Mont Saint-Michel is the most visited tourist site in France outside of Paris, and this historic place of pilgrimage is in danger of losing its maritime identity as an island surrounded by quicksand- but never fear, the French government is here, and ready to spend 164 million dollars to ensure that this legendary monument is preserved and done so in the right way.
Mont Saint-Michel is found just off the northern coast of France, right in between Normandy and Brittany. For hundreds of years was a premier pilgrimage site in Europe, along with Lourdes and Chartres. Today it is still an extremely popular destination, and travelers from all over the world come to see the evolution of Western architecture in the flesh, for you can literally trace your steps from Romanesque to High Gothic and everything in between. The Mont only has one very narrow road inside the massive complex, and in the peak summer months, this singular lane is packed to the gills with modern day pilgrims in search of historic architecture and the famous omelets of Mere Poulard.
Traditionally travelers had to cross over quicksand under the thread of rushing tides to get safely behind the ramparts the Mont, but today tourists can drive right up to the front door thanks to a causeway built from the mainland. And therein lies the problem. The causeway was built over a hundred years ago and was never meant to be permanent, but still it remains- and this bridge is trapping silt and river dirt that would have otherwise been washed out to sea. Today, there is a real danger of Mont Saint-Michel becoming part of the mainland, and losing its historic island character.
However the French people and the government of France are not going to let that happen. A massive effort to undo the damages and create a thin bridge instead of the massive causeway is in progress; in the future travelers will not be able to drive or bus right up to the front gate but rather will have to walk or take a shuttle from the mainland, about a mile away. It is predicted that by 2025, the land around Mont Saint-Michel will once again retain its historic character of quicksand and rushing tides surrounding an impregnable island.
In the meantime, you can visit Mont Saint-Michel and walk the ramparts, visit the cloisters and the scriptorium, and push your way through the tourists. As a former guide to the Mont, I would suggest going in the off-season, or if you can’t swing that, spend a night within the ancient stone walls. Most tourists are on day trips from Paris, and when they leave at night, you will find yourself in a quiet, almost spooky relic of medieval France, with plenty of room to meditate or gaze out over the causeway that will someday soon be gone.
Photo by Afloresm at http://www.flickr.com/photos/afloresm/2093721431/