The black and white snapshot above is perhaps the best way to represent the timeless and unique island of Mont Saint-Michel. Few places stunned me as this one: Carcassonne, The Great Wall and the terraced rice paddies of China. And that is not said lightly. If you ever find yourself in this part of France, do yourself a big favour and stop by to visit this island frozen in time.
By now you probably wonder where this place is exactly and how to get there.
The closest international airport, albeit minor, is in Rennes, a mere 70 kilometres away. The bus/coach station where you can take the bus for the island is next to the train station in Rennes. If you are two or more people travelling, it makes more sense to rent a car as it can be cheaper and faster. Bear in mind, you’ll have to dish out some cash for the parking near the island; 14 euro per day to be more precise. It’s the standard fare in high season (it’s 9 euro in low season), but at least it covers you for a full day and allows you to enjoy Mont Saint-Michel at your leisure.
Just a couple more words on how to get here: Paris ain’t too far away, just 3 hours by car or 3 to 4 by train and bus combined. Calais is farther, at around 5 hours driving. All in all, there are plenty of options on how to get yourself there.
If you plan to spend the night, there is a big hotel complex next to the car park plus plenty of hotels in the neighbouring commune. Some of the hotels award commanding views over the island so be sure to check out in advance and get a room with such a view. And if you are rolling in it, you can of course sleep on the island itself.
Once you drop your car in the parking lot 2.5 km away from Mont Saint-Michel, you are presented with two choices: walk up to the shuttle stop to get one of the free shuttles to the island or take a leisurely stroll. It’s around 25 minutes away by foot, so it can be a good warmup for the climbing to come, but be sure to be prepared. The wind can be bracing even in summer.
Since we first decided to visit Normandy (more on that here), I knew we had to make a stop here. This place has been on the bucketlist for years! And no wonder. Over 3 millions of tourists visit Mont Saing-Michel yearly, making it one of the most recognised landmarks in France. They must know something, right?
Nothing prepares you for how majestic this place is from up close. While peeking up at its medieval housing, defensive walls and vast soaring Abbey, you’d have no trouble feeling like you stepped into the pages of a story book.
And why not?
The island on which Mont Saint-Michel resides has been fortified since antiquity. Besides that, the monastery that gives the island its name has existed here since the 8th century AD. And what is most impressive, like in Carcassonne, once you step through the outer gate and into the outer bailey, you are thrown back straight into the 1600s. A seventeen century populated with people dressed in 2019 fashion, but still.
The era houses and the defensive structures like portcullises, drawbridges and towers provide a striking contrast to our modern clothes. The street lamps, the artsy signs advertising various hospitality services and the lack of cars and road signs all paint an unified image. An image as impressive as it was unexpected.
The Grande Rue welcomes you after your passage through the gates and carries you all the way to the monastery’s stairs. On both sides of the Grande Rue, medieval houses close in above you and house around fifty shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. Interesting enough, half of the whole island (monastery excluded), belongs to the same person.
On top of a hill, 92 meters above the sea level, sits the crown jewel on the island, the Abbey of Saint-Michel. The first monks, which inhabited the monastery since the 9th century became corrupted over the years by their growing fortunes and turned to worldly pleasures. This led to their replacement by Benedictine monks in the 11th century.
By the time of the French Revolution though, hardly any monk was left in residence on the island. A new purpose had to be found for the abbey. It became a prison. And it stayed a prison for almost 80 years, until it was petitioned for it to become a national monument.
In more recent history, the island couldn’t be considered an island anymore, as stilts accumulated over the years due to the construction of a raised causeway in 1879. In 2009 the construction of a hydraulic dam and bridge made it possible for Mont Saint-Michel to become an island again. The salty flats around it can be accessed at low tide, although it’s recommended not to do it without a guide.
Once we checked out the lower level of the island and its Grande Rue, we climbed to the Abbey itself. The admission price for the Abbey is 10 euros. After visiting it, I can say with confidence these were some of the best spent 10 euros of the last half a year. When you are not climbing up or down on one of the Abbey’s many staircases, you are exploring some vast and stern room in the Merveille wing or taking in the view from a breathtaking vantage point.
I really hope you will be able to make a visit here some day.
Mont Saint-Michel is a treat and it should be enjoyed for at least a few of hours on a lazy summer afternoon. I for one hope to make a return soon. Until then I will continue exploring wherever I can and hope you don’t stop wandering either!
PS: if you made it this far, there’s a video of the Grande Rue below. Pray excuse my shaky hand.