There are some places on earth that really are a fairy-tale come true…
The second time I ever visited Europe was part of a school trip to London, Paris and then a bus tour through western France. Being trapped in close confines with 19 other teenagers for ten days was not necessarily a pleasant experience but I’ll never forget the landscapes and landmarks we saw and experienced.
The most memorable for me was Mont Saint-Michel. Located just off France’s northwestern coast in Normandy, the tiny island is one of France’s most recognizable landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since ancient times the island has been a stronghold and the monastery which gives it its name was established in the 8th century AD.
After a day of chateau-ing we arrived just before the island disappeared into the darkness of night.
We had already planned to get up early the next morning to explore but couldn’t resist driving out for a quick look before calling it a day.
Having slept for what felt like five minutes we were up and out first thing to see the sunrise…unfortunately, the weather had other plans.
An overcast sky, ferocious winds and freezing cold greeted us and made the half hour walk from our hotel out to the Mont rather…brisk.
…and quite monochrome. It was very 50 Shades of Blue.
We passed exactly two other people on our journey out as every other tourist in the area and the 44 people who actually live on Mont Saint-Michel were safely (and smartly) still warmly tucked up in bed.
But it meant something really special…we had the Mont entirely to ourselves.
Well, us and that guy ^
We wound our way through the streets and alleys climbing ever higher…
…and enjoyed the views from the windy ramparts.
We had planned to spend a good chunk of the day there but as it was so empty we found we’d seen everything except the abbey in no time at all. At that point we had a decision to make – wait in the cold for two hours until it opened or sneak in a side trip to Saint-Malo.
Never ones to pass up the opportunity to explore further we decided to go for it and so wound our way back down through the still quiet streets taking in the silence and peacefulness of temporarily inhabiting our own little world.
Finally accepting the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing any real sunlight we took one last look before heading back to the mainland, hopping in the car and speeding west.
As soon as we arrived at the walled port city of Saint-Malo we went in search of breakfast and then climbed up to see the sea view.
We didn’t have a ton of time in Saint-Malo so had to settle for a brief wander. It was still quite early (funny how the day stretches when you get up before it’s even begun!) so we managed to see quite a lot in no time at all.
From Saint-Malo we headed back towards Paris but left ourselves time to stop at Juno Beach to take a moment and reflect on the courage of our fellow Canadians who landed there on June 6, 1944 as part of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France during WWII.
We also stopped in at the Juno Beach Centre – a museum designed to tell the story of life in Canada before the outbreak of the Second World War as well as Canada’s military and civilian involvement in the war effort and how this has impacted Canadian society in the decades since. It was staffed by some very lovely and helpful fellow Canadians and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area!
As well as the indoor exhibits there are bunkers from the war you can tour as well as memorials to all of the Canadian soldiers who fought and died on this beach.
It was a rather emotional end to our journey but amazing to see and totally worth the wind chill and frost bite!
All in all I think it’s clear that we enjoyed an AMAZING week in France. I’m already plotting when we can go back!