Mont Saint Michel: French Magical Surprise and a European Travel Gem
On the western coast of France, between the somber beaches of Normandy and the legendary seafood of Saint Malo, lies Mont Saint Michel. This place, as iconic to France as the Eiffel Tower, is a little village on top of a mountain (population:41), at the peak of which is an impressive monastery. The gates to the city close at night and only those who live, work, or have accommodations on the mountain can go through.
When my husband and I began planning our trip to France, we were told we absolutely had a to stay the night on Mont Saint Michel. When we looked into it, the cost was higher than we were hoping for, and we nearly passed up this amazing opportunity. As things happened, though, we decided to have three nights of “splurge spending.” Two of these, out of necessity, occurred in Paris (which is not a cheap city to visit), and the third splurge went towards a night on the Mont. We had no idea exactly how amazing that night would turn out to be. It is SO worth the splurge.
After checking into our room there was a little five-year-old style bouncing on the bed, (from the excitement of no longer camping), then we wandered back out to explore the town. Being a mountain, there are tons of stairs—the only difficulty we experienced there. We stopped in for dinner at a beautiful restaurant and marveled at the waiter’s success of single-handedly taking care of all the tables in the full room. Being foodies, the idea of a fixed price, four-course meal is is probably one of our favorite discoveries, and the one we enjoyed on the Mont was to die for.
After dinner was the real magic, though, as we went wandering some more. Our mistake was leaving our SLR camera behind and only bringing the video camera. We still kick ourselves for that decision. Trying to get as high up on the mountain as possible, to get a view of the lit-up city nearby, we climbed a couple flights of stairs to a look-out point. We assumed this would be the best we could get, since the monastery would surely be closed during this late hour. That is when we heard it… the sound of a cello playing beautiful music in the distance. After enjoying our view, we continued up the stairs, looking for a street performer or something of the sort.
We came to the entrance to the abbey and saw a surprising sign: Night Tours, Eight (Huit) Euro. The music was enough to convince us, and we were quickly on our way through the tour. As it turns out, (in July and August) each night, the abbey is set up with dramatic lighting and fantastic musicians. Throughout the building we sat and listened to talented individuals on the cello, flute, and harpsichord, their sound filling the large stone wings of the structure.The most incredible part, however, was in the cathedral at the absolute top of the mountain. The amazingly lofty ceilings, lit almost like watercolors with moonlight through the many windows, and right in the center, a harpist was giving one of the best concerts I’ve had the pleasure of attending. It was beyond perfect. Dennis and I both had tears in our eyes. Such an unexpected end to our night was overwhelming. We later came to learn that many historical and monumental destinations offered similar tours, and participated in one other at the gardens of Chenonceaux. Ultimately, the advice you should take from this is:
- Research as much as possible.
- Leave time to explore.
- Do the night tour!
If you would like to hear some clips of the music played in the abbey, or see some very silly, highly opinionated home video of our trip, please feel free to follow the link below. Please know that the first minute of it, (Dennis walking to our favorite NYC pub) is pretty low quality, but it gets much better.
Have you ever witnessed a night tour like this? or wouldn’t you just love to? I look forward to hearing your comments.
Originally published February 22, 2012