It’s not exactly what you’re expecting as you zip through Lower Normandy on your Vespa, but it’s hard to miss the bright yellow traffic sign stamped with an alligator and the words ALLIGATOR BAY.
The fortified island town of Mont-Saint-Michel, in Normandy, France, is best known for its iconic, post-card aesthetics, and an ancient history that traces back to the 8th century. But once you’ve wandered the narrow, cobblestone alleyways of European history, consider wandering around another type of history: crocodilians, one of the few living ancestors of the dinosaurs.
While only 50 or so people reside on the island itself, you can find a much bigger population nearby, a mere two miles away: Europe’s biggest population of alligators. Alligator Bay is home to 150 crocodiles and alligators, including albino alligators, plus a whole panoply of other reptiles.
There are chameleons, gila monsters, reticulated pythons, and all sorts of lizards, which you can check out in “the dragon’s maze.” You can stop by the tortoise farm and meander among some giant African tortoises, or head to the set of walkways that allow you to look down upon scores of alligators and crocodiles. If you want to see them chomping those great jaws of theirs, make sure you visit on the weekend, when they have their feeding sessions.
It’s certainly a change from observing the interior of the Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel or touring the ramparts of the nearby ocean town of Saint Malo. After all, alligators are not so native to western France (or any of France). But if you feel like you’ve had a slight overdose of European history, it might just be time to pet some tortoises.