Stage 11: Avranches to Mont Saint Michel
The reputation of Avranches botanical garden is largely due to its ideal location: a belvedere between sea and sky with a grandiose panoramic view over the bay of Mont St Michel, it inspired several 19th century writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Victor Hugo and Stendhal.
In 2006 and 2007, the garden was renovated as part of the overall rehabilitation of the Mont St Michel site. The site now comprises 12 different gardens and has found a new life, 200 years after its creation.
Opened in 1796 by a regional college, it was developed in 1800 by two botanists, Jean Le Chevalier et René Le Berriays, who collected 800 species and more than 2,400 plants, from exotics plants to fruit trees and medicinal herbs. In 1842, the local archaeological society installed the Romanesque portal of the old St Georges de Bouille chapel in the garden, which became a favourite spot of several writers like Maupassant or Paul Feval, who drew inspiration from the place to write “La Fee des Greves” in 1851.
Listed as a Historic Monument in 1944, the garden was seriously damaged by allied bombing and two storms in 1987 and 1999.
Super-Mario was born in Avranches. Twenty years ago, Mario Cipollini clinched the first of his 12 stage wins on the Tour the day before a 81-km team time trial in Avranches in which his GB-MG team-mates made sure he took the yellow jersey. While he lost it two days later, the Italian would hold it again in 1997, for twice as long this time. In 2002, another future yellow jersey holder snatches his first stage win on the Tour in Avranches. Bradley has so much confidence in his chances that day that he told television before the start to look no further for the stage winner.
PLACES TO SEE:
The castle was built circa 950 by Onfroi le Dane on the ruins of an old Roman fortress. A succession of walls and ditches was added to the original building. The construction of the Avranches keep probably dates from the Ducal period (11th and 12th centuries) when Robert was named the first Count of Avranches by Duke of Normandy Richard I. The keep was a quadrangular tower of 36 by 26 metres, typical of the Anglo-Norman keeps to be found both sides of the Channel after the 1066 conquest. The Tower of London followed similar plans. The Gallo-Roman clocks used for the construction are still visible today. In 1204 when Avranche was annexed to Normandy, the fortifications were seriously damaged and they were almost entirely demolished in the 18th century when the ramparts were sold. The keep was destroyed in 1848 and replaced by a street in which some buildings still show the remains of the old castle. The remaining tower is what is left of a 13th century wall between two bastions.
St Gervais basilica
The basilica was built from the 17th century on the site of an ancient shrine and was totally restored throughout the 19th century. A restoration campaign has started in 2010 on the neo-classic building. The treasure of St Gervais includes a reliquary containing the skull of Aubert, the founder of the Mont St Michel sanctuary in 708.
The Avranches courthouse is a former Episcopal manor built in 1490 for Louis de Bourbon, bishop of Avranches. It is close to the place where stood the Avranches Cathedral. The building, the residence of bishops up to the Revolution, rested of the town’s rampart. Damaged during the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, the building has housed the courthouse since 1798. Destroyed by fire in 1899, it was rebuilt by architect Cheftel.
Depository of the Mont St Michel manuscripts since the Revolution, Avranches opened a museum in 2006 in the heart of the old town.
Some 3,000 volumes originating from the Mont St Michel monastery and 200 medieval parchments, some dating from as far as the 8th century, make the reputation of the Avranches scriptorial.
For its 100th edition, the Tour de France could hardly avoid this jewel of France’s heritage, yet had the race come to Mont St Michel one year later, it would not have been possible to stage a time trial on the spot. From next year, huge works will be undertaken to restore the site to its maritime vocation. In the course of time, the sea has moved further back while the land took over and a 15-hectare car park at the foot of the ramparts was scarring this extraordinary setting. To preserve the site for future generations, Europe, France and local authorities decided to work hand in hand and with a long-term perspective. As from 2014, new accesses will be built to link the rock to the mainland. A new levee will be built, prolonged by a causeway while the last kilometre will be turned into a ford. This way Mont St Michel will be an island again and the time will come to demolish the 19th century road.
MONT-SAINT-MICHEL AND CYCLING
Since this only stage finish, the peloton had several chances to have a glimpse at Mont St Michel, especially in the 2011 stage between Dinan and Lisieux.