Summary: The Mont Saint Michel is one of the most visited monuments in France, and is definitely worth seeing. What is the history of the Mont? Why is the place so unique? Here is a list of the activities, monuments, museums and gastronomic delights that you won’t want to miss, followed by some practical information and advice.
France abounds in historical sites, monuments and churches—that’s the main reason people visit the country! This makes for a difficult choice when you have to plan your trip. So let’s make it easier for you. The very famous Mont Saint Michel is a must do—you won’t regret this stop. In one visit you will enjoy dramatic landscapes and nature, history, gastronomy and architecture.
This tidal island, located in the bay of Saint Michel in Normandy, hosts a village of 46 people and a very famous medieval abbey. The Mont is part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The place is visited by 3,000,000 people each year, which makes it the second most visited site in France. I visited the Mont a couple of times in my childhood, and I must admit that I had forgotten how beautiful it is.
The island used to be surrounded by the water, but during the 19th century a dike and a road were built, and in the 20th century parking started to surround the Mont in order to help visitors access to the site. Those changes have had a very bad effect on the natural environment of the site, which is now bogging down in the sand. They are now trying to reverse the process and bring back the sea around the Mont by replacing the parking on the mainland and building a bridge for access to the site.
According to the legend, the construction of the Mont was ordered after St. Aubert the Bishop of Avranches saw an apparition of the archangel Michael asking him to build a church on the top of the island.
The natural environment of the Mont Saint Michel is part of its beauty and history. Because of the very quick tides in the area, and the quicksand when the water is low, the place used to be nicknamed “St Michael in peril of the sea” by medieval pilgrims. For this reason, it is forbidden to visit the nearby area without a guide. Nevertheless, the landscape is absolutely gorgeous.
Once you enter the Mont St Michel, you will feel as if you have been transported back to the Middle Ages. All of the houses and shops have been preserved to maintain this medieval atmosphere, and many of them are very old. Walking in the small winding streets is very enchanting, your eyes being constantly attracted by a church, a shop, a museum or a garden.
At the very top of the Mont sits the abbey, built in the year 709. The architecture is magnificent, and many people come to the Mont just to visit this unique monument (€9). It’s always packed with people from different nations, so be aware of this.
Besides the abbey, there are a few museums that are located inside Mont St Michel:
You can visit the bay of Saint Michel by doing a guided crossing of the bay with a specialized guide. You shouldn’t this by yourself, as there are several quicksand spots.
You can also visit and cross the bay by horse. For that, you need to contact the horse riding schools nearby the Mont.
Here are a few links:
Disclaimer: We didn’t try these companies, nor we do advertise for them. Listing them is simply a service to help our readers in their pre-trip research.
For those who like gastronomy, there are two famous specialties at the Mont:
You will also find a lot of restaurants with variable prices and menus. Though the place is very touristy, you can find cheap food.
The Mont is 224 miles from Paris. You should take a train from the Montparnasse station to the city of Rennes (from €56 to €70), and from there go to the bus station and take a bus (€6) to the Mont.
There are plenty of hotels inside and outside of the Mont, and the prices are relatively reasonable for such a historical place. You can get yourself a double room for less than $80.
One last thing: Try to go there before or after the high season of July and August, when the daily number of visitors can reach 30,000. And try to avoid weekends as well!
If you go there in winter, bring warm, waterproof clothes. The wind can be quite strong as well.
That was a quick glimpse of Mont St Michel. We hope this will help you when planning your French vacation, and that you will be able to come and visit this unique place in France.