the 8th century when the Gothic Benedictine abbey was built followed by the medieval village which surrounded the base built between the 11th and 16th centuries.
After settling into our hotel 5mins from the mount we headed to the water’s edge to take a closer look. It was pitch black, sleeting and the tide was up, so we decided not to risk wandering across. We made plans to return early in the morning.
After such a long day on the road we were famished so wandered into a quaint little restaurant to sample some regional fare. Naturally Marco had researched local establishments and pre-booked dinner to avoid disappointment. We thoroughly enjoyed a traditional dish of local marsh lamb with greens, absolutely mouth-watering, and topped off the meal with a glass or two of calvados.
We were up early the following morning raring to explore. Mont-Saint-Michel is a fascinating place with winding roads full of little bistros, obligatory tourist traps and boutique hotels occupying ancient buildings. None of this modernity spoils the ambience, though, as the history of the place is so overwhelming – it genuinely feels like you’re in medieval times.
We puffed our way up the mount treading across the many, many granite steps. It’s a decent workout but you’re well rewarded by the abbey and utterly spectacular views at the top. Priests in flowing robes still hold services at the abbey and we were fortunate enough to encounter a service in full swing. We respectfully ambled around, haunting choral music adding to an already ethereal scene. A very special place indeed.
Time was short – we were only in the area for 2 days including the drive there and back to London, but it was such a memorable trip. I heartily recommend Mont Saint Michel to anyone wanting to be steeped in French history while enjoying wonderful culinary delights.