By Jim Ferri
On the southwest coast of Normandy near Brittany, France’s Mont St. Michel is world renown.
Beautiful and idyllic, it’s built on a huge rock that is entirely surrounded by water at high tide. You’ve likely seen it in magazines, advertising, and, perhaps, a movie.
We finished our road trip to Normandy staying overnight in a Mont St. Michel hotel on this beautiful island.
It was a mistake, one that I hope you won’t replicate.
Don’t get me wrong – Mont St. Michel is well worth a visit, especially to the incredible monastery at the top of the island. It’s a spectacular place with great historical significance. But many of the island’s hoteliers, restaurateurs, and even tourism officials have ruined the experience. This sentiment was also shared with me by a Frenchman in the hotel business.
It’s been ruined because on the island at night you’re part of a captive audience. There’s no need to treat you respectfully or find talented chefs. After all, why spend the money when the customer has no other place to go?
At our Mont St. Michel hotel, L’Auberge Saint Pierre, we had to climb seven flights of stairs to reach our small room, after walking a hundred yards or so up the steep cobblestone street. Thankfully, the woman at the desk helped us with the luggage, knowing my wife was recovering from a knee operation.
Our Mont St Michel Hotel: “Would You Like Pizza for Dinner?”
The hotel’s restaurant was uncomfortable, the manager and servers surly. In France, the epitome of gastronomy, when we were seated, we were told they had a new chef who was Italian and asked if we’d like pizza or pasta for dinner.
We opted instead for two different lamb dishes since in our individual experiences we’ve found the French often superbly prepare them. Both of ours, however, were tough, over-cooked, and lacking flavor. My wife commented it was the worst meal she had ever had in France.
But there’s another problem if you’re driving to your Mont St. Michel hotel. A new causeway was constructed several years ago, which now, thankfully, protects the local environment. All cars are relegated to a series of hidden lots a mile or so away.
There you board a trolley bus that transports you to Mont St. Michel.
Well…not quite to Mont St. Michel – it stops halfway across the causeway, where everyone is told to disembark. From there you must carry your own luggage 1/4 mile to the gate and then up the steep street to your Mont St. Michel hotel. There are no carts or porters to help anyone.
I’m not suggesting that you don’t go to Mt. St. Michel. In fact, I think you should, if just to experience the magnificent monastery that crowns the island.
I’m suggesting that in lieu of staying in a Mont St. Michel hotel, you instead stay in one of the little hotels on the other side of the causeway. Hotels should also be less expensive there. And in the early morning, before the crowds arrive, you can come across and have the island (almost) to yourself.
And one further benefit: there are also restaurants there that compete on quality and price. You can likely even find a nice dish of lamb…