For the May-day bank holiday weekend, we went surfing in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, my favourite off-season sun fix from London. From the road, the dormant volcanoes looked dark, barren, and quite uniform. But this time we took our trekking boots, stepped into the picture, and were rewarded by these eerie and magical views…
Our local guide, Marcello from Canary Trekking, took us for a 3 hours light trek of roughly 7km, and were rewarded by these breath-taking views…
I have published several articles about Lanzarote before (here and there) so I will leave it to a photo diary. It all feels quite eerie and magical… but as they say, a picture speaks better than a thousand words. Continue Reading
Home for Easter…and home is Normandy, France, home to Camembert, Calvados and grey dramatic skies. A little photo diary of our 4 days in Honfleur, Etretat, Deauville, Trouville, Ste Adresse & Le Havre. Continue Reading
You can hear the rain pounding on the window and if you’re anything like me, your next thought is: when do I get to see the sun again? I could tell you to jet-off to Hawaii for Continue Reading
I was born in Normandy, and many years after having left the homeland for overseas pastures, it’s easy to forget how beautiful it all is. I enjoyed re-discovering the magical Mont St Michel, and sharing the experience.
Fun facts and history
The Mont is first and foremost known for its sacred and religious aspect, and the spectacular Abbey crowning it. As history puts it, in 709 the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop and ordered him to build a sanctuary on the Mont.
With a thousand years of history, many legends, stories and poems have been written about the Mont. Here is one, written by my absolute favourite Normand author, Guy de Maupassant; his legend of the quarrel between the devil and St Michel, is a delight:
Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious, the conqueror of Satan.
But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and the devil.
(read the full legend in English here).
I saw a lot of journalist and blogs getting this wrong: the Mont St Michel is in Normandy, and it’s always been. When the Archangel allegedly appeared in 709, under Charlemagne, the Mont was already belonging to the diocese of Avranche, Normandy. And more importantly, the Abbey was consequently built by Normand Benedictine monks in 966, at the request of the Duke of Normandy, and has been run by them ever since!
A couple more for the pub quiz:
– In 1067, the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel gave its support to duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. It was rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modeled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.
– Repeatedly assaulted by the English during the Hundred Years’ War, the mount always resisted thanks to its state-of-the-art fortifications. The small island prospered as a pilgrimage destination until the 16th century.
– During the French revolution in 1792, when the church properties got seized, the Abbey was transformed into a prison.
– the Mont currently counts 43 inhabitants, mostly monks!
Do’s and don’ts
- The best season to travel there is surely late spring or summer, but even then, the weather can be very variable throughout the day so do dress in layers and pack a trench or waterproof rain coat.
- you’ll walk a lot and climb many stairs, that being said, it’s all on roads / path, so flats or light trainers are a safe choice
- The car park is a bit of a tourist trap and I had been well advised to avoid it, that’s how we stayed in a modest and lovely b&b where we could park (for free) and walk over to the Mont in 10 mn. This one next door also looked just as good, maybe more suited for longer stays.
- Remember that hotels on the Mont are expensive and don’t actually enjoy the view…
- Nothing has changed much since Victor Hugo was there either: I would still recommend to go for a nice meal on the mainland for the island is rather touristy and you might find “rotten fish in the middle of the sea” as he described.
- be aware that restaurants will close early in the evening (last order 9.30pm in most places). We stayed until sunset and pretty much had to skip dinner…
- do cross the bay, walking or on horseback…it’s recommended to do it with a guide as it can get dangerous
- do visit the Abbey, for the first time I had the chance to follow the evening path, lit for the summer…around 8/9pm is ideal as the sunset falls on the cloister…magical. Info here and there
For the foodies…
The Mont sits at the border between Brittany and Normandy and as a result you will find a lot of regional delicacies from both sides of the river.
I have previously confessed on this blog my love for cider (the sparkling alcoholic apple based beverage), and this time I even brought back home some Pommeau (aperitif based on cider and Calvados liquor). Enjoyed best with a caramel crêpe….yum
But the true local delicacy is the salt march lamb, called in French “agneau de pré-salés”. Because the area enjoys some of the strongest tides in the world, pastures sometimes get covered and soaked in sea water. The little lambs therefore graze in high salt content environment, giving the meat a distinctive (but not salty) flavour. It is a very refined dish that you may only find in high-end restaurants, and normally only from end of June until Christmas.
Victor Hugo to his daughter Adele:
“J’étais hier au Mont-Saint-Michel. Ici, il faudrait entasser les superlatifs d’admiration, comme les hommes ont entassé les édifices sur les rochers et comme la nature a entassé les rochers sur les édifices. Mais j’aime mieux commencer platement par te dire, mon Adèle, que j’y ai fait un affreux déjeuner. Une vieille aubergiste bistre a trouvé moyen de me faire manger du poisson pourri au milieu de la mer. Et puis, comme on est sur la lisière de la Bretagne et de la Normandie, la malpropreté y est horrible, composée qu’elle est de la crasse normande et de la saleté bretonne qui se superposent à ce précieux point d’intersection.”
Around and away
We came from London via the ferry-boat and my friend drafted the following itinerary for us with her favourite beaches and areas on the coast. Feel free to use it:
Another way to do it would be to start from Caen (accessible by train from Paris or by ferry-boat) and combine your visit with the D-Day beaches and the WW2 memorial museum. For convenience I do recommend to rent a car from Caen or Cherbourg onward.
Note that FlyBe has also opened a London Southend / Caen line a few months ago.
Other resources and useful links:
Normandy Tourism website – well done and in English
Video on the Unesco website
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On stressful days like this, I dream of being able to take a coffee break on Famara beach, Canarias.
It’s the end of the world. Don’t go to party, not point. We were alone, watching the sun rise and falling asleep right after the sun had set (and the bottle of local vino), exhausted and ocean-washed. Alone to the point when we wondered : where are the locals gone!?
We asked the (many) Brits we found, why they had decided to live in Canarias: the answer was invariably, “because it’s sunny, and we benefit from steady surf conditions all year round”. It would be a good enough reason; but the volcano-island in the Atlantic ocean, has much more to offer; great wine, cheese, sun, and above all : peace.
Go get your surf board, it’s one of the best spot in the world
The first things that surprised us was that the island is small, but you’ll definitely need a car, no public transport there. Also, that the weather is ever changing. The land is swept by the wind, for the greatest pleasure of surfers, but making the shining sun turn into a bone soaking shower in 3min.
Famara is an amazing beach for surfing beginners, it’s a safe and high quality beaches, with consistent swell. We went in October and could use a short wetsuit
check the weather, tides and other info here
but for more experienced surfers (or for those who, like us, will enjoy watching some serious action live), go to La Santa. It’s 10min driving from Famara, and the most famous surf spot of the island.
Do’s and Don’ts
go rent a car cauz you’ll need it. They’re lovely people, and you’ll get an audio guide
do take your car and cross the island from one side to another, stopping in bodegas to test the wine.
please don’t think it’s a good idea to go for an ice-cream in Puerto del Carmen. It’s not, you’ll be disappointed.
Once back at home, watch Pedro Almodovar’s Abrasos Rotos (broken embraces). In Spanish please.
Pedro Almodovar seldom gets it wrong