A day to remember… ! A granitic island in the middle of a huge bay under the influence of Europe biggest tides, where in 708 the Archangel St Michael (St Michel in French) ordered Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, the construction of a sanctuary. This is how Mont St Michel was born ! The first monastery was replaced by a Benedictine Abbey in the 10thC where the monks prayed and welcomed the pilgrims coming to adorn the archangel, in order to earn their right to go to heaven.
The “builder-monks” never stopped adding constructions century after century until they were chased away by the French Revolution in 1791. The magnificent abbey then became a prison !
In 1864, it was added on the list of French Historic Monuments, and it was restored before being opened to visitors. All of them are surprised by how audacious the architecture of the Abbey is, like suspended between earth and heaven and how beautiful are the rooms of the “Wonder”, the Cloister, the Church. There is a breathtaking view from the top that is worth the number of steps you have to come up ! Your guide will let you understand the symbolism of the architecture in this “book of stone”, going through the different rooms, one more incredible that the other. You might meet one of the monks of the new community who settled here a few years ago, and hear their Gregorian Chants vibrating in the church at the time of the mass. Your guide will also take you through the narrow cobbled streets around the village, with granite or half-timbered houses. Wander along the top of the fortification wall, built during the Hundred Years War, when Mont St Michel became a medieval castle.
Comfortable shoes recommended: a lot of walking, and many stairs !
Even though the visit of Mont-Saint-Michel seems like a full-day already, we should have enough time left available for another stop along the way! You will be able to pick one out of list down below of suggested sites that we know are worth a visit.
Nicknamed the « Capital of the Ruins » after the war, the martyred city during the Normandy campaign has kept rare old monuments : a portion of the city wall, the scarred gothic church Notre Dame, the church Ste Croix with its new bell tower…
Being the strategic road junction for all communications in the area, it was a major objective for the Allies after D-day. It was captured on July 18 1944, after long and costly combats.Major Howie, commander of the 3rd battalion, 116th Regiment had promised to his men before they launched the assault that he would be the first one to get downtown… He was killed by mortar shrapnel during a decisive attack for the liberation of St Lô, necessary success before Operation Cobra (breaking out of the German lines) could start. Major Howie’s body, wrapped in an American flag, was carried by his men to the town center, and put down on the ruins of the church Ste Croix. Nicknamed the “major of St Lô”, Howie was buried in the Normandy American Cemetery, but a monument and a round-about have been dedicated to him here. His sacrifice is also commemorated in the chapel La Madeleine, restored after the war and turned in a Memorial to the American soldiers. The national horse stud-farm of St Lô, created by Napoleon I, is worth a visit : “pampered” in order to keep the best quality for each breed, about 40 stallions are at the disposal of private owners for reproduction at reasonable price. The informative tour will let you understand how important horses are in Normandy, as the first region for horse breeding in France.
Built on a hill overlooking the bay, it’s from Avranches that started the history of Mont StMichel : the bishop Aubert, was visited by the Archangel St Michael in 708, ordering him to build the first sanctuary on the island.
This town became famous because of the Breakthrough of the US Third Army, led by General Patton on July 30th and 31st 1944, opening the way to Brittany. After a picture of the Patton monument, you can go to the public garden, from where the view to the bay and Mont St Michel is outstanding (in good weather…).
If you have the time, go to discover the precious Mont St Michel Manuscripts, stored here at the time of the French Revolution, and displayed nowadays in the Scriptorial.
Fond of craftsmanship, you will discover here manual techniques almost forgotten in the rest of the world. Villedieu has developed since the middle ages as a town of copper craftsmen and there are still a few craft shops in this charming little city of old granite houses.
They perpetuate an ancestral skill, recognized by a lot of specialists : handmade copperware has unique qualities that are impossible to reproduce with the industrial one. The chefs of some of the best restaurants in Paris only want the saucepans and frying pans in Villedieu copper.
But, there is also in this little Norman city, one of the last existing craft companies of traditional bell’s production : the Bell-foundry Cornille-Havard.
Their last big realization : eight of the nine new bells of cathedral Notre-Dame of Paris that will replace the old ones, damaged, for the 850th anniversary of the monument.
Your guide is opening the doors of the alive history of Normandy.
Small town built along a large avenue leading to the Château.Built between 1626 and 1636 by François Mansart for Jean de Choisy, it was a very good example of the Louis XIII style. It is well put in value by French-style grounds with parterres of boxwood drawn by Le Nôtre.
Jean de Choisy, the first owner, was the chancellor of Gaston D’Orléans, Louis XIII brother. The château still belonged to his descendants, the Balleroy family, until 1970 when Malcolm Forbes (Forbes Magazine) bought it. He restored and refurbished it and came with his family and friends to spend good time here.
Passionate about Hot Air Balloons, he also transformed the ancient stables into a Ballooning Museum.
After the museum, your guide will open you several rooms, the most beautiful ones of the chateau, all furnished and decorated with paintings, wood panels, frescoes…
In the 6th C a monastery was founded in the Cerisy Forest by St Vigor, bishop of Bayeux, but it was destroyed in the 9th C during the Vikings raids. Robert the Magnificent (father of William the Conqueror) decided to build on the same spot a Benedictine Abbey in 1032. The Abbey suffered the damages of History, there are only a few remnants : the church, where three spans of the nave are missing, and a 13th C building, including the chapel of the abbot, a miniature version of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Though it’s not complete, it is considered as one of the best example of the Norman architecture, and because of its size and its beauty definitely a work of art !
You will be first impressed by the vision of the nearly millennial Abbey at the top of a hill, in the middle of green countryside.But your breath will be taken away inside by the pure and sober architecture : just a few columns rising to the top, very few ornamentation except some elegant capitals. The “Caen stone” with its golden color creates a special atmosphere.
Founded by the Romans in the 1st C, the city became a bishopric in the 4th C. Bayeux was one of the major towns of the Dukedom of Normandy.
The cathedral was built along centuries, mostly in the 11th and the 13th C. At the origin of this impressive building is Odo, bishop of Bayeux and William the Conqueror’s half-brother. He probably also commissioned the famous Bayeux Tapestry a230 feet long embroidery. Nearly one-thousand years-old, it tells in pictures why the Duke of Normandy wanted to invade England, and how he won the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
In World War II, after 4 years of German Occupation Bayeux was the first town of importance liberated by the Allies the day after D Day. Unlike most towns of our region, it was liberated intact…
After the visit of the cathedral and the Tapestry Museum, your guide will lead you through the medieval streets flanked with old houses, some of them half-timbered. You might see the last lace-makers at work in the “Conservatoire de la Dentelle”, or visit the new Baron Gérard Fine Arts museum.
Don’t forget to pay tribute to the nearly 4700 troops at rest in the British Cemetery, or more exactly Commonwealth Cemetery.