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Mont Saint-Michel: The Magical Island of France

As a “planner”, my journey to France is definitely out of my character. I didn’t know what to expect, where to go, when to travel, and how to get to places. My haphazard trip to the country after a month-long yoga teacher training and a bit of rest before my MBA journey completely threw me off from my typical habit of planning.

After landing in France, I also got a bad case of Dengue Fever, which cost me a week or two to fully recover. The silver lining of this entire madness was that my travel plan was completely empty and I was able to swing to whatever came up at my doorstep. One of those instances is the magical island called “Mont Saint Michel”.

I remember very clearly that the idea of Mont Saint-Michel was planted to me by my friend Daniel at the Fontainebleau Chateau. I was quite fascinated by the photo of a majestic castle on an island, surrounded by water, and flashing a beautiful light at night. However, as the MBA program started, the idea of a magical island become a rather lingering cloud in my mind. It was only until someone brought it up in a Telegram group that we actually plan a trip and book the ticket. Once that happens, we finally get rolling!

As with typical INSEAD trips, our travel to Mont Saint-Michel stretched over 2 days, which is quite enough. However, it can also be a long road trip through the North-West of France.

Day 1: Rennes & Mont Saint-Michel

Leaving Fontainebleau at around 9 am on Saturday, we reached Paris close to 10 am. With some spare time to grab a coffee, we got to Montparnasse just in time to get on a train (though I recalled a few of us missed the train and had to get on the next one).

Initially, we planned to go straight to Mont Saint-Michel. However, as I researched, I found Rennes, the stopover city before taking a bus to Mont Saint-Michel, to be quite a nice city to walk around. So, we decided to take a few hours to have lunch, coffee, and walk around the city.

The ride from Montparnasse to Rennes took around 2 hours. While the seat and the train were quite nice (much better than the local train from Paris to Fontainebleau for sure), there is not much to do or see along the way. Actually a few of us ended up catching up on our assignments. The first period is usually the heaviest period – I supposed.

Arrived at Rennes at around 1 PM, we were quite ready for Lunch. We ended up splitting our large group to different parts of the city as we wanted to try different things (although without reservation, we may actually not get what we looked for). My group landed at a pancake/omelet place, which turned out to be quite nice and accommodating of our 10-people group.

Rennes was as beautiful, if not more, as I imagined. The city has a lot of interesting architecture, beautiful church, and very nice lighting that make photography more naturally magical. Coming from Fontainebleau, the fact that the city is quite big and developed also made my heart skip a beat.

After a few cups of coffee (and wine), we took a bus from Rennes to Mont Saint-Michel. The ride to our final destination doesn’t have much to see but greenery of farms and fields. After getting off from the bus, we have to take another trolley to cross the bridge to Mont Saint-Michel (finally!).

The trolley ride to Mont Saint-Michel was magical. The first glimpse of the castle island was a stunning moment. We decided to get off mid-way through the bridge and start taking photos – group, solo, duo, whatever! The scene was majestic!

Passing through the gate of Mont Saint-Michel, I also found out that this island is actually a small Diagon Alley in the real world!

Here comes the downside. There are two hotels on the island, and the service was horrendous. My request for twin beds was not fulfilled with no message informing me before arrival. My friends got a wet room with laundry and trash bags in front of the room.

The worst part was the restaurant we went for dinner (no wonder majority of the restaurant on the island has less than 4 stars on Google). First of all, there were too few restaurants on the island relative to the number of tourists. Secondly, the service is very confusing and slow. I ordered the famous omelet and ended up waiting for 2 hours. We also tried to order mulled wine, waited for an hour, and ended up finding out after asking twice that they do not have mulled wine. Lastly, the island has no place for a drink. Every shop is closed by 11 pm, including the hotel.

After attempts at finding bars to sit and drink, a few of us ended up walking out to the bridge to have a look at lid-up Mont Saint-Michel at night. It was magical!

The night ended with a few rounds of Mafia game, where I found out that the innocent looking person is the most dangerous…

Day 2: Sunrise at Mont Saint-Michel & Farewell

Waking up before sunrise has been a torture for me, but this time it was worth it! Only a few of us woke up early for the sunrise, and there are not many tourists walking around at the time. I even managed to get a good yoga photo!

Another benefit of waking up early for the sunrise is that, right after the sunrise, I can be at the front of the line to enter the abbey. The abbey itself was very well-maintained (on the contrary to a lot of ancient buildings in Asia). There were also many spots that are quite photogenic, especially at the back of the chapel where there are a lot of mosses and trees.

On the way back, we had quite a few adventures of running to catch the bus and train. But everything was fine. It was a good memory with some good friends – definitely one of my highlights of the #INSEADMoments.

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