A tour of Brittany – from Mont St. Michel to St. Malo

From Fougères we drove to the place we would be staying at near St. Malo: a charming castle called “Château Hotel du Colombier“. We came into the park surrounding the castle and saw it, pink and magnificent. When we came in we were warmly welcomed by a very kind and attentive lady who was most helpful during our stay. She gave us the key to our room and it was really lovely with large windows overlooking the lawn and the garden trees. Being very tired we decided to have dinner at the hotel and it was a splendid choice: not only did we have a table at a directory overlooking the garden, but we ate a delicious meal as well; it was perfect. Among the fish I ate I immediately recognised a familiar taste, only to discover it was haddock, a fish much used for breakfast in South Africa and Mozambique, which I hadn’t eaten for many years!

This hotel located in the middle of a park strongly reminded me of another “castle hotel” where I had been many years ago: Culcreuch castle, near Loch Lomond, in Scotland (mentioned in my post” Blue mountains and monster lakes”).

On the following day we went to the famous Mont St. Michel, which is really in Normandy but so close to Brittany that some maps show it as in Brittany and all guides about Brittany include it. Like most old places it has a mysterious story. It begins when Aubert, the bishop of Avranches (France) received the visit of the Archangel St. Michael, who ordered him to build a place dedicated to him. The bishop did nothing as he thought he must be going mad. Again the Archangel appeared with the same order and again Aubert did nothing. During his third visit the Archangel made a hole in Aubert’s skull (apparently causing him no harm, as he only died several years later) and finally Aubert complied and had a small chapel built on the rocky islet that would take the name of Mont St Michel from then on. This was in the 8th century, and two centuries later works began on the Benedictine abbey, which was enlarged to its present form during the 16th century. During the French Revolution Mont St. Michel became a prison.

Mont St. Michel is a must in any visit to the area, but unfortunately on the day we went there it was crowded! We approached it by the coast road and it was lovely to see the islet emerge from the sea in its unique shape. But when we parked the car we could see hundreds of people were going there as well. We walked through the bridge for about 40 minutes but when we got there we could barely go in, as there was a crowd coming down, and another going up, through a very narrow gate followed by a very narrow street. The place was entirely medieval, with the exception of the shops and cafes and restaurants on both sides of the street, but there were too many people and we could hardly make any progress. After much effort we made it halfway to the top and realized there was a huge queue to visit the Abbey, so to our regret we gave up and went to see the ramparts instead. The view over the bay was magnificent. I was sorry not to see the abbey but by now I was fed up with all the crowds, men, women, children, babies, baby prams, old people, disabled people….I could not imagine how they managed to find their way through the narrow streets and steep steps!

On our way down we entered the beautiful small St. Peter’s church and stopped at a small shop for some souvenirs. When we came out there were hundreds of people leaving as well but as many going in. We waited for some time at the navette queue but the worst was when we got to the car park and had to wait for more than half an hour to pay for it at the automatic machine!

When we finally left the area we sighed in relief. The word to describe our day in Mont Saint Michel was “pénible”, a French word meaning “painful”. It is really a beautiful, unique place in the world, but impossible to enjoy with so many people there. Maybe some other time…

On our way to the hotel I made a point to see a large standing stone called “le menhir du champ- dolent”. Apparently the name of the place has to do with the pain caused by two brothers fighting each other. The menhir is huge, some 9 meters high, and exactly the shape we imagine when we think of a menhir. It’s imposing, and the only one in that area.

In the evening – a quite cold and windy one – we went to St. Malo. I was impressed by the city, the old part is really beautiful with its “intra murs” (meaning walled city) part, and the ramparts have a unique shape. Before dinner we walked the old streets and I really wished I had more time to explore it. St. Malo has an incredible story: as a city it always strived for independence, in such a way that – in the 14th century – it declared itself independent from the Duchy of Bretagne and remained so for some time, answering only to the king of France. St. Malo sailors were known as corsairs (in fact much hated by the British) and the city’s story is closely linked to the sea. A charming and interesting city I would have liked to get to know better.