Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel is an abbey built on an island that used to be isolated at high tide, established by a bishop after seeing a vision from the Archangel Michael (hence its name).

Why Did We Go?

Mont Saint Michel is one of those iconic places that looks fantastic in a photo, making it a must see on many people’s to do lists.  The idea of being able to see it, when we may never return to this part of France meant we had to visit.  We chose a day trip from Paris.  It was a very long day, with a three and a half hour journey each way, and four hours spent at Mont Saint Michel.

We were very lucky to have a good guide for this trip and her descriptions of the Mont and the Abbey were excellent.  A huge bonus was the headphones, as she could talk to all of us, despite the huge crowds and noise.

The Bus Trip

It was long.  It was boring.  The rest stop was at a roadhouse service station.  The sort of generic ones you see everywhere.  The queue for the toilets was huge and took most of the available time.  Trying to buy food and drinks was equally hopeless.  Fortunately, we brought our own, so were well supplied.

When you arrive, the tour has organised lunch in one of the restaurants.  If you are not on an organised tour, there a several places to eat before going out to the Mont.  There is a row of shops on either side of the road by the car park. These sell food and a wide range of souvenirs.  I would suggest eating here as the food on the Mont itself is overpriced (unless you really want to have a meal over there).

Shuttle Bus

There are two ways to get out to the Mont itself.  The causeway is set up for pedestrians, so if you have time you can walk.  However, there is a shuttle bus that runs across.  As we were with a tour and had to stay together, we all took the shuttle.  Well, we took two as the first was crowded and we could not all fit on.

The Abbey

The tour through the Abbey and ramparts was fascinating.  Without a tour guide, or lots of prior knowledge, we would have wandered around, but missed many points of interest.  The outside is just like you see in the photos, an Abbey perched on top of a small island.  The interior though is quite spartan, with most furnishings missing.  Without a guide, the function and history of each room would be a mystery.

Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel
The Abbey
The Abbey

The Village

Well, it’s more of a street and any similarity to Medieval times is the way the shop keepers try to swindle money out of you.  It is the typical tourist trap.  The street is full of gift shops selling poor quality overpriced items and restaurants selling overpriced food and beer.

The Village Street
The Village Street

The Ramparts

The Abbey’s walls are a place not to be missed.  The views across the bay and to the Atlantic are very good.  Walking around the walls also gives a great impression of how impregnable this would have been.  A great spot to take some spectacular photos.

What Did We Think?

We really liked the Abbey and its setting.  It is no wonder that it is UNESCO listed.  The bus trip however was too long.  What we should have done, was plan a longer stay in Normandy and combined our trip to the D-Day battlefields and our trip to the Loire Valley Chateaux.  We would have seed far more and spent less time on a bus.

Normandy and the D-Day Battlefields

Memorial Omaha Beach

To get to the Normandy D-day battlefields, we booked a bus trip through a well-known internet site.  The trip was 14 hours in duration, with about three and a half each way journey from Paris.  When lunch and other times are taken out, we had about four hours in Normandy.  The tour touched on most of the major D-Day sites, but only that.  We would have appreciated more time to explore for ourselves.  As a result, we would have enjoyed ourselves more had we stayed in the area and combined this with other attractions, or tours we did, such as Mont Saint Michel.

Why Did We Go?

The D-Day landings and battlefields are historically very important and seeing them first hand would give us a good understanding of what happened.  It would also allow us to see the American Memorial near Caen, where many of the soldiers are buried. 

Our holiday was on a tight timeframe, so we did not have the time to see all of Normandy and experience what it had to offer.  Instead, we decided to do the bus trip.  It would take us to the specific areas of interest for D-Day and we could see the other aspects of Normandy on a return visit.

Unfortunately, we re-discovered that bus trips can be hit and miss, missing some sites, or limiting time at them.

Caen Memorial

The Caen Memorial has film and photographic exhibits covering World War Two, with an emphasis on D-Day.  This was all very interesting and comprehensive.  We specifically liked the underground bunker that exists on the same site.  You are able to walk through it at your own pace and see the displays of how it was set up to control the German troops in the area.

D-Day Museum Flags
D-Day Museum Flags

For anyone wanting to know the story of D-Day and the preceding years of World War 2, this is an excellent place to visit.  You should probably go here before visiting the D-Day sites in the area.

Pointe du Hoc

This is the area where high cliffs with fortified gun emplacements overlooked the invasion beaches.  American Rangers scaled these cliffs on D-Day morning and disabled them, enabling the invasion to be a success.  Several of the gun emplacements are still intact, to you get to see a genuine fortification and what the soldiers had to contend with.  More impressive is looking over the cliffs to see what they had to scale before assaulting the guns.

German Bunker Omaha Beach
German Bunker Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach Today
Omaha Beach Today

The bunkers can be entered as well, so the viewpoint of the defending Germans can be seen.  The surrounding area has generally been left untouched. The effect of the allied bombardment can be seen with many bomb craters still visible.

Omaha Beach

We walked down to a spent some time on Omaha Beach.  From here we could look up to some of the cliffs overlooking the invasion beach, which would have been defended by Germans in 1944.  This perspective really drives home what the Rangers had to climb to reach the German fortifications.  The beach is very peaceful now with no signs of what happened over 70 years ago.  Some Americans in the group took samples of sand home with them.

Omaha Beach Today
Omaha Beach Today
Canadian Memorial Juno Beach
Canadian Memorial Juno Beach

American Cemetery and Memorial near Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer

This is the final resting place of nearly 10,000 members of the US military. The cemetery overlooks Omaha Beach, where many of them fell.  There are also the graves of many men who were killed in the surrounding area.  There is a stunning sculpture of a soldier ascending to heaven as you enter the cemetery.  This sets an excellent atmosphere for the rest of the memorial.  It is a very peaceful place, with the numerous rows of headstones set in beautiful gardens.  Many of the graves hold the body of an unknown soldier, with the inscription stating that they are known only unto God.

US War Cemetery Memorial Omaha Beach
US War Cemetery Memorial Omaha Beach
US War Cemetery Omaha Beach
US War Cemetery Omaha Beach

Juno Beach

Juno Beach is where a combined British and Canadian army landed.  The Canadian Memorial consists of a howitzer, and stylised sculpture of two soldiers and flags of the participating Canadian Provinces.  We walked on the sand, which was very peaceful unlike June 1944.

Memorial at Juno Beach
Memorial at Juno Beach
Howitzer at Juno Beach
Howitzer at Juno Beach

Arromanches Harbour

We had hope to stop here and inspect the remains of the artificial harbour, as it was on of the great planning and engineering feats of the invasion.  Unfortunately, being on a bus trip and constrained by time tables, we were running late and had to miss this part, so only saw it as we drove by.

This is one of the great drawbacks of participating in a bus trip.  An area of specific interest to you can be missed, and cut from the tour to circumstances.  Had we been travelling by ourselves, this would have been something we would not have missed.

What Did We Think?

What we saw was excellent.  From the Memorials to the fortifications and the beaches, we gained a great understanding of the events of June 1944.  If we had more time, spending more time in the area and not travelling back to Paris in the same day would have been better.  We would have combined this with our trip to Mont Saint Michel and the Loire Valley Chateaux.

Bus trips will always be problematic, as you can’t control who you go with, or the time-table if things go wrong.