Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
If you are on a mission to visit the most iconic sites of Europe, the medieval island village of Mont St. Michel in France, located off Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Couesnon River, should be on your list. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring famous Gothic abbey, is the second most popular tourist attraction in France outside of Paris. Here are the essential tips for visiting Mont Saint Michel, France.
Essential Tips for Visiting Mont Saint Michel France
My visit to Mont St Michel in France was a part of the 9-day road trip to the north of France. I traveled with friends – two women and one brave man. We were lured by the images of the island and the monastery rising up out of the sea. We decided to spend a night there to fully enjoy the village. Our plan was to arrive early in the evening and leave the area in the afternoon the next day.
Where is Mont St. Michel?
Mont St Michel stands just off the Normandy and Brittany’s coasts in northwest France. Le Mont-Saint-Michel is an island and mainland commune in Normandy. The island is located about one kilometer off the country’s northwestern coast, at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. It occupies 7 hectares of land. The mainland part of the commune is 393 hectares.
What is the best time to visit Mont St Michel?
The best time to visit Mont St Michel is March to October when the weather is at its best. Try to avoid July and August when it gets very crowded. It could be hot too. Low season runs November to February when the weather is at its worst. The best time to visit during the day is early in the morning before tourists arrive on the island. It gets crowded around 9:30 a.m. Then in the late afternoon, things get quiet again. It makes sense to stay overnight to enjoy night and morning before where tourists arriving on tour buses are not around.
History of Mont Saint Michel
Mont St Michel has a fascinating history going back to 709 AD. It starts with Bishop Aubert of Avranches. According to the legend, the archangel Michael kept appearing in the bishop’s dreams and asked him to build a church on the barren rock known then as Mont Tombe. The bishop of Avranches agreed to the request. In around 966, a group of Benedictine monks settled on the island and began building a Romanesque-style church. The legend and the presence of the monks ensured that Mt Saint Michel became a pilgrimage site of faith during the Middle Ages.
Started during the 10th century, the Benedictine abbey has numerous architectural marvels from the West Roman empire, roman and Gothic styles. The Mont-Saint-Michel could be considered a megastructure where the buildings are on top of each other while trying to accommodate Benedict activities within a tight space.
After the French Revolution
During the French Revolution, the abbey became less popular and eventually uninhabited. It was closed and used as a prison until 1864. The pilgrimage never stopped completely, even when the abbey was in English hands during the Hundred Years War. In 1874, the abbey was handed over to the French government with the aim of preserving it for the ages. Shortly after, the island was classified as a historical monument and subsequently, renovations on the buildings began.
Finally, in 1979 the historic monument was classified by UNESCO as one of their World Heritage Sites. It is now one of the most visited monuments in France. Currently, Monks live and work here again, just like in medieval times. Historically, Mont St. Michel was connected to the mainland via a tidal causeway, a path accessible only at low tide. Today, it is reached via a permanent walkway raised above the water below.
How to get to St. Michel, France
The easiest way of visiting Mont St Michel is by car. It is a short drive from the A84 Caen-Rennes highway. Try to arrive early in the morning or later at night during the summer months to avoid waiting in a long line to park. The famous sanctuary is located in the Manche department. It lies 41 miles (66 km) north of Rennes and 32 miles (52 km) east of seaport of Saint-Malo situated on the English Channel, in Brittany region of northwestern France. If it is your day trip from Paris, allow about a 4-hour drive.
The simplest way to get to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris is to take a direct train to Rennes. From there, you can then take a direct shuttle coach bus to Mont Saint Michel. The closest train station from other directions is Pontorson. A direct shuttle bus will take you from there to the island. The ride takes about 20 minutes. If arriving from Normandy, you can also easily access it from the town of Bayeux or Caen. Here you can find detailed information on how to arrive by train.
Day trip excursions from Paris or Bayeux
Taking a bus tour from these cities may not be the most economical way to visit the Mont Saint Michel France, but it is a convenient and stress-free way to do it if you do not have a car. Unfortunately, it also means you will be arriving when other tours arrive, therefore expect crowds.
Tips on what to do at Mont Saint Michel
Visit the tourist office
Stop at the tourist office located on the main street, where you will get detailed information about the village and tips on how to visit Mont Saint Michel and the area around it.
Enjoy the Village
Mont St Michel is a fortified island. When you enter it, a single steep road leads to the abbey complex at the top of the rock. On this street, Grand-Rue, you will find restaurants and shops selling souvenirs. Take a walk first and maybe do some shopping. After a steep climb, I am sure you will need a break. Have something to eat or drink in one of the charming places along the street. Your meal will not be cheap or extraordinary, but you will get to enjoy the beauty of the village.
Take note: Most restaurants close at 10 p.m. even in high season!
Visit Mont Saint Michel Abbey
Despite the crowds, the village and especially the abbey are well worth visiting. The crowded Grand Rue can be avoided by using the walkways on the ramparts to head up to the abbey. On your way up, stop at the cemetery to enjoy a panorama of the sea around. The cemetery and abbey’s church provide a nice break from climbing. During the tour of the abbey, you can visit the areas for receiving pilgrims and religious rooms such as the church and crypts, as well as the areas dedicated to the everyday life of the monks, such as the cloisters and refectory.
Visit la Mere Poulard
La Mere Poulard is a restaurant and hotel on Mont Saint Michel. The restaurant dates back to 1879 and is known for the wall of autographs from over a century of famous diners, including Ernest Hemingway and Yves Saint Laurent. The restaurant became most famous for its specialty, Omelette de la mère Poulard, a giant omelet several inches thick, made in hand-hammered copper bowls, and cooked over an open fire. A drink can be enjoyed in the piano bar, overlooking the Bay of the Mont Saint Michel.
Make sure to stay for the sunset
At the end of the day, leave the village and wait for the sunset. The crowds are mostly gone by then and you will have the moment to yourself. It is a magical sight.
Mont Saint Michel lodging – Essential Tips for First-time Visitors
Choosing your hotel
For us, staying at Mont Saint Michel France was one of a kind experience that I do not recommend to repeat. It was a hot sunny evening when we arrived at the parking lot. When we realized we were 20 minutes away by a bus shuttle from our hotel, we had to repack and take with us only what was needed for one night. As you may imagine, it was a slight difference in what each of us considered basic necessities. The bus looked brand new but I guess it was not hot enough for the French to turn AC on. It was long 20 minutes to hold on to our suitcases and not to faint from the heat.
Finding your hotel in the village
For some unknown reason, the shuttle stops in quite a distance from the village. It was a long walk just to get to the bottom of it. There were no signs leading us to our hotel, so we begin to question ourselves if we were at the right stop. Our male friend, a true gentleman, offered to check things out. He took his luggage and left. He was gone for at least an hour. As it turned out, he had a hard time to find our hotel. When he finally got there, he was told that the check-in was at another hotel. That meant negotiating more steps and enduring the heat trapped between the thick walls of the village. When he returned, he looked exhausted but now his mission was to help three ladies and their luggage to reach the hotel. Again, a steep hill and cobblestones!
What kind of accommodation you can expect
The hotel room had a small double bed and a tiny bathroom and it felt like an oven! Opening the window did not help much, as it was facing a wall just a foot away. The air was trapped. With the hope that it will eventually cool down, we quickly went out to find something to eat. It was around 10 PM and most restaurants were closing and had no food to serve. We all ended up having pizza, it was as good as it gets at that hour. To top it all, when we returned to our hotel, it was locked and there no one around to open it up for us! How we got in, remains our little secret.
Essential tips on lodging
DO NOT stay in the village during hot summer months. They are modern hotels available along the but shuttle route. You will sleep in comfort, will not have to drag your bags up the steep hill, and hopefully will we be able to get into your hotel for the night. During the off-season, when the heat is not an issue, you would probably enjoy staying in the village. My advice, contact your hotel before your arrival and ask where to check-in and what code to use to enter your hotel at night. Also, make sure to pack lightly!
You May Also Enjoy…