From the Côte Fleurie to brittany
The beauti- and eventful days in Normandy were over and now it was time to say godbye. But we still had the second part of our trip in front of us and were curios what the Brittany region had in store. To begin with I can say: Mind blowing things. The cliffs aren’t as high as along the Alabaster Coast, but it offers really nice beaches and rugged coastlines. And in between quaint villages and lots of impressive culture. The Bretons are very proud of their celtic roots. You know: this small village at the end of the world that doesn’t want to give in to the Romans. We didn’t find this village but a ton of gems dating from this time.
Granville – birthplace of Christian Dior
From Trouville we still have to cross a part of Normandy in order to get to Brittany. It’s July 14th and therefore National Holiday in France. Traditionally this day begins with parades of the local police, fire fighters and other groups of the daily public live. They want to show that the „Grande Nation“ still exists. Accompanied are these parades by the local brass band and many people along the street waving flags. When we reach our first stop, Granville, the parade is over and we only see the brassband and several street artists along the streets.
The most famous son of this town is the designer Christian Dior. He was born here and was one of the reasons why we did stop in this town. Granville is also known for its mussels. Seafood lovers wil get them as fresh as nowhere else here. Especially the scallops that are being fished off the shore enjoy a great reputation. The town is divided in a lower town on the water and a upper town sitting high above on top of a rock. We park the car in the lower town and start our visit. It is already pretty quaint but on the other hand a typical French small town. In between the old buildings there are a few more modern buildings. There are a few nice shops and of course lots of bakeries.
Next to the yacht harbour we find a staircase leading to the upper town. the further up we get, the more impressive is the view. When we finally reach the top we find ourselves in an entanglement of small streets lined with old houses. The old town is framed by a historical rock wall and this is what we visit first. From here we have a fantastic view of the deep blue sea. It’s not really a surprise that summer visitors are coming here ever since the late 19th century.
What we didn’t see where nice sandy beaches but they are to be found close by. For example on the Chausey Islands that can be reached by boat in under one hour. Today we don’t have the time to go there since there is another highlight waiting to be explored by us. So we walk back to the car and stroll a bit over the flea market we find in the old town. While we descend to the lower town we enjoy the great view for a last time and off we go.
Mont-Saint-Michel – one of the most visited monuments in France
Our last stop in Normandy brings us to a place of which you most certainly already have seen pictures. About 2.3 million per year take a pilgrimage to this small rocky island with its abbey sitting in the middle of the tideland. You can see the church sticking out of the scenery from afar.
This sight is really very impressive. The fields with the alomst ripe grains and in between green pastures and above all enthrones this abbey that is a real stronghold. It’s not surprising that so many people want to see this. The view takes our breath and we wonder that the traffic is not as dense as expected on the raod leading there. As mentioned it is July 14th and the French love to go on excursions on this day. To our left and right we pass pastures where sheep are grazing. That’s one of the regional specialties. The pré-salé lambs that grow up on those salty meadows are know for their very aromatic meat.
So we continue quite a while through this fields with the architectural wonder always in view. Legend has it that archangel Michael appeared to bishop Aubert of Avranches and asked him to build a church on this rock, that was called Mont Tombe (tomb mountain) back in those days. First the bishop wasn’t interested in doing so but the archangel was insisting and visited him time after time. On his last visit he allegedly burned a hole in the bishops head and this helped. Soon there was a small chapel standing on top of the rock. And it developped into a place of pilgrimage. Which isn’t surprising since it sits on one of the breaches of the French Camino de Santiago.
We finally reach the huge parking lot on the mainland. Again we are surprised that on a public holiday there is so little traffic here. Before we start our tour of the island we take a look at the visitor center. There you will get a lot of information about the history and you can see a mock-up of the island. That’s very interesting. Untill a few years ago there was a dam connecting the island with the mainland. But this was the reason for the bay to silt up more and more and soon the island would have ben part of the mainland. So they tore down the dam and built a bridge that lets the water flow underneath it.
After a 30 minute walk we reach the middleaged gate and a narrow street behind it leading uphill to the church. This alley is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. That’s the way it is close to most well known sights on this planet. Some of the offered goods are clearly kitsch but here are exceptions to be found. And in some of the shops you can buy regional specialties. Yes, that’s very touristy but it offers quite some charme anyway.
We keep on strolling towards the summit and slowly get closer to the entrance of the centerpiece of the island: the abbey and the church. And that’s when we realize why there aren’t that many people around on this day. The employees of the public services are on strike and so many people probably thought that the entrance to the cloister and church would be closed. The opposite is the case. The doors are wide open and we get free entrance that day. We are happy about these unexpected savings and start exploring. A few minutes later we stand on an open space in front of th church and admire the great view over the ocean first.
The church has been stripped of all decorations and so we stare at the naked walls. Since the island has been used as a jail in the past, we guess that this is the reason for it. But the architecture is till very ipressive. The original chapel has been overbuild several times and can’t be seen anymore. In the course of time the flow of pilgrims has increased and so the church and cloister had to grow, what for topographical reasons meant that they had to use the old buildings as basement to get a bigger space. What you see today is actually the third floor. So it’s not surprising that during a visit you will have to descend stairs every once in a while.
So we keep raoming the middleaged hallways and discover an old garden. This really is awe inspring. After our visit we buy a sandwich in the „Grande Rue“ and slowly walk back to the car. I would say that one should have seen this rock once in a life. Even when you are not that religious. The architecture alone is most impressive. If you want to read more about Mont-Saint-Michel you will find there website here.
Saint Malo – the bucaneer town
Our final destination for today is Saint-Malo. The town is surrounded by fortifications made of granite and it looks pretty impregnable. In the past it was filled with bucaneers that were tolerated by the king while pirates were the real outlaws. Hard guys that looted adversed (in those days mainly English) ships. Our hotel was situated a bit away from the old town right on the beach promenade and was a bit difficult to reach by car. On the third try we finally find our way through the entanglement of one way streets.
After making us a bit at home in our room we start a first walk. Along the promenade it takes us about 15 minutes to reach the old town. It’s early evening by now and there still are quite a few people on the beach. After we have reached the fortifications we procure a first general view. In the evenings sunlight the old town looks rahter cozy but when it’s raining these houses made of granite must be somewhat depressing.
After the walk along the city wall we stroll a bit through the old town. We realize that there are many English pubs but not that many cafés that you can usually find on every street corner in a French town. It’s a bit by coincidence that we find the living quarters of Duchesse Anne de Bretagne. She did live in the middle of town not even protected by a huge gate. Looks like she was close to her people. Unfortunately there is no table available on the terrace of the legendary hotel France Chateaubriand. That would have rounded up this day perfectly. A special treet on a special day.
So we are looking for another restaurant and enjoy a excellent meal anyway. By now we would be tired enough to go to sleep but it’s the 14th of July and we don’t want to miss watching the fireworks on the national day. It will be fired portside behind the old town. There are millions of people around. We are lucky to find a spot with a good view of the show. And this is even more impressive as the ones I have seen beneath the Eiffeltower in Paris. A mixture of music, fireworks and lasershow which is sensational. After the show we do return to the hotel. We will be spending a few days here and can return for another visit. In the end our tight schedule didn’t allow us to come back which was a shame.
I will talk about this schedule in one of my next posts…..