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.

 

Mont Saint-Michel

 

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.

 

 

Mont Sant Michel
The free bus drops you on the new bridge, not far from the entry

 

Mont Saint Michel
So much to see, so little time

 

Saint Michel entrance
Second line of defences after main entry

 

Saint Michel street

 

Saint Michel street
Crowded main street

 

Saint Michel levels
Perspective can be dazzling as you gaze upwards to the Abbey

 

Saint Michel stairs
Alongside Carcassonne, this is the most medieval-looking town I have seen

 

Above the town
Climbing stairs and looking down over the town

 

Saint Michel stairs
Would have made a perfect Red Keep

 

Saint Michel stairs
To even start climbing the Abbey’s Grand Staircase, you first need to climb these stairs

 

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.

 

Grand Degre staircase
Grand Degre is the Grand staircase that links Le Grand Rue to the Abbey above

 

Grand Degre
This is closest you can get to the Red Keep in Game of Thrones in real life

 

Saint Michel view top
View towards the new bridge and the entry to Mont Saint Michel

 

Saint Michel Abbey
Terrace in front of the Church, which offers a 270 degrees view over the sea and land beyond

 

St Michel Abbey interior
The rather plain but commanding interior of the Abbey-Church

 

Abbey interior
With its perfect light, this image begged to be taken

 

St michel Cloister
The Cloister where monks would have retreated to meditate

 

St Michel window
Window in the Merveille wing of the Abbey. You’ll get a chance to see it from outside in one of the next images

 

St Michel wine cellar
The knight’s Room found deep inside the Merveille

 

St Michel chimneys
Huge chimneys in what was either the dining-hall or the study room

 

Monastery windlass cable
Outside view of the windlass, used to transport provisions to the prisoners

 

St Michel abbey
The Merveille wing of the Abbey. The cloister is just behind those 3 windows in the top middle. The window I mentioned earlier is just below them

 

St Michel street
Descending back into town and the tourist madness

 

St michel Street
Simply stunning. Looks like a still from a video game or fantasy book

 

St Michel Walls
If the walls didn’t stop you from attacking, then the tide sure would’ve. At high tide, all that sand will be submerged

 

St Michel road
Goodbye Mont Saint Michel

 

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.

 

 

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2 Comments

  • Adrian Corduneanu
    Posted July 23, 2019

    Merveilleuse !

Leave a Reply to Adrian Corduneanu Cancel reply

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