During my last trip to France, my friends and I visited Paris, the French Riviera, wine country, the alps, and the Tour de France. The one place we didn’t visit was northern France, and I’ve wanted to go there ever since. And now that Inna and I are back in France, now was the perfect time to visit!
There is tons to do in northern France, but the two activities we were most interested in were Mont Saint-Michel and Normandy Beach. We spent a day at each location, plus some time at the nearby cities of Bayeux and Rennes. Here is our first post about these destinations, this one on Rennes and Mont Saint-Michel!
This is the main square near where we stayed in Rennes. This square was so awesome, filled with food and music and lots of young people. And the buildings, straight out of the middle ages, they were amazing!
Our favorite part of our stay in Rennes was our Airbnb. We had the most amazing hosts; they were so fun and sweet, and the guy far right was into movies! That’s all we talked about, that and their trip to California, which was only a couple months before our visit. And politics, we also talked politics. And New York vs Chicago pizza. They also made dinner for us and introduced us to their neighbors, where we ate and drank and had a great time. We love France! We love Airbnb! And now we have new friends!
Even though we really enjoyed Rennes, we didn’t go to Rennes to explore the city. We went because of its proximity to one of France’s most spectacular destinations: Mont Saint-Michel.
Mont Saint-Michel in its current form was built in the 8th century, although fortifications have been located on this “island” since ancient times. This island, which is actually only an island during high tide, was ideal for military operations: low tide prevented naval sieges while high tide drove off attackers on land.
Inside Mont Saint-Michel’s walls, we were treated to a quintessential medieval village. Since Mont Saint-Michel was never captured (the British tried several times) everything inside is in great shape. In fact, people still live in this town and the businesses are still in operation, although they have been modernized and sell modern things.
Some of the views from Mont Saint-Michel’s walls. Every viewpoint in every direction was breathtaking.
In addition to being a spectacular fortress with spectacular views in a spectacular location, Mont Saint-Michel also features a spectacular abbey, one of the oldest and most famous in the world. The abbey currently is in operation and has been continuously since it was built, except for a brief period after the French Revolution.
The abbey church, like so many in Europe, was tall and gorgeous and breathtaking. This church was built using Norman architecture (left and center) but when the back wing collapsed in 1421, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style (right).
In addition to its power and beauty, Mont Saint-Michel is also an incredible feat of engineering. Above are two examples: the left shows angled walls that let maximum light in, and the right shows staggered support columns that maximize strength while minimizing materials and visual obstruction for this part of the building.
Mont Saint-Michel was never captured by an enemy, but it was captured by the very French who built it. Seen here is vandalism done by revolutionaries during the French Revolution.
Finally, no visit to Mont Saint-Michel is complete without venturing to the coast. Standing here, alone in the water, was one of the most peaceful and spiritual experiences I’ve ever had; I wish I had a picture that captures it but I don’t.
That finishes our Rennes and Mont Saint-Michel visit, although there are many more pictures I could post. But we’re not done with the northern France yet; up next is Bayeux and Normandy Beach!