Classical Music in Mont St Michel

Thursday, November 10, 2011
Before we visited France a couple of summers ago, I had no idea what a big tourist attraction Mont St Michel was.  I had seen photos and knew it looked glorious.  We specifically drove that far west, just so we could see this beautiful abbey on an island.

Basically built on a mountain of rocks that juts out of the water, MSM was built in the eleventh century and served as an abbey for hundreds of years.  And over that time, it was often used as a pilgrimage site by the wealthy until the abbey was closed during the French Revolution.  Converted to a prison, it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that a group (which included writer Victor Hugo) petitioned the government to declare it a national monument. 

What I also learned is that it’s an incredibly popular tourist site.  In France, only the Eiffel Tower draws more visitors.  The difference is that the Eiffel Tower is in the middle of an enormous city, is served by a number of local Metro stops and can easily be walked to from any number of places in the city.  MSM is in the middle of the countryside, on an island that can only be reached by a single causeway.  So yes, it’s busy.  In fact, the advice that I kept reading was, don’t even try to visit during the daytime.  Plan your visit for earlier than 8 am or after 5 pm, and you’ll minimize the elbow-to-elbow nature of your visit.  You’ll also get a parking spot without a one hour wait.

True to form, we showed up a little past 5:00.  The car traffic reminded me of Disneyland.  The line-up to get one of those parking spots was only surpassed by the stream of cars passing us on the way out.  It was hard to believe that there were that many people in France, let alone at the abbey. 

But we found a parking spot and started the half-hour walk across the causeway.  It rises so imposingly from the water that we were constantly stopping to take another gorgeous photo.  When we arrived at the island, it was still packed with tourists.  Rather than rushing to the abbey, we decided to meander through the crooked streets, check out the shops, and have dinner first.

So by the time we arrived at the abbey at the top of the mount, we were doubly blessed.  Yes, the daytime crowds had thinned out.  We didn’t have it to ourselves, but rather than marching in lockstep from room to room with a legion of determined tourists, we could enjoy the serenity with just a few others.

The true gift, though, was that during summer evenings, Mont St Michel engages a few young classical musicians to play their instruments.  Not only were we seeing this gorgeous monument when it was less busy, but the music of Bach and Vivaldi made it truly magical.  As we walked through the ancient corridors, we would first hear faint strains that gained in strength as we neared the musician.  We approached each room to find a soloist on the flute, harpsichord, cello or violin.

We paused in one room, watching the light magically stream through the side windows.  The thousand-year-old stone walls were cool to the touch, belying the heat of the day.  The music was simple and haunting, as if it had been written for the abbey itself.  And the pensive melody wafted through the air, filling our hearts with the miracle that is Mont St Michel.


38 comments:

Kayte said...

You have the best tips and stumble upon just the right amount of fun always! Very nice post...enjoyed every word and read it twice already! :-)

nancy at good food matters said...

lovely post. I can only imagine the sound of the cello resonating throughout those domed stone rooms. indeed a special experience.

Joanne said...

Wow, wow, wow! What a gift for those musicians given the opportunity to play music in such a beautiful locale, and a gift to you too. It must've been magical.

Carol said...

What a beautiful place! The sound of the music in the Abbey and the beautiful location, must have been just heavenly!

Gloria said...

is beautiful and magic!!! I love the pictures! gloria

insidenanabreadshead said...

Mont St Michel is on my bucket list. When I return to France (fingers crossed), it's first on my list to see. What a remarkable place!

Belinda said...

So awesome! I wish I saw this BEFORE I went there this summer - now on the list. Beautiful photos.

Valerie said...

I'm in love with the cello, I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to hear it played in such an enchanted place. :-)

yummychunklet said...

Wonderful post!

Dulce Dough said...

What a beautiful place to visit! How wonderful to have musicians playing as well!

Susan said...

How absolutely stunning, Beth. I've always wanted to visit MSM so appreciate the advice. I'll bet it's more beautiful in the evening light, too.

sally said...

Love these photos! I'm ready to go visit!

Mary said...

Beth, I'm afraid I won't be able to keep reading your blog. You fill me with longing to see these fantastic places. I think I need a bucket list just for travel hopes and dreams. I imagine that your writings alone could fill page after page for me.

This sounds absolutely amazing. What a treasure.

LDH said...

Wow! The photos and your words of description are wonderful!

Bonnie said...

Beth, The abbey is absolutely breathtaking up on the mount. What a treat to have the chance to tour such a lovely monument, but also hear wonder music. I can only imagine how magical it must have been. I am living vicariously! Hugs!

Bonnie said...

Sorry, it should read "wonderful" music:)

Delishhh said...

Wow - sounds magical and like a fabulous vacation!

laurie said...

Love reading your posts! Sounds awesome!

Linda Hoye said...

Beautiful. I am imagining what it must have felt like to be in this place listening to the music. Peace, wonder, awe, is what I'm thinking.

Claudia said...

It's all perfect, Beth - the sounds, the sights, the light streaming through the window. Now I am greedy for more - but I love the glimpses through your eyes.

tenaciouslyyours.com said...

I think the music just sounds like such a wonderful finishing touch! So very personal to the space and for the musicians.

I'm just astonished, mostly, that I didn't even know this place existed until now. It will be added to the top of the list of places to visit next time we're in France. The advice about timing has also been noted.

Aldy @ Al Dente Gourmet said...

Breath-taking place, Beth! Love every single pic. It looks so magical... Lucky you :)

HUGS <3

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow! Beautiful!!! Your photos are fantastic!

Miriam said...

I would have loved to have heard that beautiful music :), Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

Elaine said...

What a truly blessed time you must have had with the music floating around you as you walked through the rooms. I just especially love that first photo.

Sara said...

Wow, gorgeous photos! I would love to go here someday!

Christina Lee said...

Wowee-- so magical!

sweetandcrumby.com said...

I can't wait to get to travel more. That is such a beautiful place and what an amazing night to be there among the classical musicians. Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

Jeanne said...

What a powerful experience! Such a gorgeous and unique setting for the musicians.

Rita said...

What a lovely and interesting post; it sounded like a unique and reverent experience.Merci.
Rita

Joanne said...

Beautiful pictures! I've heard of Mont St. Michel before, so that means it must be kind of touristy :P

I love that the have musicians playing! I feel like that must really add to the atmosphere.

Monet said...

Just lovely...what a wonderful experience you had. Ryan and I are planning a trip to France in May and reading your posts about traveling make me excited for our own discoveries. Than you for sharing!

Lizzy said...

Thank you, Beth, for the fabulous tour of this breathtaking site. It's on our list of places to visit this summer...and I'm glad you forewarned us about the crowds!

A Canadian Foodie said...

What a beautiful post. I have been here. I will never forget it and you have breathed new life back into the memories that were lost somewhere in my mind. We didn't hear music while there, but I am hearing it now!
Thank you!
:)
V

Reeni said...

How eerily beautiful! The music must of really made it all the more unforgettable. It is quite an imposing sight!

Sweet Pumpkin said...

This sounds so wonderful. I can remember my trip to Paris a few years ago and was deeply put off by the thronging crowds everywhere but this sounds wonderful and to see something outside of Paris is great. Something alot of tourists probably don't do.

Michelle Teacress said...

How I would love to be a fly on that wall - not only for the beautiful sounds, but also for the people watching. :)

comfortablydomestic.com said...

*swoon* Mont St. Michel is at the top of our places to go. How wonderful that not only did you see it with the gorgeous setting sun streaming through the windows, but with live music, as well.

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