One of the earliest recognised UNESCO World Heritage Sites, France’s famed Mont Saint-Michel island commune in Normandy stands as one of France’s most recognizable landmarks, not to mention one of its most popular tourist destinations.
Situated about 1 km off the country’s northwestern coast, the tidal island crowned by its great Romanesque abbey supports a small population of around 50 permanent residents, all living within the boundaries of this medieval walled city.
Inaccessible during high tide, this fortified position has been held since Roman times, and in addition to its position as a place of worship since the 11th century, The Mont as a strategic stronghold stands legendary as having been unconquered during the Hundred Years’ War, not to mention its successful 1433 defense against a full scale English assault.
Of course the reverse of this unconquerable nature wasn’t entirely missed either, with the tidal island also spending a fair bit of its history as prison stronghold for some of the Kings of France.
A team over at Great Big Story put together this great little primer on the fabulous Mont Saint-Michel:
No wonder it is one of France’s most visited tourist attractions.
If you ever find yourself in Hauterives in southeastern France, chances are pretty good that you are there to see Le Palais Idéal (The Ideal Palace) – the culmination of 33 years worth of work of a single man.
Ferdinand Cheval is reported to have said: “I was walking very fast when my foot caught on something that sent me stumbling a few meters away, I wanted to know the cause. In a dream I had built a palace, a castle or caves, I cannot express it well… I told no one about it for fear of being ridiculed and I felt ridiculous myself. Then fifteen years later, when I had almost forgotten my dream, when I wasn’t thinking of it at all, my foot reminded me of it. My foot tripped on a stone that almost made me fall. I wanted to know what it was… It was a stone of such a strange shape that I put it in my pocket to admire it at my ease. The next day, I went back to the same place. I found more stones, even more beautiful, I gathered them together on the spot and was overcome with delight… It’s a sandstone shaped by water and hardened by the power of time. It becomes as hard as pebbles. It represents a sculpture so strange that it is impossible for man to imitate, it represents any kind of animal, any kind of caricature.”
Starting in April 1879, for the next thirty-three years, Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924), a French postman, picked up stones during his daily mail round and carried them home to build his Palais idéal. He spent the first twenty years alone just building the outer walls! At first, he carried the stones in his pockets, then switched to a basket. Eventually, he used a wheelbarrow. He often worked at night, by the light of an oil lamp.
The stones bound together with lime, mortar and cement, The Palais is a mix of different styles with inspirations from Christianity to Hinduism. It is as intricate as it is vast, and includes sculptures of exotic animals and mythical creatures, which were said to be inspired by the postcards he delivered.
The Palace is regarded as an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture.
Just before his death, Cheval began to receive some recognition from luminaries like André Breton and Pablo Picasso. His work is commemorated in an essay by Anaïs Nin. In 1932, the German artist Max Ernst created a collage titled The Postman Cheval. The work belongs to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and is on display there. In 1958, Ado Kyrou made Le Palais idéal, a short film on Cheval’s palace.
In 1969, André Malraux, the Minister of Culture, declared the Palais a cultural landmark and had it officially protected. In 1986 Cheval was put on a French postage stamp.
Cheval also wanted to be buried in his palace. However, since that is illegal in France, he proceeded to spend eight more years building a mausoleum for himself in the Hauterives cemetery. He died on 19 August 1924, about a year after he had finished building it, and is buried there.
A couple of weekends ago we got to experience two very different bits of European culture – On the Saturday we found ourselves out and about in Durbanville, and ended up enjoying some food at the kid friendly Dutch Haven Bistro, situated in the Garden Court of High Street.
Needless to say, they specialize in Dutch cuisine – and I have to say, their food is particularly excellent and well worth a recommendation!
(Hot Tip: Another gem to be found in the High Street shopping complex is the fantastic little shopfront of The Velvet Cake Co. – modern, funky and with cupcakes and cake to die for! Naturally, Chantelle was in seventh heaven when she finally did get to stop there!)
The Sunday saw us head out to Blaauwklippen Family Market for some pancakes and pony rides, and whilst both those were indeed on offer (by this stage Jessica is particularly fond of Pearl the pony), we were pleasantly surprised to discover that they were actually celebrating France’s Bastille Day on the day, meaning everything was naturally in tri-color – and they had both the music and the dancing to match!
As always, loads of fun and lots to see, and Jessica in particular surprised us by being taken so in with the music that she went up and danced on the stage all by herself!
Mommy and daddy could only but stare with our mouths hanging wide open! :)
[subvertedgallery link=”file” columns=”7″ ids=”33444,33445,33446,33447,33448,33449,33450,33451,33452,33453,33454,33455,33456,33457,33458″]
If you suffer from a fear of heights, then perhaps the best thing would be to not travel to the tallest bridge in the world (and 12th highest), France’s Millau Viaduct. (If you are however not afraid of heights, then you should definitely make the trip!)
The Millau Viaduct is a cable-stayed bridge that spans the valley of the River Tarn near Millau in southern France.
Designed by the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, it is the tallest bridge in the world with one mast’s summit at 343.0 metres above the base of the structure. It is the 12th highest bridge deck in the world, being 270 metres between the road deck and the ground below.
The Millau Viaduct is part of the A75-A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Béziers and Montpellier. The cost of construction was approximately €400 million. It was formally inaugurated on 14 December 2004, and opened to traffic on 16 December.
The bridge has been consistently ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time. The bridge received the 2006 International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering Outstanding Structure Award.
What’s particularly interesting here is the funding model. The bridge’s construction cost up to €394 million, with a toll plaza 6 km (3.7 mi) north of the viaduct costing an additional €20 million. The builders, Eiffage, financed the construction in return for a concession to collect the tolls for 75 years, until 2080. However, (and this is the part I like) if the concession yields high revenues, the French government can assume control of the bridge as early as 2044.
The project required about 127,000 cubic metres of concrete, 19,000 tonnes of steel for the reinforced concrete and 5,000 tonnes of pre-stressed steel for the cables and shrouds. The builder claims that the lifetime of the bridge will be at least 120 years – giving you plenty of time to pop along and see it if you haven’t yet gotten around to it! ;)