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Le Mont-St-Michel: what's up with the commercialization?

I visited MSM today and was thrilled to see this marvel of a masterpiece (on the outside). Once inside the "village", I was a bit bummed to see a bunch of tourist shops and restaurants lined up and down the main drag. What's the deal? I'm not too much spun up on how the French gov't subsidies historical landmarks but this kind of killed the historical atmosphere of the experience a bit.

Posted by
33314 posts

You're right, Mike, and I agree. But you know what? If all the visitors to the Mont walked right past the souvenir shops without buying any of the tat they wouldn't survive long. And if nobody bought the overpriced omelets from the omelet restaurant they'd disappear too. My guess is a whole mess of visitors buy both tons of key rings and models, and stop for poor quality expensive food. For centuries in Europe churches have encouraged shops just outside the church, usually on church land.

Posted by
1068 posts

I think Mont St. Michel has been touristy since pretty much forever. It was a popular place for a pilgrimage in the Middle Ages - and since the 19th century, after the prison there closed, has been open for tourist business. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, and is the département of Manche. Being a World Heritage site keeps the building standing and provides guidelines for preservation - Donald Trump is prohibitied from kocking it down to build "view condos" on the Mount - but likely the surrounding village is just operated like any locality in France.... in other words, I suspect that local commerical statuates don't include language to the effect of "don't crap up the place with tourist trappy schlock." When I visited the first time, way back in the 1980s, it was touristy. Suspect if you'd visited in 1903 it would have been touristy. Sad.... but true. I think. Anyone else know more details?

Posted by
12040 posts

Geez, Mike, is anything going right for you in France?

Posted by
8871 posts

Haven't traveled much recently have you! Are you going to Windsor? You'll feel right at home as you walk up to the castle and pass Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut on the way. How about Venice? Huge advertisements cover the Bridge of Sighs. Starbucks are in Istanbul and a majority of the hand made items in it's famous covered market are hand made in China not Turkey. Sadly, like what you experienced in Paris. Tourism and capitalism are partners in crime.

Posted by
9363 posts

Same thing at the Great Wall of China, too, Mike.... tons of souvenir shops before you get to the stairs up onto the Wall, and everywhere else in the area, too.

Posted by
389 posts

I know people on this board love their acronyms, but "MSM" gets me every time. In the health care field it stands for "men who have sex with men."

Posted by
11507 posts

Mike MSM was like that back in 1970,, and as posters have stated ,, has always been a bit like that,, it was a place of pilgramidge and those streets have been lined with shops for ever,, but of course the wares change a bit over the centuries.

Posted by
222 posts

I was at Mont St. Michel a few weeks ago (my second time in 30 years) and since I already knew about the crowds of tourists and the shops and restaurants I arrived at 5:00 PM when there is literally a mass exodus of all tourists, leaving the island to just those few who are spending the night there. It was beautiful. And by the way, Mike-- did you actually take the time to hike up to the abbey? No shops or restaurants there and it is beautiful as well.

Posted by
10349 posts

The truth is that even in the Middle Ages to get your town and cathedral, or basilica on one of the pilgrimage routes was akin to snagging a major league franchise today. Suddenly an important relic would appear, you were on the map, and it brought pilgrims on their way to Compostella or Rome or Jerusalem which allowed commerce to flourish in the town. You can go back further in time to when pilgrims to Christian religious sites bought oil lamps as souvenirs in Coptic Egypt. We have some in museums today from the earliest Christian times to around 900 AD. These were sold by commercial vendors outside the pilgrimage sites. Maybe one day some of the stuff at Mont St. Michel will be in a museum.

Posted by
2349 posts

If aliens came down from outer space today, they'd assume that we had all these pilgrimage sites like the Eiffel Tower, MSM, and the Grand Canyon. Part of our religious ceremonies must be to buy a plastic bottle of holy water, clothe ourselves in a special t-shirt, and buy an icon with special magnetic powers to put on our fridge.

Posted by
9110 posts

Everybody undertands that the church owns only the abbey and that the surrounding ville is secular and people are free to do what they want. Right? This is called commerce. Good.

Posted by
85 posts

I have a 1927 guidebook, where the author complains at length (in delightfully flowery prose) about the trinket shops. She went on to explain that those awful shops had actually been there for centuries, selling souvenirs to pilgrims. Then, she advocated destroying the causeway to eliminate the day trippers, because surely only the most serious of travelers would go by small boat!

Posted by
719 posts

Mike, I've got to agree with Tom. I have read 3 of your posts, and you don't seem to be all that thrilled with France. To many people, France is paradise, but with every paradise, there comes a cost. Muggy subway cars and tourist traps among them. I suggest you focus on the culture and history that France has to offer, and let the rest float by. You'll probably have a better time.

Posted by
3696 posts

@Lisa... hello to fellow traveler from Michigan...
I guess the same problems just keep cropping up year after year after year!!!! How funny that the complaints are about how to keep out tourists so the 'real travlers' can enjoy the area... some things never change.

Posted by
3050 posts

I actually agree with negative Mike here that the tourist crap and crowds of Mont St Michel make it somewhat disappointing, given how many amazing churches that aren't surrounded by that level of cheese exist throughout Europe. Plus it's a real pain to get to unless you're on a a bus tour or have a car. The most impressive thing about MSM is how it looks from a distance, or walking around on the marshes and mud flats below it. Architecturally once you're up inside it there's not much to see, to be honest. I'd only suggest it to someone who was already committed to staying in Brittany or Normandy otherwise, and then I'd suggest walking around it as opposed to dealing with the throngs of tourists and junk inside. There's so many awesome things to see and do in those regions in general that they're worth visiting, but I think people who schlep out there JUST to see MSM are likely to be a bit disappointed.

Posted by
2829 posts

I don't find Mont-Saint-Michel particularly more commercialized than other similar (and popular) destinations. You can always not spend too much time on the "souvenir shop" alley and stay in the abbey or walking around it. I guess what leaves most people disappointed is that they take a long day trip there from Bordeaux, Loire valley or, gosh, even from Paris with a TGV + tour bus combo. Then, after travelling 3-5 hours, having left the hotel hungry and sleepy, people feel all the hassle was not worth it. And then most blame the souvenir shops for it. As I say, souvenir shops only thrive on costumer demand. Who never took a cheap, small stuffed animal from Germany as a souvenir for your young nephews?

Posted by
4132 posts

Great sights attract crowds; Crowds attract crap. But they are still great sights.