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Mont Saint-Michel and seaside lunch

Once no more than a simple stone church atop a small and rugged island off the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is now a towering village packed tightly around the rocky outcrop. Winding cobbled streets lined with bustling restaurants and boutiques lead to a magnificent abbey, made all the more extraordinary by its remarkable location.

As you wander along the narrow streets and through the patchwork of Romanesque and Gothic buildings, you'll discover the long and complex history of this ancient monastic site and military garrison, its importance as a place of pilgrimage and power, and its vivid depiction of medieval church and village hierarchy.

This full-day tour begins at your hotel, where you meet your private guide and are transported to the mount. Although the island is surrounded by the sea at full tide, a modern, curving bridge links Mont Saint-Michel to the mainland. You'll take the public shuttle bus to the fortified island and make your way with your guide to La Merveille (The Marvel) on the northern side of the mount. You climb the steep and winding cobbled streets to the ramparts for far-reaching views and to begin your exploration of the abbey buildings.

The abbey gets crowded and there's little chance of avoiding the many visitors, but your guide will escort you through the rooms, picking the quietest spots to explain the abbey's extensive history and point out the many hidden emblems and best viewpoints.

When you reach the top, you have some free time to take in the views, catch your breath and appreciate how this place, more than most, possesses a real sense of significance.

Legend has it that the original church was built here in 708 by the Bishop of Avranches after the Archangel Michel appeared to him and bid its construction. You can still find a sanctuary dedicated to the angel at the very top of the summit.

The church expanded to house a growing community of Benedictine monks and to accommodate the pilgrims that arrived here in large numbers. It soon became an imposing abbey built in Romanesque and flamboyant Gothic style. A dozen or so monks from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem still live here, and masses are held in the abbey every day except Mondays, when you’re still permitted to enter.

Along with the abbey church, you can see echoing stone dining halls, beautiful cloisters, the Knight's Hall and an underground chapel. On your journey back down, you walk through the village past the highly expensive restaurants serving the traditional agneau de pré-salé (pre-salted lamb, fed on the samphire fields surrounding the mount) and await the public shuttle bus to drive you the short distance back to the car park.

From here, it’s an hour’s drive to a charming seaside town for a fresh local lunch with sea views, far from the crowds on the mount. After lunch, you're transported back to your hotel.

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Audley Travel specialist Aislyn

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