Mont-St-Michel returns to the sea after 130 years

Until Wednesday, a tiny strip of land connected the rocky landmass of Mont-St-Michel to France’s mainland. But this week a tide saw the UNESCO world heritage site become an "island" again for the first time since 1879, if only for 20 minutes or so.

Mont-St-Michel returns to the sea after 130 years
File photo of famous French landmark Mont-Saint-Michel: Photo Ed Fladung

At around 9.30pm several hundred people gathered on Wednesday night to watch the tide surround the popular attraction of Mont-St-Michel for the first time since 1879. Unfortunately the spectacle only lasted around 20 minutes, before the tide receded.

“For the first time in a long time we will see the sea surround the Mount,” a delighted Laurent Beauvais, President of the Basse-Normandie region and the union in charge of the works told Le Figaro newspaper.

Previously, the island abbey, situated around one kilometre off the coast of Normandy, was attached to the mainland by a tidal causeway constructed 134 years ago.

Now, thanks in part to renovation work that began in September 2012, the sea can finally encircle the island when the tides are high. 

The rest of the causeway is now set to be destroyed and work will continue on a bridge which will provide emergency access to the island. Eventually it is estimated that the Mont-St-Michel will be cut off from the mainland between 50 and 90 times each year.

The €230 million restoration project aimed at restoring the monument's natural maritime environment has attracted much criticism partly in connection with the construction of a parking lot 2.5km from the abbey at a cost of €184 million to the French tax payer.

A couple watching the “historic” event last night told Le Parisien: “It’s rare and we’re here, we came at the right time.”

Located in Lower Normandy on the north-west coast of France, the island is renowned for its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey, and attracts an estimated 2.5 million visitors a year.

There was more good news for the World Heritage site this week when it was announced that the European Commission had donated €10 million to the second phase of the island’s restoration project.

The project’s aims include protecting the island’s ecosystem, reducing CO2 emissions and boosting tourism.

The Island was in the news for all the wrong reasons in February this year, when Eric Vannier, Mont-St-Michel’s mayor, was hit with a €30,000 fine for using his position of power to make sure bus services shuttling visitors to the site left from outside his businesses.

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Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

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Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.