Tour de France – Day 1 (Nantes and Mont St. Michele)

*I started a post on the day of the visit to Nantes and Mont St. Michele, but the interwebs are spotty in France so pardon my pre-dated posting*

Sunday morning was the first day of our tour of France. We were feeling pretty good about the schedule we’d worked on— making sure to hit highlights (and do them justice) in just a week’s time. A tall order, I know.

We woke up in Nantes early Sunday and began our journey to explore the region that anchors the west end of the Loire Valley. I had a few things on the list to see and do and first up was the Château des ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany). The castle was of course huge, with a giant courtyard immediately inside its walls, but the best part was the moat; it had floating ‘people’ in it (all dressed in suits because apparently businessmen are not allowed inside?) ducks, turtles and fish keep them company. We toured around for a bit, stopped for a pain au chocolate and headed to Passage Pommeraye, a large shopping esplanade. Sadly, nothing was open (it being Sunday and all) and so we made our way to Place Graslin, which we quickly realized was completely under construction. Bummer. Too bad, because all of it looked interesting and like good places to hang out, people watch and meander.

Not to be defeated, the last tourist-y item on our list was a giant elephant. You heard right. A giant elephant. One that is 12 meters (about 39 feet) high and sprays water our of its nose if you get too close. We wandered to the Machines of the Isle of Nantes, which is this cool project that has transformed an old ship-building yard into an exploritorium, of sorts, specializing in all things mechanical. We thought that the conversion of the old shipyard warehouses was a pretty cool concept and pretty solid homage to Jules Verne (a native of Nantes) and Leonardo da Vinci (who spent his final days in the Loire area).

After finding a cafe for a quick lunch, we headed back to the hotel to get our car and head towards Le Mont St. Michele.

Though we hadn’t planned on it, it worked to our benefit to arrive at Mont St. Michele in the evening—a Sunday evening was even better. We checked into the hotel around 5 and napped settled in before finding a great local spot in Pontorson for dinner. Dave found Le Grillon which was a complete win. (If you click on the link to the restaurant, our table was right in front of the “fireplace”!) Galettes and crepes are the specialty of Normandy and I should have listened to Dave and ordered the specialty of the region. His magret de canard (duck breast) galette was delicious. My entrecôte and frites (steak and fries) wasn’t bad, but I could have been writing this post as someone who has eaten a duck galette with gizzard butter…and liked it and that would have been a way better story. Instead, the taste I had of Dave’s dinner will teach me a lesson for next time.

After dinner, we headed up the road to Mont St. Michele. This was something on Dave’s list of things to see in France and I’m glad we went. I’m exceptionally glad we went on a Sunday night around 8:30pm. Only a handful of tourists were still roaming around (the abbey had closed for the day) which gave us a chance to really explore. Since it is situated right on the English Channel, the tides can sometimes make the area unreachable, except via a causeway which has been recently limited to official shuttles and vehicles, due to the construction that is going on, so we hopped a shuttle and began to take as many photos as we wanted. Even in the overcast gray, the view is absolutely stunning. The green trees were almost a blue-gray against the contrast of the green apple-colored fields that could been seen way off in the distance. On the other side, and closer to the Mont, streams of water cut softly through the gray sand. Despite the cold, we spent a good, solid 2 hours trying to see every vantage point of of the property and of the land around. Once we felt we’d captured and explored as much as possible, we headed for home, with the goal of returning first thing in the morning to see the abbey when it opened. I’ll include those photos with the next day’s post, but the view from the abbey was even more amazing that the ramparts we’d explored the night before and I’m quite happy to have my ‘good’ camera back with me to (attempt to) capture it all.