Nate‘s Grand Voyage Journal — Day 31

“I went to a beach & Layer in tidal pools. And I played in the tides. I got to hold a jellyfish.”


Day 31 – Travel to Mont-Saint-Michel

The time remaining in our trip was dwindling. We ended our stay in Saint-Malo with more cream-filled beignets for breakfast. One more drive through the cobblestone canyons of the walled city to pick up our luggage, and we were off.

We headed east, taking the scenic roads along the seashore, eschewing the main highways completely. We eventually turned down a a side road to Notre-Dame du Venger (Our Lady of the Orchard). Here was a small maritime church, still in active use. From there we walked down to the channel, for more surf and more tidal pools. Nate loved it, of course.

On our way out, we stopped at a little stand for lunch. I had a croque monsieur and an Orangina, and the rest of the family had sandwiches. It was a run-down trailer, little more than a shack, and the bread was better than Panera Bread in the United States. It doesn’t matter where you get it; there’s just no bad bread in France.

Back on the road, we traveled through the resort town of Cancale, and continued on the coast until the road pulled away. It wasn’t long before we reached our destination of the day- Mont-Saint-Michel. We left most of our luggage in the car, making do with suitcase and day packs. The shuttle bus then took us across the causeway to the city.

Mont-Saint-Michel has been a sacred site for Christianity since the 8th century and the site of an abbey since the 10th. The abbey sits on a mountain top on an island in the middle of an extensive mud flat. Twice a day the tides roar in (“faster than a galloping horse”) and cover the mud flats. Only the causeway remains, and a few times per year even that is submerged. For many decades the causeway interfered with the natural currents in the bay, but they just finished an elaborate engineering effort to restore the bay over time. The causeway is now a bridge, and they fill up a dam full of water to aid in flushing out the silt.

Our guidebook warned us that the island was pretty touristy, and our initial impression confirmed that. Our hotel, ridiculously priced- not many rooms on the island- opened up to a pretty courtyard, and was away from the bustle. Lots of steps to get there though.

We dropped off our stuff and walked the ramparts. Great views across the bay. We searched in vain for a bar overlooking the water where could get a drink (really? Silly French!). We eventually just found a spot off the Main Street. Probably worth noting that the entire island is car-free, and the main street is about 8-10 feet wide. With stairs.

Dinner was in a lovely outdoor courtyard. I had a famous “frothy omelet” as a first course. They were traditionally made very rapidly as meals for pilgrims who had to eat and run before the tides came in. Traveling here across the mud flats was very hazardous before the causeway was built! The main course was lamb (excellent), followed by cheese and Creme Brûlée. All quite good.

Nate and Dorinna went to bed, but I went exploring instead. Mont-Saint-Michel at night is simply magical. It’s all lit up and most of the tourists have left for the mainland. The only ones still awake were romantics and photographers. I must have walked around the city taking pictures for over two hours. It’s a maze of stairways, passages, ramparts, balconies, parks, and cemeteries. I felt like I was walking through the set of a Harry Potter movie. Truly magical, and one of the highlights of France.

Le Grand Voyage — Day 29 (Bicycling in Brittany)


The bicycle delivery was an hour earlier than expected, but it all worked out fine. The bicycles were… pretty outstanding, actually. Much nicer than the junkers we rented in Amboise (more expensive too, but completely worth it). The hotel staff helped with translation.

For breakfast, we had what the French called beignets, and what we called creme-filled doughnuts. Filled with sugar, but oh-so-good, they are baked hollow and then the creme is injected inside; you choose your flavor. I couldn’t eat this every day, but it was nice for a change.

We started to get our bikes ready when an older British gent came out to say hello. He had an apartment facing the same courtyard as our hotel. We chatted about our destination, and he took one look at our awful, awful map and went inside to fetch his own. He gave us detailed instructions on how to ride to Dinan, our destination for the day. While we still had our share of troubles, his advice and his map were invaluable.

So we set off and immediately got lost. Saint-Malo is a beach town, there was a lot of traffic, and the shoulders of the road were not especially big. It was a little nerve-wracking. Our friend had miscounted roundabouts, and it took us awhile to navigate correctly. In fact, the first few miles were one course correction after another. I was especially stymied by my attempts to cross a major highway, and maps, both paper and computer, weren’t helping much. Eventually we crossed underneath the highway, and then followed it on a frontage road for a short distance. And then, finally, open road.

It was hot and the hills were frequent but the scenery was very nice. We cruised through a nice village and then dropped down a very steep hill. It had taken us too long to get out of the city, and the unexpected hills were slowing us further. We weren’t going to make it to Dinan. Instead we dropped down to the beautiful coastal town of Saint-Suliac. Like any seaside village in America- just replace the plywood beach house shacks with beautiful stone buildings and cover the place with flowers.

We found a little roadside stand with food. I chowed down on a galette with ham, egg, and cheese, along with fries, a sparkling water and lemonade. French lemonade isn’t like American lemonade- it’s carbonated, and much tastier than the bland so-called “lemon-lime” sodas of America. It was a refreshing stop.

The hills felt longer and steeper on the way back, but at least we knew the way. Once we were back in Saint-Malo, we followed the roads directly to the coast. We stopped to hike on a trail alongside the water. It was a dense jungle path, but led to an interesting area of beach. Once back on the bikes, we hugged the shore all the way back, which was much more interesting than the busy inland roads.

We ate dinner at Les Voyageurs, a seafood restaurant in Saint-Malo. I had fish, rice, and cider, Nate had mussels, and even Dorinna had a fish burger. That night I walked around the ramparts, taking pictures and watching the sun slowly sink into the Atlantic.

This day wasn’t as much fun as biking in Amboise, but I still enjoyed it a lot. I can definitely see myself doing a multi-day bike trip across France in the future.

Le Grand Voyage — Day 28

To understand Brittany, think about Maine, with the following differences:

  • Every small island or large rock offshore has a fortification on it
  • The beach towns are walled cities
  • Mussels and cider replace lobsters and beer
  • They speak French

Other than that they are exactly the same.

We had a breakfast of pastries and coffee in a small park, and then went out to play in the ocean. As we arrived, the tide was going out, and a causeway was mostly uncovered to the rocky island of Le Grand Bé. We checked out Piscine de Bon Secours, a walled-off swimming area. The wall keeps water inside at low time. Nate played in the water a little bit and then we poked in tide pools. By then, the causeway to Le Grand Bé was clear, so we followed it and explored the island, which was covered with grasses and shrubs, wildflowers and ruins. Great views back at Saint-Malo. 

There was a second island farther out, Le Petit Bé, with a fortress on it. Like Le Grand Bé, a causeway went there. With about 90 minutes to low tide, this one was clearly impassable, and would remain so until an occasional super-low tide, a few times a year. There was a even a guy swimming over the causeway.

But the water was a a Caribbean blue, so we played in the water while we waited to see how low the water would drop. Well — that’s curious — that woman is 1/3 of the way across and it’s not quite up to her waist. 

 I noted the position of the waves, and a few minutes later noted it was going out at a rapid rate. I started to wade across the causeway. Slowly. Slowly. I stopped when the water was waist-deep — a bit concerned that a rogue wave and strong currents would pull me out to sea. Then I took a few more steps, and a few more, and then… I was on the other side. Huh. Now that’s interesting. I went back and we waited a few more minutes before picking up Nate and attempting to carry him. More people were crossing now, and I was surprised to note the water was only knee deep.

We explored the tiny castle for a max of 30 minutes before deciding to go back to town for lunch. 

Our feet stayed dry as we walked on the rock causeway… Turns out that the tides in this section of France are among the highest in the world.

Nate was disappointed at the lack of escargot in Brittany, but cheered up when we noticed buckets of mussels on street-side tables. I looked up “How to eat mussels” on the Internet, since I had never had them before. I didn’t really want them, but I couldn’t let the six-year-old show me up, so we both tried them. And both loved them- they became Nate’s default food in Brittany. For my main meal I had a bacon, egg, and cheese… galette. And washed it down with a cider. 

After lunch, I went in search of rental bikes. The first place I walked to had no tag-a-longs, and no English speakers. The second place didn’t have an address and when I called there were again no English speakers. I solved this conundrum by going to the tourist information center, and having them translate for me. 

Finished with the errand, I returned to the beach, where Nate and Dorinna were frolicking in the waves together. The tide was rising, and the amount of beach was decreasing. We were all pretty tired, so we went back to the hotel to shower. We decided to mix it up for dinner and go out to a pizzeria. I had a pizza with tomato sauce, peppers, chicken, onions, and… curry. I missed seeing that last ingredient on the menu. If you are thinking that sounds different and interesting and might be quite good, let me assure you that it was not. It was my worst meal in France, albeit partially my fault because I chose it. I say partially, because Nate’s plain tomato sauce was pretty substandard as well. I washed it down with a local beer (meh) and a local cider (good).

Satellite image of Saint-Malo and the harbor. Petit Bé is the island on the far left.