I never know what is going to ignite my travel curiosity. It can be an article in a magazine, a documentary, or a discussion with a friend. In the case of Mont Saint Michel, it was the latter. Some years ago, I was lying on a massage table at Balance et Harmonie Massage in Sarasota, Florida, as owner Nancy Bouffigny-Enmeier worked her magic on my sore muscles when she began talking about her childhood in Normandy, France. She told me about a Medieval church, built on a rock, just off the coast of France. When the tide came in, water completely surrounded the tiny islet, but outgoing tides laid bare miles of sand. Her family would spend warm summer days romping on the sand beneath the fairytale castle. By the time I rolled off her table I was itching to know more, so she pulled up a photo of Mont Saint Michel on the Internet. I was hooked; someday I would have to see this amazing place.
When I finally decided to tour France, Mont Saint Michel was at the top of my list. I hopped on a train to Pontorson, where I was met by one of the owners of Au Bon Accueil Gité, a lovely old three-story converted stone farmhouse in the country. The owners, Jane and Paul, are Brits who relocated to France a couple of years ago to escape the rat race. Paul’s story is much like mine.
My guide from the Mémorial de Caen Museum, Rosine Champion, leaned against a low seawall and held up photos of the giant rolls of barbed wire and semi-submerged iron hedgehogs that Germans installed on Omaha Beach during World War II to thwart potential invasions. Shivering in the blustery November winds, I pulled my army-green sweatshirt up around my ears and gazed over the historic strip of sand. Children played tag with the undulating tide and couples strolled hand-in hand. In the distance, a few tourists clustered around “Les Braves,” a remarkable sculpture by artist Anilore Ban that sweeps its balletic stainless steel wings skyward in commemoration of the more than 4,000 Allied troops who lost their lives on that fateful day in 1944.
“It’s hard to believe that this was a site of such carnage,” I remarked.
Champion pointed to an unassuming cottage on the opposite side of the road, tucked between sand dunes crowned with dense vegetation. “That’s the only house on Omaha Beach that survived the Normandy invasion,” she explained.” Gradually, families rebuilt and these days Omaha Beach is a very popular vacation spot with the French.”