The Mère Poulard is one of the most famous characters associated with Mont St Michel. Although today her name is synonomous with local regional food products (biscuits, salted butter toffees etc.) produced by the company Mère Poulard, the original ‘Mère Poulard’ was known for the fabulous omelettes that she cooked for visitors to her hotel on Mont St Michel.
Annette Poulard (née Anne Boutiaut, she was nicknamed Annette and it stuck) was born in Nervers, Burgundy, in 1851. When she was older she took up employment as a chambermaid for a well known architect, Edouard Corroyer, whose speciality was ancient monuments. In 1872 Corroyer was asked by the French government to lead the restoration of the Mont St Michel Abbey. Annette went with him and his family and there met Victor Poulard, a baker on the Mont. They married in 1873 and opened a little hostel called the “hostellerie de la Tête d’Or”. It was a small establishment, and only welcomed a handful of visitors, including pilgrims, archaeologists, painters. It was a world apart from the crowds that visit Mont St Michel today. In those days, the dyke didn’t exist and Mont St Michel was frequently cut off from the mainland during high tides. Visitors would arrive at any time of day because of this, and were often famished when they finally reached the Mont. Annette had the idea of serving her guests an omelette of her own invention whilst they waited for the main course to arrive. The omelette of the Mère Poulard (as Annette became nicknamed) swiftly became famous amongst the visiting Parisians and the Poulards soon moved to a bigger hotel, where Annette continued to welcome the ever increasing number of guests to Mont St Michel. She was famous for her hospitality and mothered her guests as most parents do children.
“Have you had a good journey? Sit yourselves down quickly, you must be starving. Madame, give me your coat so I can dry it. Don’t worry, you will have it back and ironed for your visit to the Abbey. Take this scarf while you are waiting. Now, settle yourselves down and eat well. And when you’ve finished, we’ll show you the way to go…”
She employed very few staff, welcomed all visitors herself and if guests had to leave quickly she would tell them to pay next time they visited, and often accepted paintings instead of payment for her food. Eventually, some people took advantage of this and the hotel profits declined, but she didn’t care. “If I collected all the money owed to me, I’d have to employ a cashier, who I would have to pay, accommodate, and that wouldn’t have helped”. As long as she had enough money in the bank to get her through the winter she was happy.
The Poulards retired in 1920 and retired to a pretty little house on the top of Mont St Michel. They celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and Annette finally died in 1931.
I highly recommend that you don’t eat in the Mère Poulard establishment (or any other for that matter) on Mont St Michel as the food quality isn’t great and the prices generally exorbitant. However, the products in the Mère Poulard food range are delicious. The omelette has been overtaken by delicious butter biscuits and cakes, salted toffee caramels and other goodies. The Mère Poulard factory is situated only 10 mins drive from La Haute Mancelière and there is a factory shop, open 6 days a week, which sells the products all at very cheap prices (over a third lower than in the supermarkets). Ideal if you want to take back some presents or souvenirs to the UK.