Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel is a fortified rock topped off with an impressive abbey. It's located in a bay along the coast of Normandy and while it was once only accessible at low tide, they've conveniently built a causeway now so it's accessible 24 hours a day. It's a truly impressive sight and can be seen from miles away across the sheep pastures along the coast.
Crossing the causeway (either on foot, by bus or by horse carriage) will leave you either on a sandy beach or in the parking lot at the base of the island. The town sits at the foot of the abbey, clustered along one side behind the fortified walls.
There is a front gate followed by another gate. This was once heavily guarded and fortified but now it's home to extremely expensive omelet shops (really, truly, mind-bogglingly expensive) and moderately expensive pay toilets.
This is the cute and narrow street that winds through the town slowly upwards towards the abbey. We can't tell you too much more about it because we never took it. After coming through the second gate we immediately ascended to the ramparts and stayed up there. The views were excellent although we missed out on a lot of opportunities to buy souvenirs. Unless it's much less crowded than this, we'd recommend the walls.
The walls have fun little balconies, overlooks, towers, tunnels and views back towards the mainland and up towards the abbey. You can go either way from that second gate, it does make a loop to the front of the abbey. We followed the seaward side first.
Mont St Michel has generally been an impregnable fortress throughout history because it sits out in a bay that is at least partially full of quicksand and has a considerable range in tides. This picture is taken close to low tide. We saw groups of people (with a tour guide to avoid the dangers) walk really far out in the bay and still be only knee deep in the water.
The view the other direction shows the causeway. The river emptying nearby started to silt up the bay in recent years and Mont St. Michel became much less of an island. The low dam which can be seen in the distance was added to control the water flow and allow them to prevent further silting. The visitor center is just to the left of the dam in this picture.
Back to the island. This all started with the abbey built on the top of the rock in the 8th century. It generally expanded downwards both into the rock and along it. The actual abbey church was destroyed by fire and built in a much grander fashion later on.
Speaking of which, here's the nave in the church. It's a nice bit of gothicness but the views behind it are much more inspiring.
There are several nice gardens behind the abbey which can be visited, as well as this cloister.
Elsewhere inside is the pulley wheel which allowed them to bring materials up to the abbey, the refectory, the working room (shown here) and several dormitories.