Photo by Flickr user afloresm. Creative Commons licence.
On 1 May a mass conducted in the abbey by the Archbishop of Paris marked the start of the celebrations of the 1300 year history of Mont Saint Michel. The celebrations will continue until October 2009. Eighteen months - some birthday party!
The site is visited each year by 3 million people, making it one of the most popular in France, after the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles. It is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site. I visited during the late 70s and even then, off season, it was obvious the huge impact of so many tourists on the area.
The island itself is a breathtaking sight and can be spotted from quite a distance, but the whole bay is beautiful. Because of its popularity, a causeway was built about 120 years ago to help access for visitors. It carries a road which, according to the official site, doesn't flood, and car parks which do sometimes flood, in the exceptionally high tides in the area.
The result of this structure has been that the tides can no longer carry away coastal sediments and without any action to prevent it, the island is liable to become land-locked, and the rich environmental habitat of the sea and surrounding marshes damaged.
The proposal is to remove the causeway and the car parks (quite an eyesore in all honesty) and replace it with a one-kilometre pedestrian bridge stretching from the relocated car parks to the island. Alternatively there will be an environmentally friendly shuttle running between the two.
At high tide, visitors will still be able to visit the island, but for a few hours every year, at exceptionally high tides, the island will be cut off.
I had thought that these projects would be finished by 2008, but I believe it will be 2009, perhaps in time for the end of the festivities.
Details of the project can be found at Project Mont Saint Michel, in French.