Sometimes when I begin entries such as the following, I have to struggle to convey how fully indescribably beautiful the sight was without being a mini-Rick Steves. The two places I have to tell you about are so fantastic that the only way to truly appreciate them is to visit them yourself.

Our rented car!

I hopped in a rented French car with my Italian friends Maura Talozzi, Valentina Graziosi and Stefano Laboni. I will tell you up-front that I was scared brainless because of several reasons. I was 1) traveling to a place I’d never been with 2) people I hardly knew 3) in a car driven by Italians who have a bad reputation for driving habits. I was thrilled to find that all my worries were completely irrational as we drove 140 km (about 90 miles) to Saint-Malo and Mont-Saint-Michel laughing and speaking in French and Italian.

A panoramic shot of Saint-Malo. (Not work by yours truly!)

Saint-Malo, an ancient city in Brittany, is tucked into protective walls that look like a medieval take on inner city housing. The ramparts are no longer used to keep people out, and we rambled alongside the beautiful walls to gaze on the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel (Mont-Saint-Michel Bay). The city is home to more seafood restaurants per capita than any other place in the world, and Maura and I longed for les huîtres (oysters) when we smelled the sweet, salty air coming off the baie.

We enjoyed our lunch in a park surrounded by ancient buildings and hungry birds and then said au revoir to Saint-Malo, headed for Mont-Saint-Michel!

Beautiful lady! My friend Maura, perched on the ramparts of Saint-Malo

Beautiful aqua water of Saint-Malo and Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Ramparts of Saint-Malo. Right behind what looks like rowhouses is centre ville (downtown)!

Situated just between Brittany and Basse-Normandie, there is a small island that until about the year 700 AD was called Monte Tombe (Tomb Mountain). Work began on a monastery after the Archangel Michael appeared to the Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches. In 933, William Duke of Normandy (and later known as “the Conquerer”) annexed the little island and its monastery. Ducal patronage helped expand the monastery for many centuries following the Norman Conquest (which was depicted by the Bayeux Tapestry and in which Mont-Saint-Michel has a prominent role!). [Click here if you need a refresher course on William the Conquerer and his cool tapestry!]

Beautiful, beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel by night. (I did not take this picture either!)

The abbaye has resisted invasion after invasion over the course of its 1,300 year existence. Its natural fortification of water, quicksand and unnaturally fast-moving fog-cover and tidal swells seem to be divinely placed. In the Hundred Years War, although the English failed to capture the abbaye itself, they did capture the area and granted safe passage to pilgrims in exchange for payment. People of all walks of life paid homage to the mountain and its safety, many drowning in the quickly rising tides, sneaky quicksands and strange weather patterns associated with the area.

Warnings posted on the beach about the quicksand and quickly-flooding high tides.

The walls and streets are steeped in history as are many places in France. Molly said it best when she said in response to one of my offhanded remarks, “Well yeah, Kelli… France is fairly tripping over itself with history,” which I remembered with startling clarity when I tripped numerous times over the ancient, hand-laid cobblestone steps and streets of the village. The village of Mont-Saint-Michel has a grand population of 46 people. While most of the workers in the dozen cafes and tourist shops live in Pontorson, a small city 6 miles south of the Mont, a few people actually live right on the Mont itself along with a few monks who live in the abbaye.

Mont-Saint-Michel, the way I saw it today.

The busy cobblestoned streets packed with pilgrims, tourists and very overpriced omlettes!

The landscape is marked by very gently rolling collines (hills), dotted with the black-faced sheep and dairy cows who lazily roam les collines and the damp marshes. The sea that soaks the land twice a day at high tide makes the ground naturally salty and in turn grows tangy, salty grasses. When the sheep graze, they themselves become salty. Therefore, it’s completely honest to say that every Breton shepherd has a herd of bona  fide pre-seasoned lamb chops roaming around on the marshes of Mont-Saint-Michel, completely oblivious to the fact that their diet of grasses is making them one of the most sought-after dishes in Brittany!

Looking through the ramparts of Mont-Saint-Michel to the salty marshes below

Me, overlooking the marshes and the Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Look at all those sheep!!

While I got to know my new friends the Italians and said “O la vache” (“holy cow!”) and “très joli!” (“very pretty!”) more times than I could count, I found that there was no place on earth quite like Mont-Saint-Michel. The sun warmed my back and danced across the water in the baie, the wind kissed my cheeks, and I watched les goellas (gulls) drift lazily on the updrafts from the sea. I was perfectly, 100% contente and thankful.

To learn more about Mont-Saint-Michel and its almost limitless history lesson, get a lamb-chop and click here.

To learn more about the beautiful little port town of Saint-Malo, click here.

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