a cafe in Pontorson. Photo: Ani Moriarty

Scroll back to the year 1030, when Norman war bands set up camp on the River Couesnon, and you’ll find the beginnings of the gateway town of Pontorson, so-named after the Norman leader, Monsieur Orson, who built the first bridge over the river that runs out to the Baie of Mont St Michel (hence Pont, bridge, d’Orson, of Orson). Over time this small encampment morphed into the burgeoning village we now call Pontorson.

Though it’s known as the gateway to the world-renowned Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel, Pontorson holds surprises all its own.

L’Eglise Notre Dame de Pontorson was built over a period starting in 1050 through 1150, and stands in the very center, as the heart of this small town, with the Wednesday market taking place at its feet.

The abbey as seen through the shuttle bus window. Photo:
Ani Moriarty

Ordered built by William the Conqueror, the church’s ‘raison d’être’ can be found in a stained glass window up in the choir which states “for a happy passage of the Couesnon, by the men of William the Conqueror.” Clearly, he had his men in mind.

Some églises you can pass right by, but in this region? En fait, there are several distinctly formidable churches scattered throughout the area you may wish to visit while you tour.

street in Pontorson. Photo: Ani Moriarty

A go-to for all things commerce– banks, groceries, gas, boulangeries, restaurants and brasseries– this practical and functional Normandy stone town sits on the edge of fields where generations of farmers have worked the land. In the midst of all the historical wonders, Pontorson has emerged as the one and only town on the road leading tout droit (straight out) to the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

Photo: Ani Moriarty

Considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the World, this Abbey stands off the coast on the Normandy/Brittany border, an island all its own.

Millions arrive annually — some for a personal pilgrimage, some fulfilling a lifelong dream. Just as many folks come to relax in the region for a few days, visitors stay locally, eat well, and set about exploring.

House in Pontorson. Photo: Ani Moriarty

Here are some tips to make the most of your time in Pontorson and the surrounding vicinity.

… Want to feel cut off from the world at large? Some of the highest tides in the world come rushing into the Baie annually — but plan ahead! Hotels on the rock book up a year in advance to have this magical experience.

… Want a good walk? From wherever you stay in town, it is a brief walk to the river. Take the path all the way out to the gates of Mont St Michel (7-8 km).  Or drive out, park, and promenade across the horizon to the gates.

Pontorson has harnessed itself to provide you with myriad opportunities to enjoy the Baie.

Boutique in Pontorson. Photo: Ani Moriarty

Dining in Pontorson:
www.legrillon.fr
www.lebaroque-pontorson.fr
www.latourbrette.fr

Hotels in Pontorson:
Hôtel Eugénie
Hotel Victor Hugo
Hotel Montgomery

Nearby Regional Tuckaway Gites & Chambres d’hôtes:
www.lapetitechesnee.com
www.bijouxgites.com
Les Tartines Bavardes

The view as you walk up Mont Saint Michel. Photo: Ani Moriarty

Dining around the Baie:
www.restaurantletroquet-cancale.fr
www.relaischateaux.com/us/france/bricourt-ille-et-vilaine-saint-meloir-des-ondes
www.bois-guy.fr
http://en.merepoulard.com

Mont-Saint-Michel tourism website

Regional churches (always in centre ville):
Antrain
St Brice en Cogles
Dinan
Dol de Bretagne
Fougères
Rennes

Things to Do in the Baie of Mont-Saint-Michel:
Guide for Normandy, Brittany and the Abbey: Ursula Hoffman
www.guide-conferenciere-bretagne-normandie.fr

Microlight Flights over the Baie: www.manche-ulm-evasion.com

Baie Crossings and Nature Hikes: Olivier Guides
www.lespasduguide.com/nos-activites/traversees
www.manche-ulm-evasion.com

Cycling Routes: www.mont-saint-michel-baie.com/randonnees

Mont Saint Michel. Photo: Ani Moriarty
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