An abbey on an island, the ‘route du cidre’ and a church built in a tree

Mont-St-Michel is another of France’s major landmarks, and a very distinctive image. I’ve seen the photo numerous times; an island close to the mainland which has stone buildings leading up a hill with sharpe spires rising above it. I didn’t realise it was actually a town, albeit a minuscule one at that. The vast majority though is the huge, grand abbey which dominates its surroundings.

We travelled there on a rainy day, and with the moon at its fullest we were worried about visiting at high tide as I’d read it can be inaccessible. The area experiences some of the most extreme tide changes in the world and the road can be covered in water. But we arrived a mere two hours after high tide and the water had all but vanished. It wasn’t quite what we’d expected; instead of it all reflecting beautifully in the calm waters, it was surrounded by a vast expanse of mudflats and quick sand.

A road led us to the island, along with a new road-bridge which should be high enough to avoid the tides. We stepped through a stone archway and entered the cute cobbled alley that led uphill. It was lined with souvenir shops and took us all the way up to the abbey itself. We weren’t interested in going inside so took a different path back and it started pissing with rain. We couldn’t find any more routes around the island as one side was totally blocked off by builders. So before we knew it we were back at the entrance and ready to leave. I’m sure it would look stunning on the right day but it was all a bit drab and the two roads leading to it, along with the scaffolding on the abbey, were all a bit of an eye sore.

The next day we wanted to drive along the Route Du Cidre – the cider route. Along the 40km loop is about 20 local farmers who produce cider, but I also read it was a scenic country drive, so with our love for cider and roadtrips we decided to check it out. The only problem was that we had a terrible night sleep and were up by 6am, by the time we were on the road it was 7am and pitch black. Within a few kilometres we spotted three gorgeous half timbered farm houses and got all excited “maybe we should pull over and wait for the sun to rise?”. But we said no, continued onto the first village and quickly changed our mind; it was like driving through an image on a Christmas card. Fairy lights, giant Christmas trees and a mix of half timbered and brick houses. We pulled over and found a perfect way to kill some time; have our final campervan shower in Europe. We had hot water at least but it was -1 degree outside. It was a perfect winters day, crisp and cool with pink hues from the rising sun. But it was freezing cold and all we kept saying while shivering was “LAST SHOWER OUTSIDE!”. Just one more day and we’ll be home with hot running water and four concrete walls around us, I have no idea how we’ve braved these showers for nearly 7 months.

We took a walk around the picturesque village and admired all the buildings. As they were only two stories high, they looked more British than the high German style ones we’ve visited. While we were photographing some houses craig said “look right Lauren…” and in the window was a frail, old lady waving frantically at us. When I waved back her smile broadened and she started clapping like a seal. Craig made her day though and as we left the village he drove past her house and waved again. She could hardly contain her excitement.

We came across our first cider farm so followed a dirt track down to a farmhouse. A man greeted us and spoke no english whatsoever. He led us through a tatty barn full of junk and opened another door which revealed a long hall with huge barrels on either side. Not modern metal cylinders but vintage, dusty and battered wooden barrels. He grabbed two glasses and popped the top of a bottle of his homemade cider, like you would with champagne. I suddenly realised it was very early still and looked at my watch before I excepted the glass, 9.30am, yeah I can have some cider! It was so easy to drink so we bought 6 bottles and set off to enjoy more of the beautiful countryside.

To end our last day in France we headed to Allouville-Bellefosse, a tiny village which was home to a church…which was built within a tree! It was like a scene from a Tim Burton movie. The oak tree had been electrocuted by lighting and left hollow, in the 17th century the locals decided to build two chapels inside it. They also built a spiral staircase leading around the outside. It was amazing, all covered in tiny wooden tiles, branches poking in all angles and ropes and rods holding it all in place. We entered the lower chapel by squeezing through a natural crack in the tree, inside was roughly the size of a small wardrobe.

Two cats followed us upstairs where another cupboard sized room housed a Jesus on a cross. Above us though was the inside of the hollow tree, pinned together with scaffolding that looked like a game of pick up sticks.

And that was it, nearly 7 months later and we were at Dieppe looking across the English Channel and ready for our ferry home after one hell of a roadtrip.

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