Norm’s Britain and beyond… 2017 – Episode Nine

Thursday 21st September 2017

This morning we were up and away for our visit to what was described by Back-Roads as one of the premier tourist attractions in France. And as it draws up to 3 million visitors a year that claim seems justified. Using the back roads on which the tour company was named, the 60 km semi-coastal drive to Mont St Michel’s huge and dedicated parking area took a little over an hour. In the olden days, it was possible to drive all the way to the site, park relatively close and make your way on foot across the causeway. But since 2014, this is no longer possible and all visitors have to take the free shuttle bus, pay for a horse-drawn wagon ride or walk the last 3.5 km via a bridge to the island.

Mont St Michel, Normandy – Horse-drawn transport
21 September 2017

By the time we arrived at the carpark the queues for the shuttle buses were already building and it was nearly half an hour before we could board. Whoever operates the service must have based the busload capacity on the same principle as applied to the Sark toast-rack wagons because each shuttle did not leave until no more could be squeezed in.

But none of this could take away from the iconic spectacle we were able to see from some kilometres away right up to the gates. And, as those of you who have been there will remember, once through the gate it’s a different sort of spectacle as you walk through the quite long uphill section with nothing but shops, restaurants and a lodging or two. This gradually peters out and it becomes more of what I had expected as a fort and monastery, but much to my dismay – or that of my legs and lungs – the way up became steeper and the steps higher. As a result, I have to admit that, unlike three couples in our group, I didn’t make it to the Abbey itself. Be that as it may, I can see why the site has such appeal and regret that the few photos I managed do not do it justice.

Mont St Michel, Normandy – Opportunities for Retail Therapy abound on the Pilgrim’s Path
21 September 2017
Michael the Archangel – Maxime Real del Sarte
Quite appropriately at home at Mont Saint Michel, Normandy
21 September 2017.

Photos: My visit to Mont St Michel, Normandy – 21st September 2017

The three hours that we had there was ample – even for the intrepid climbers amongst us – and by the time we left the bridge was thronged with the incoming hordes. I’m glad we were as early as we were.

Next on the agenda was the truly French picnic lunch Tony had promised us. And true to his word it was no time at all before we were at our secluded countryside picnic area. Here, willingly supported by the group, Tony and Bill set the two on-site tables with the Gallic fare they had prepared for us while we were mountaineering. It could only be described as a feast – consisting as it did of a range of meats, cheeses, salads of varying kinds and the obligatory crusty bread. And all accompanied by our choice of champagne, red and white wine of the region, local beer and cider and, for those interested, Calvados. I was – and it certainly lived up to the description I read later “Calvados, silky, fiery, wondrous”.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our alfresco French picnic – for which, “Thank you” Tony, Bill and Back-Roads.

Needless to say, a number of the picnickers indulged in a bit of “shut-eye” on our way to our last stop for the day, Dinan. Described in the Tourist Office brochure as “one of the most attractive and best preserved small towns in Brittany, with its long ramparts, half-timbered houses, attractive port and cobbled streets, it’s worth a day of anyone’s time.” Apart from not having that amount of time available to us, the weather had changed from that perfect for a picnic – sunny and mild, to imperfect for the half-hour guided walk planned – wet and watery. Whether because of the Calvados tasting or the Mont St Michel climb or the weather, I was one of two in the group who decided to shelter dry and warm in the Coach. While this wasn’t said, I had the feeling from the others on their return that some of them wished they had done likewise.

Tonight, because of the change of our hotel to a less than walkable distance, our “taste of classic French cuisine at a traditional restaurant” had to be held in-house and while very nice didn’t quite live up to the Itinerary description.

Friday 22nd September 2017

When we visited the Mont Orgueil on Monday last, I couldn’t believe that a castle could be bigger or more impactful. How wrong I was, Chateau Fougeres was just that.
Helpfully equipped with audio guides we were each able to work our way around what can truly be described as a monumental fortress in our own time and pace, and that is what we did.
But before the photos that may do it justice, courtesy Tourisme Bretagne, a little of its history:

“There has been a castle in Fougères for more than 1,000 years as this site, on a promontory sheltered by hills and surrounded by marshes, was identified by the Duchy of Brittany as the perfect spot to defend its lands from the French. The current castle dates from the 12th century and consists of three enclosures whose walls are dotted with towers: the most impressive being the Mélusine Tower.”

I must say I found it all of it impressive.

Chateau Fougères, Fougères, Ille-et-Vilaine
22 September 2017

Photos: My visit to Chateau Fougères, Fougères, Ille-et-Vilaine – 22nd September 2017

On our way to our next scheduled visit, Sainte Suzanne, we paid a brief visit to the site of what must have been a substantial Roman town in Jublains. Other than the ruins of the temple, the very large site has no surviving buildings but the wide open grassy, park-like space is dissected by grit roads, which mark the position of roads that would have divided the urban part of the town.
The temple itself was built between 66 and 120 AD and, with an outer wall measuring 78 metres on each side, must have been huge.
Little remains now other than lower sections of the columns that surrounded the temple.
I regret to report that none of the photos I took survived, nor for that matter, did those from Sainte Suzanne, the last on the list of our visits for the day.

Billed as one of France’s most beautiful villages, I am at something of a loss to see how it earned this accolade. Although I did take a few photos, they were of the countryside surrounding the village rather than anything in it – and I was not alone. For me, anyway, it didn’t meet the expectations I had of it having visited another “most beautiful” village, Rochefort-en-Terre, in 2013.

As it was our last night together, we enjoyed a scrumptious farewell dinner, the French-worded menu for which I somehow or other have mislaid. So, without the enhancement of the French, I savoured a Potato and Leek soup, a Lavoursome Lamb Shank (alliteration intended) and a creditable Crème Brulee. All this was accompanied by a glass or two of wine from the region and, not surprisingly, appropriate words of thanks and toasts to Tony and Bill for their parts in making the tour the success it was. A later than usual night for all of us – but, in the circumstances, why not?