A friend of mine always teases me that St. Bartholomew’s Church in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria on the Königssee is merely a figment of my imagination. He attributes it to the pilgrimage church’s onion-shaped domes and picturesque location nestled on the lake and surrounded by the Alps. It is easy to understand where his joke is coming from. Others surely would identify King Ludwig’s Neuschwanstein as a fantasy castle. Even Disney is said to have borrowed the castle as inspiration. And with its opera-themed rooms, it is a living, breathing poem to dreamers.
For me, however, the island Mont Saint-Michel earns the labels of fantastical and incredible. Located just over a third of a mile (only 600 meters) from land in Normandy, France, Mont Saint-Michel is cut off, part of the time, due to tide waters. It is like a castle rising from the water.
History of Mont Saint-Michel
In reality, the island in northwestern France is home to a medieval monastery that, to this day, less than fifty people call home. It is easy to understand why the remote and rather secure location was selected in the 8th century. It is said that the Archangel Michael told a local bishop to build a church on the rocky island. The strategically located island also served as a prison under the rule of Louis XI. A French Alcatraz, perhaps?
Visiting Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is located roughly four hours by car from Paris. Once there, visitors can today take shuttle buses or hike out to visit the monastery — recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage location along with the surrounding bay — when the waters are low enough. I’m not sure which is more impressive: the thought of standing on the mainland and admiring Mont Saint-Michel or actually getting over to the island and wandering around its steep, meandering streets and finally getting to the top only to look out over the area. The island’s church is still active and celebrates mass regularly, six days of the week.
The rock island might be a little far for a day trip from Paris. But with proper planning, it is a sight and a site simply not to be missed. That is why I have added Mont Saint-Michel to my Must See List.
Looking for more Must Sees? Check out previously featured locations!
Top photo is courtesy Normandy Tourism (Jérémie Eloy Wanaiifilms.com). Bottom photo by Mathias Neveling (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.