The road was built only recently. For over a thousand years, visitors to the city of Mont Saint-Michel had to travel by boat, or wait till low tide and walk across from the mainland. The former was regarded as the safer of the two options. Due to geological quirks, the tide around the sometimes-island changes by as much as 14 meters on occasion, coming in with the speed of a galloping horse.
This is dangerous in itself, but the come and go of seawater has left the entire area around Saint Michel an expanse of quicksand. Walking around the island, it is apparent that if a group were walking in a line, the third or fourth traveler would probably find himself stuck in the sand. Toma tells me that a few people are lost every year to the quicksands and the tide.
It is much safer up on the island, a city built on a tiny mountain. All around us, shops, restaurants and homes are squeezed around and occasionally on top of one another. A maze of stone staircases – some massively wide, some small enough for just a single person – litter the city, leading visitors upward to the abbey and cathedral at the top.
Roofs pitch in every direction, and walls surround tiny courtyards belonging to residents of the island. Racing upward, picking staircases at random, we find ourselves at the top, looking out on the Couesnon River that marks the border of the Normandy and Brittany regions in France.
The point was once quite strategic, and from the height, it is easy to tell that it was built for defense. Off the east side, there is a small island where the English would wait out the tide to attack the island, only to scurry back in the face of the returning sea. The entrance to the city displays two bombardiers left by the fleeing English, retrieved by the residents after one attack.
A similar situation occurs in modern day at times of the year when the tide is particularly high. While the road remains above water, a newly built car park is often submerged, and a warning horn has been installed to alert visitors to move their vehicles to safety from the rushing tide.