More Controversy and Rows at Mont Saint Michel

MaringotteThe new horse drawn carriages taking people from the car park to Normandy’s most popular tourist attraction at Mont Saint Michel are finally in place a year late, along with new parking charges.

The changes that were introduced at the world famous spot have caused a lot of rows and acrimony since they were unveiled a year ago and the controversy is continuing with staff at the abbey now going on strike.

When the new facilities opened in May last year visitors complained that the new bus stop was too far from the car park, that the price was too high and shop and restaurant owners blamed the higher car parking charges for a very poor season.

On top of this the Mont became virtually deserted in the evening as the public mistakenly thought that the shuttle buses that
transport visitors to the foot of the monument would not be running after around 6pm.

The horse drawn carriages never appeared after the prototype showed that the double deck design was unstable. It has taken a year for it to be redesigned and the new carriages unveiled yesterday are now only a single deck in height. But there are still concerns after one of the carriages fell into a ditch when they were being tests in April. Despite this they have been declared safe for public use.

Until now visitors were faced with a 900 meter walk from the car to the shuttle bus stop. There were numerous complaints from families with young children, elderly people and the disabled. Mini buses were introduced for disabled people, staff and people who live on the Mont which stopped right at the entrance but these have now been withdrawn. The bus stop for the shuttle buses has now been moved closer to the car park but people still face a 400 meter walk at the other end.

Also the cost of all the changes has not come cheap and the car parking charge has gone up from €8.50 for a car to €12, but parking is free from 7pm in the evening. While the shuttle buses are free, the horse drawn carriages cost €5 one way and can take 25 passengers.

Jean-François Legrand, the president of the Manche general council, Laurent Beauvais, president of the commercial syndicate responsible for the changes to Mont Saint Michel and Maria Vadillo, vice president of the Brittany regional council, attended the unveiling of the new transport services.

But it was an awkward gathering as the actual abbey wasn’t open to visitors as the employees were on strike over the transport situation. The workers are angry that the small minibuses that people who work and live on the Mont used to get have been withdrawn.

Yesterday Philippe Belaval, president of the National Monuments Centre which runs the abbey, visited to talk to them about the situation. ‘The Mont is a tiring site with all its steps, particularly the abbey. I understand why they want to get to and from the Mont easily. I hope we can find a solution,’ he said.

Mr Belaval also confirmed that the Mont suffered a huge drop in numbers last year, down 6% from 1.35 million in 2011 to 1.27 million in 2012. He also confirmed that the decline has continued in the first three months of 2013. He hopes that the changes being introduced for the start of the summer tourist season will help boost visitor numbers.

‘The changes introduced have had an impact on the number of visitors, that is for sure. I welcome the efforts by the syndicate and moving the bus stop is certainly a move in the right direction. We must now move away from the controversy so that this exceptional site can regain its attractiveness,’ he said.

‘I hope that the increase in parking does not cancel out the positive effect of moving the bus stop. We are pleased that parking is free in the evening. We are very aware of the need to attract people in the evening for the cultural events organised at the abbey,’ he added.

He pointed out that after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the abbey of Mont Saint Michel is the most visited monument in France and therefore very important for the economy and cultural life.

But the staff at the abbey said that they will continue their action. ‘Transdev (the company that provided the minibuses) are gaining financially at the expense of the users. We are determined to get change and we will take action through the summer if necessary,’ said Philippe Cathonnet, spokesman for the group of workers.

The changes are all part of a much larger plan to return Mont Saint Michel to its original state surrounded by the sea. The road will be taken away and replaced with a new foot bridge that is currently under construction and should be open next year.

About Ray Clancy

Ray Clancy has 20 years experience in journalism including contributing articles to print and on-line publications such as, Property World Middle East and websites for estate agents. She has also written for the Daily Telegraph and Mail on Sunday.

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