Mont Saint Michel is a unique place in the world and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe. It is considered an authentic wonder of the western world and also one of the most important pilgrimage sites. But if thousands of tourists decide to visit Normandy and Mont Saint Michel every year, there is also another reason.
I think you have already seen dozens of photos of Mont Saint Michel shrouded by tides, aren’t you?
Well, even the landscape deserves the utmost attention, but at Mont Saint Michel there are a lot of things to see and discover. Yes, because this rock spur, partially isolated from the mainland, has been inhabited since the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, in fact, a small village has gradually formed on the mountain, which today attracts thousands of tourists.
In addition, in this area of France, there are plenty of other things to visit, such as the majestic Fougères castle, Saint-Malo or the beautiful Dol de Bretagne.
Here’s what you absolutely must not miss!
On the top of the mountain stands the majestic abbey of Mont Saint Michel, with the bell tower overlooking the picturesque bay of Normandy, with sand and sea as far as the eye can see. Lower down, the gray and blue roofs take up the dark colors of the Normandy sky, often inclement in this region of France.
I recommend you to not forget to take the tour of the abbey of Mont Saint Michel, the entrance fee is only € 10 but there is often a large queue and you will have to wait. That’s why I advise you to buy tickets online, in order to save an enormous amount of time. You can find tickets here.
I already know what you’re thinking!
But isn’t it just a tourist trap?
To tell the truth it is partly true. Wherever there is such a high number of people it is inevitable that kiosks or junk shops arise. But Mont Saint Michel is much more than a place to buy souvenirs because it is rich in history, mysticism, and beauty.
In this post, I will not only tell you the most important things to see but also its incredible story, legends and all the essential information to visit Mont Sant Michel at its best.
Are you ready?
Index of topics
Skip-the-line tickets and activities
1 – The abbey of Mont Saint Michel
As soon as you arrive near the coast, you immediately realize that Mont Saint Michel is to be discovered. You will immediately want to explore all the alleys and walk on the high walls, but if you don’t have much time, there are some things you should see at first.
First of all, the splendid abbey!
Reaching it not so easy because you have to “climb” up to the top of the mountain, but I assure you that every effort will be repaid. The abbey of Mont Saint Michel is so imposing that it appears to be a castle in the castle.
Inside that, you can visit all the rooms and look out from its splendid balconies, and you will have an even more impressive view of the bay below.
Ok, but what’s inside it?
In addition to the magnificent church, in which the Gothic and Romanesque forms merge, you can walk in the beautiful cloister where peace and tranquility reign. Here are also one of the most beautiful terraces of Mont Saint Michel … one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen.
Here is a little curiosity!
If you can look away from the view and just look at the floor, you can notice that the stones have engraved numbers or letters. No, fortunately, they are not a case of vandalism, but they represent the working days of stone cutters. Each of them carved their own symbol on the stone to show that it was he who cut it. They were in fact paid for the number they cut and not for hours of work!
What else to say!
About the abbey of Mont Saint Michel, I could write for hours and hours. I honestly cannot tell you which environment I liked the most, whether the majestic scriptorium or the incredible crypt with its huge supporting columns, whether the cloister, the garden or the canteen.
Undoubtedly the room that has remained the most impressed was that of the knights, but in every environment, you can breathe the past of this ancient place, that for centuries has fascinated visitors from all over the world.
Do you want to know one of the most beautiful experiences that have happened to me?
Listen to the mass sung in Latin inside the church. I love Gregorian chants … imagine listening to them within these walls, with a view of the bay of Mont Saint Michel!
It was incredible!
2 – The origins of the mountain
If Mont Saint Michel fascinates travelers of our generation, can you imagine how many stories it has inspired in the past?
In ancient times it is said that this place took the name of Mont-Tombe. All around there was a sacred forest for the Celtic peoples, the Scissy forest, and the bay was much wider than today.
So why does it have a different name today?
Thanks to Charlemagne who, in the 9th century, chose the archangel Michael as protector of his kingdom. Moreover, a second legend, following the Christianization of the area, wants the mountain to be dedicated to the archangel Michael because it is precisely here that he fought against Satan.
Perhaps this is just a story, but what is certain is that the cult of the archangel is attested in Mont Saint Michel since the 709 when Bishop Aubert decided to build a church in his honor. Only 300 years later, under the Dukes of Normandy, the first group of monks settled and began to build the Romanesque abbey of Mont Saint Michel, giving a strong boost to the development of the village.
Today it may seem trivial to you, but the construction of the church and the entire village was very hard.
This land is not only steep but also quite muddy because it is constantly flooded by tides. In short, it must not have been easy to bring all the building materials up to here.
Here are some interesting facts!
During the Hundred Years War, the abbey of Mont Saint Michel was surrounded by a wall, partly still visible, and was never conquered by the British. But the real protection of the village is due to the tides and the wet sand, which was obviously impossible to cross for a man in armor, and not even for a horse!
3 – How to visit Mont Saint Michel
To visit Mont Saint Michel, take into consideration that you will need at least half a day.
Until a few years ago it was possible to arrive by car up to parking that was located a few meters from the walls. Lately, instead, a car park has been built about two kilometers from the bay, from which you can take a free shuttle or continue by foot.
What do I recommend to you?
Perhaps 2 km may seem a lot, but the experience of gradually getting closer to Mont Saint Michel, looking its different angles, really has no price.
The shuttle is always very crowded and you can decide to take it back. I assure you that you will be rather tired.
The visit to Mont Saint Michel includes stairs and climbs so, if you want a piece of advice, remember to use comfortable shoes and clothes, but above all a good supply of water. Another tip is to go early in the morning to avoid groups of tourists, or at lunchtime when the entrance row to the abbey is reduced.
Don’t forget to take a walk into the bay.
If the tide allows it, I suggest you take a tour around Mont Saint Michel but be very careful: in this area, there are in fact shifting sands that can be very dangerous. I also recommend checking the tide times because the water arrives really fast.
In general, you should be always very attentive to the tides in Normandy: they are the most important in the world and they arrive at an impressive speed, advancing up to 13 km an hour.
4 – Mont Saint Michel: when to go
If you are planning to visit Mont Saint Michel from Paris, or you are planning a tour of Normandy by your own car, remember to check the tides first!
This information is very useful for two reasons.
First of all, you can watch the flooding of the bay… and I assure you that it is a sight to see at least once in your life.
Second, you will avoid going a long way for nothing. In fact, in some periods of the year, the access to the mountain is not possible because the sea completely covers the bay and the bridge.
But what is the best time to go?
Maybe I’ll tell you something you may not like, but I advise you against going to Mont Saint Michel during the periods of the famous “grandes marées”. I know, it’s a really suggestive show, but you will find a lot of people and you risk to stay in the middle of the crowd and not being able to see anything.
The best time to go in Mont Saint Michel is when the tides are not at their maximum, but abundant enough to cover the bay.
Ah, if you can stay until sunset, you won’t regret it!
5 – Some curiosity
On the Mont Saint Michel there is much to say, but here are some curiosities that you should know.
First of all, you need to know that it is one of the most visited tourist sites in France: in 2016 it was the seventh after Disneyland Paris, the Louvre museum, the Palace of Versailles, the Eiffel Tower and the Pompidou Center.
The original bell tower of the abbey of Mont Saint Michel was destroyed by lightning and rebuilt in its present form in 1703. It was even used as one of the bases for the optical telegraph line that went from Paris to Brest.
As I was telling you, the mountain was never conquered by the British but, during the French Revolution, the structure was turned into a huge prison. Only in the nineteenth century, it became a national historic monument because of its historical-artistic heritage.
What about statue of Saint Michael?
You probably already noticed it but, on the top of the village, there is a huge statue of Saint Michael. Contrary to popular belief, the statue is relatively recent because it was placed only in 1897 by Emmanuel Frémiet. It is 3.5 meters high, weighs 800 pounds and is in gilded copper. If they seem absurd to you, think that the Madonnina del Duomo in Milan is even bigger.
6 – Mysticism and esotericism
That Mont Sant Michel is a “magical” place is already clear for its uniqueness as an island / non-island.
Its ancient name Mont-Tombe, and the dedication of an ancient church to the Virgin Mary of the Underground, as well as the legends about the archangel Michael and the devil, have led many people to see Mont Saint Michel as an esoteric and mystical place.
Believe it or not, the energy of this place is really palpable and it is no coincidence that it has been considered a sacred place since the Celtic era. After all, it is suspended between earth water and air, the three sacred elements for this ancient civilization.
I don’t want to dwell too much on this, because you’ll find it out for yourself, by visiting it.
If Saint Michael has really defeated the devil or not it doesn’t matter, Mont Saint Michel is a sacred place because it is where nature shows its beauty and power and the men were able to exalt it thanks to their works and intelligence.
7 – How to arrive to Mont Saint Michel from Paris
Getting from Paris to Mont Saint Michel is not difficult at all.
There are indeed plenty of buses and organized tours that leave from the French capital and take you to Normandy in about 5 or 6 hours. Prices vary a lot, but in general, you can find good offers around € 100.
I advise you to take a look here. This is a full-day activity, with a visit to Mont Saint Michel and a nearby village, with all the comforts of a guided tour and tickets to skip the line.
If you want to organize on your own tour, you can reach Normandy by train in Pontorson or Avaranches station, and continue with shuttles to arrive at the village. By car, you can take the motorway and you can reach Mont Saint Michel in about 4 hours, traffic permitting.
8 – Where to eat
Unfortunately this is a real sore point.
Inside the walls of Mont Saint Michel, you can find plenty of bars and restaurants. The prices are not always affordable and the quality of the food is often low. One of the most famous places you will certainly hear about is the famous Galette de la Mère Poulard.
What is it?
La mère Poulard was a lady who made such delicious galettes at the end of the nineteenth century. She was so able to expand and buy most of the shops inside the mountain. Today, practically 90% of hotels and restaurants belong to Mère Poulard, which became a brand because the lady is dead several years ago.
If you want to taste the handmade galettes, you can find a typical restaurant after the entrance of Mont, but the prices are a bit expensive: a galette costs about 40 euros.
Sure, the boys are dressed in typical costume and I’m more than certain it’s very good, but if you want my advice try to organize yourself with a packed lunch. Eating a sandwich on the walls, with a view of the boundless bay, is an experience that you will always remember.
Need some help?
Are you planning to visit Mont Saint Michell and you need some other advice?
If you are looking for a hotel, want to book some activities or tickets, write to me in the comments about the budget you have available and the dates you are interested in.
I will help you to find the best solutions for your needs.