Mont Saint-Michel rises up towards the sky, strongly contrasting with the bay that surrounds it. It’s almost as if the buildings have been stacked on top of each other over time to build higher and higher. Mont Saint-Michel is in fact surrounded by the bay at times as the area has a high tidal range much like the rest of the coast to the west. The island can become completely cut off and left stranded with the sea swirling around it. At low tide however, the sea retreats far into the distance allowing you to access Tombelaine on foot and obtain a very different perspective on the Mont.
The Mont is named after the monastery originally built atop it in the 8th century. If you’re feeling a bit of déjà vu there is actually a similar Mount Saint Michael in south-west England. The tides once offered the Mont some convenient defences, but otherwise they transform the landscape with two very different appeals.
The modern causeway to the island was demolished to allow the sea to regain it’s natural swirl around the island so all visitors (only the nuns get to drive right up) either have to walk from the mainland carpark or take a free shuttle (though the shuttle is paid for by your parking). Arriving at the front of the Mont either way is quite impressive.
If you quickly skip past the tacky shops that have been setup at the bottom and go a little higher you can start to appreciate the old buildings that house them and the views over the city walls. It costs about €9 to explore the abbey, the linked gardens and it’s courtyards. It’s worth doing so, but if you’re all churched-out after spending a while in Europe you can always still explore some of the gardens around the outside the lead around to the gift shop.
If you don’t want to eat at the tourist settlement outside the Mont you can continue south along the D976 and check out Le Restaurant de la Gallette or head straight on to Pontorson. We ate at Le Relais Gascon and had some great food and cider there.
Assuming you haven’t been stranded at Mont Saint-Michel and assuming you have your own transport you can visit the Chapelle Sainte-Anne. It’s a quiet little spot along the D797 and on a nice day you can line the chapel up with Mont Saint-Michel. In the surrounding fields you will find Bretagne’s famous salted lamb. The lamb on the coast here eat a lot of grass covered in sea spray and so they are that little bit more tasty.
If you continue along the D797, keep following the coastline to find Cancale where a large portion of the bay’s oysters are grown. At low tide you can see the farms to the left of the wharf and tractors heading out to claim their crops. Cancale could also be a nice place to stop for a crêpe or a dozen oysters if you haven’t eaten. Breihz Cafe is a short walk down the promenade is also a great place for galettes and crêpes.
There’s one more place you can stop to see something a little different just near the town of Rothéneuf. If you’re driving through the town you should see signs if you head along the Rue Abbé Fouré towards the coast. What you’re looking for are sculptures carved into the cliff called Les rochers sculptés de Rothéneuf. It’s an interesting spot to sit in the sun and contemplate what might have been a busy day.