Brittany (Mt. St Michel) and Loire Valleys Travelogue

Mount St Michel

Mont Saint Michel is situated in the bay that borders both Brittany and Normandy, isolated by rising tides in the heart of an immense bay. For medieval pilgrims, the “paths to paradise” might be treacherous and rugged, with the unpredictable weather, rising tides, and strong chilly sea breezes. For us, the path to Mount Saint Michel had been a treacherous (and tedious) pilgrimage as well, as navigation in the city of Pontorson can be difficult if your hostel is not of convenient location. We walked on both feet for around 30 minutes (one way) to access the boulangerie, to the SNCF station, and on our way to the shuttles of Mount Saint Michel. Yet it is after these “pilgrimages” that we became immune to all distances, and the fellow walks in the rest of the journey was regarded as a piece of cake.

Mount Saint Michel was built in a 11th Century as a Romanesque abbey church by Benedictine monks, situated on top of a rock. Gothic features were added in the 14th and 15th Century, and the abbey served as a prison during French Revolution days. With its desolate location, the prison was well guarded with rising tides, offering the weak prisoners no means of escape to the shores of Normandy. It was also in the French revolution when the inner designs of the churches were demolished, thus the church lost it past glamor and was replaced with humble stone interiors with minimal decorations.

Situated between Brittany and Normandy is the Mount St. Michel. Above are the flags for the 2 regions pictured with the regional produces: calvados, cidre, and poire.

One interesting point of note is that the Benedictine monks and nuns (around 12 in total) built the abbey in the year of 966, left in the French revolution, and returned 1000 years later in the years of 1966. As Mont Saint Michel’s church required physical agility to navigate with the towering staircases and facades on top, the aging community moved out slowly after. The abbey is currently inhabited by a Jerusalem fraternity of monks and nuns, who pray daily in the abbey except for Mondays (their day off haha).

Loire Valleys

The Loire is a medieval tapestry, scattered with Renaissance jewels.” Aristocratic estates in the Loire are scattered both in the east and west side of the tourism base of the city Tours, along vast farmlands that produces the nation’s rich agricultural produce. Serving as the king’s hunting playgrounds and the queen’s political backstage starting from the 15th century, the Loire’s pivotal location (1 hour to Paris by TGV) manifests how closely linked it was to Paris since historical times. Today, the Loire region boosts vast agricultural produce ranging from fresh vegetables, fruits, and abundant fishery. Despite being clean and clear, quick sands and fast torrents in the Loire can be extremely dangerous, with multiple casualties each summer with youngsters caught unaware.

With one day allocated to the Loire valleys, we signed up for the full day tour offered by Tour’s tourism office that takes us to 4 Loire chateaus Amboise, Chambord, Van Gogh’s residence, and Cheneanceau. Transportation was convenient as we were shipped from one chateau to the next in the mini bus that seats 8, yet inadequate time was allocated to slowly appreciate the Renaissance architecture and beautiful royal gardens. Chambord the king of chateaus was grandiose in size, boosting 400+ furnished rooms and 300+ fireplaces.

Chenanceau the queen of chateaus stood out with a feminine touch, being passed on to queens who oversaw the construction and then held royal banquets and served as their pleasure palaces. It floats gracefully on River Cher with its elegant arches and feminine interior design. Most of the exhibitions for royal furnished rooms in the interior were in French, and I glimpsed at the introductions that were half-understood with their presentations in French as I navigated from one room to the next. With abundant agricultural produces, outstanding wines (red, white, rose, and sparkling), and rich medieval history that span across ages, I’d definitely want a second visit to the region, maybe revisiting the chateaus at a slower pace, biking around the region, or appreciating the town in another time with a better pace :)

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