Saturday, 16 August 2014

The NEW Mont-Saint-Michel

 It's been over three years since I first visited the famed monastry on the border between Brittany and Normandy, in France. Things have changed. The approach has changed and the countryside is changing due to a massive engineering project to restore this UNESCO world heritage site to its 'original' condition.

 For some time this maritime site has been threatened by the advancement of silt and sand. This encroachment is natural but human activities have increased it to the point where le Mont was in danger of losing it's unique maritime character. The French government, Europe and local government have almost completed a massive engineering project to restore it's sea charm. The project was launched in 2005 and is set to be completed next year, 2015. The idea is to put the Mont back in phase with the tides (surprising in themselves) and to provide better welcome conditions for tourists.

There are several parts to the project:
The Dam
The old dam at la Caserne had been replaced by a new structure which combines the strength of the river Couesnon and the sea to flush sediment away. This dam has 8 valves, a promenade deck and a maritime balcony to offer great views of the Mont.
Hydraulic Developments
Part of the Couesnon River has been diverted and rock formations that prevented the river flowing correctly have been dismantled.
New Access
The current causeway from the end of the 19th century will be removed, freeing the Mont from obstructions. A new causeway feeding pedestrians and shuttles is now in operation. It's 1000m long.
Car park
 A new 4100 space car park is located 2.5 km away and replaces the one (now removed) that was close to the monument and rather an eyesore. The new park is planted with vegetation that will eventually hide the cars from views from the Mont. There are regular shuttle buses leaving the park for the Mont. Although these shuttles have no charge, car parking is not free.
Environmental protection
Some heritage species such as the parsley frog, hedgehog dogtail, European eel and the Brant goose are subject to specific monitoring. There is also monitoring of the effects of the new engineering structures and this will continue after completion of the project in 2015. The aim is to have the monument surrounded by the ocean at high tide, becoming once again, one of the seven wonders of the world.

The day we visited was beautifully sunny, in peak tourist season. The narrow alleyways in the old town were packed. Beware that you will need to climb lots of stone steps, even just to purchase your entry ticket to the monastry. While this may be a tad uncomfortable the exercise does do you good and there are plenty of opportunities to stop and rest. Don't expect to see furnishings in this 1000 year old monastery. It's spartan.

How did they get supplies up to the top without navigating all those steps? There's a chute and a wheel. By the way, this wonderful place was used several times throughout history as a prison though I don't suppose most of the prisoners had views or good treatment in this isolated spot.

This year is the centenary of the start of the first world war and so I often encounter commemorations of some sort in France. A parade of persons representing types of army personnel from Great Britain occurred the day we visited.

Photos are self-explanatory, and myself with my daughter Laura.  See a short video of Mont-Saint-Michel and this renewal project on Youtube.

Check out my Mont-Saint-Michel experiences and information from 2011's blogpost here View from the Top


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