The slender towers and sky-scraping turrets of the abbey of Mont Saint Michel are one of the classic images of northern France. Rising from flat white sands, the abbey sits atop a small island encircled by stout ramparts and battlements, connected to the mainland by an old causeway. Legend has it that the abbey was founded in the 8th century, when Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, was visited by the Archangel Michael in a dream; to this day the abbey is still crowned by a gilded copper statue of Michael slaying a dragon, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
The bay around Mont Saint Michel is famous for its extreme tides. Depending on the season and the gravitational pull of the moon, the difference between low and high tides can reach 50 feet (15 m), although the Mont is only completely surrounded by the sea during seasonal equinoxes. Regardless of the time of year, the waters sweep in at an astonishing rate; at low tide the Mont can be surrounded by bare sand for miles around, but at high tide, barely six hours later, the whole bay is often entirely submerged by the sea.