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March 05, 2017

Mont Saint-Michel, France

"A magical island topped by a gravity-defying medieval monastery/ For centuries, the dreamscape of gothic Mont Saint-Michel has lifted the spirits of visitors."

Europe and castles - we've all seen those incredible pictures on Instagram or heard about the amazing stories in history and the castles that just always seem to be in the background. Well, with Alex in Rennes for a study abroad semester, we found ourselves in some pretty unreal settings.

Exhibit A: Mont Saint-Michel.

We drove north (just over an hour by car) from the provincial (Brittany) capital city of Rennes through some dreary fog and into the farmlands of France. If you're ever in the country you'll notice a lot of the dairy products (milk, eggs, cheese) will have the Bretagne (Brittany) mark on them. This meant some lush fields, lots of animals in the pasture and some beautiful old farmhouses - you wouldn't have to twist an arm or a leg to convince me to live in one.

We went through some very small towns and then through the haze off in the distance, a castle that appeared to be perched up in the mist and clouds started to appear. As you can tell from the picture above, the surrounding area is super flat which gives you the chance to see for miles...past all the green grass and grazing sheep & horses.

From here we drove the remaining distance to the multiple parking lots where you leave your car and catch one of the continuous buses that are the only vehicles allowed to drive across the causeway to the island of Mont Saint-Michel. This takes you past some hotels, shops and restaurants toward this incredible spot! I can't come close to describing how amazing it was driving toward this centuries old castle set atop an island, it was truly breathtaking.

We walked through the gates to this mythical place and were instantly shocked by how many other people were around and how narrow the streets (alleyways) were! It was so cool and unique to me. We explored and gradually made our way upward through the island town and toward the monastery. We arrived in the early afternoon so it was quite difficult finding somewhere for the four of us to grab some lunch but we managed to find a hotel (about €200/night per person!) with a nice little restaurant - it was delicious too!

With full stomachs we headed upward to the monastery. Up windy paths, countless stone stairways and out of the shadows cast by the stone walls surrounding the city. The higher we got, the lighter the crowds and the more space we had to take in all the sights of this incredible spot.

Once you get above the stone walls you can walk along them and get a better appreciation of the town below that you've just walked through. The views of the surrounding ocean and tides, which are some of the most extensive in the area, are so worth the climb. Once you reach a certain height you're kind of cut off like a dead-end but can choose to pay (about €7-8) for access into the monastery and to higher vantage points. We did this and it was well worth it! 

The causeway across the water, looking back from Mont Saint-Michel.
We explored until it was just too cold... -5 to -10 in France is a completely different cold than we get here on the East Coast of Canada, which might not sound right but believe me it is. We're used to the ocean breeze and winds keeping us cold but in northern France, the cold is just still. We then backtracked through the town and down toward to causeway where we caught one of the early evening buses back toward the tourism office and the parking lots. As if the place could be any more magical, the twilight of the early night coupled with the lights that were setup for the holiday season, were spectacular. 

It was hard to leave this beautiful place but after a long day of walking and climbing, we were ready for a drive. We headed back to Rennes and our quaint hotel in the city but had an amazing day exploring this unbelievable castle in the North Atlantic Ocean.

If you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods, do yourself a favour and take the extra time to go and see Mont Saint-Michel. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed!!

As for me, the MBA program I am now in means I'm pretty far behind on the posts of our adventures but will do my best to get caught up...we've had some pretty memorable moments since this! :)

- KC

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