France is funding a rather unusual tourism project: Turning one of the country’s most iconic sites into an island again.
Mont Saint-Michel is one of France’s most beautiful tourist attractions. It is a rocky tidal island roughly half a mile off the country’s northwestern coast, and houses a stunning ancient cathedral.
As the New York Times explains, France is currently working on turning this island … back into an island, which has resulted in confusion and anger among the French.
Mont Saint-Michel used to stand alone off the coast of Normandy until a not-well-thought-out dam project in 1969 destroyed the natural flow of water, causing dramatic amounts of silt to build up.
Because of this, Mont Saint-Michel is now technically a part of the mainland. Officials are pouring about $285 million into a project to fix this, turning the tourist spot back into the island it originally was.
Sounds like a good idea, right? Wrong! Locals are upset about the project because Mont Saint-Michel as it stands has brought lucrative shuttle and parking business. Additionally, the French are apparently notoriously resistant to change.
“We’re in France, and anything that changes anyone’s habits a priori we don’t like,” said Mayor Éric Vannier. “But those same people in a few years will see the beauty of the site, and this moaning will disappear.”
The project is working so far, heading off salt marches by 2,000 feet. In 2015, a bridge from the mainland to Mont Saint-Michel will be built, requiring demolition of the current causeway, which contributes greatly to the silt problem.
“It’s much bigger than this focus on the shuttles,” Vannier said. “It’s an environmental project to preserve the magical effects of the tides, so it becomes again what it was a century ago, this marvel of the West in the middle of the sea.”
But the maître d’hotel of the Auberge St.-Pierre says that until things are fixed, business will continue to suffer. He says they’ve seen a 30 percent drop in revenue, and “at least half of the 30 percent comes from the new difficulty of access.” He reasoned “if access is bad, business is bad.”
Have you ever been to Mont Saint-Michel?