We rolled out of the car, stood up and slowly stretched towards the dark sky. Sun was still slightly below the horizon as we made our way towards the bay. It was Sunday morning, and instead of sleeping in and lazing around the rented house, we got up early, had a light breakfast and drove to Mont Saint Michel to catch a glimpse of first light.
We have seen it in countless photographs, and let me tell you; it is even more impressive and quite divine in real life; light changes Mont Saint -Michel in its entirety from dawn to dusk, and there are plenty of quiet nooks and crannies to sneak away from crowds.
For us, 2017 regarding travel was vividly saturated. We spent a week closely observing the world’s best surfing athletes doing airs and competing for the title in Peniche, Portugal.
We visited sun-drenched Biarritz beaches, wandered around Tallinn’s old town, explored beautiful Lisbon city and went home to Latvia to celebrate Ericeiras 1. st Birthday yet nothing compared with a trip to UNESCO World Heritage site situated just where Brittany and Normandy meet.
It was so beautiful to experience this landscape of vastness, mudflats and shifting sand that we just couldn’t wait to share it with you. On the day that we visited the air was hot and laden with laughter. We watched a sunrise over the broad fields and waited for the first lights to brighten the island after nightfall. We climbed all the way to the gothic abbey and came back to witness the sunrise.
Visiting Mont Saint-Michel: France’s Most Picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you are tempted to discover this magical-looking place for yourself, then keep on reading as in this blog post, we share a few useful tips and hints. Let’s start with the obvious one, where is it and how to get there!
How to get to Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is situated in northwest France, just between Normandy and Brittany.
By car | Driving to Mont Saint-Michel by car is very convenient if you are exploring either Normandy or Brittany. From Brittany drive along A13 towards Rouen and Caen and then use A84 to Le Mont Saint Michel. The best thing about travelling by car in Brittany, is there are no toll roads.
If you are travelling from Paris, use the A11 motorway towards Chartres Le Mans and then exit Fougeres towards Mont Saint-Michel. Keep in mind that the distance from The City of Lights is around 358 km.
If arriving from Normandy, you can easily access Mont Saint-Michel from the town of Bayeux or Caen.
Alternatively, let someone else do the driving and join day tours from Paris (although a 14-hour day tour does not sound too pleasant).
By train | Another way to reach Mont Saint-Michel is to travel by train from the Montparnasse train station in Paris to the capital city of Brittany-Rennes, worth visiting on its own. Journey times are around two hours, and from Rennes, Keolis buses offer direct services to the island up to four times a day (1 hour and 20 minutes). It is also possible to travel to Pontorson train station and from there, use the shuttle bus to Mont Saint-Michael.
Know before you go
Mont Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most symbolic sites and has even been used as an inspiration for the Disney movie Tangled. Before the trip, we did extensive research about the region and stumbled upon good few travel bloggers advising us to skip the excursion to the island; it’s hugely popular and always busy.
Thanks to budget airlines, travel is more affordable now than ever before, there are many sites around Europe where visitor numbers have skyrocketed. Mont Saint-Michael is one of Frances’s most visited sites, in fact, three million people come to the tidal island every year to see the 1,300 years old Norman Benedictine abbey ( used as a prison in French Revolution) and to wander through the beautiful medieval city.
Don’t let this stop you from exploring the world or losing your sense of wonder. Just plan properly, make the effort of getting up early and be two steps ahead of everyone else. See the two photographs below for comparison, the first one was taken shortly after sunrise while the other – was just before lunchtime.
In our opinion, Mont Saint-Michel is well worth the visit as it is one of the most visually beautiful sites we have ever seen.
A brief history of Mont Saint-Michel
If you are unfamiliar with Mont-Saint-Michel, here’s a brief history. Up until the 7th century, the island was called Mont Tombe and belonged to the Diocese of the Avranches. The legend has it that the bishop of Avranches, Saint-Aubert, had a dream where Saint Michel told him to construct a church on top of the Mont Tombe.
Once it was built, Vikings arrived and occupied the newly built church, scaring away all the monks. Benedictine Abbey was built in 966 and was partially burned when the King of France tried to capture the mount.
Benedictine monks settled back around the 10th century and started re-building the place, which gradually became a pilgrimage site, attracting visitors from near and far.
Mont Saint-Michel Way
Nowadays, for pilgrims travelling from the UK and Ireland, the first stage of the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) in France is Mont St-Michel. The Mont Saint-Michel way is divided into two parts and stretches on for approximately 500km.
The first part of the walk starts at the sacred Mont Saint-Michel and ends in Nantes, the ”Venice of the West”. The second part goes from Nantes, a city on the Loire River, and ends in Saintes, a historic town in southwest France and joins the Camino de Santiago path coming from Tours and Paris.
Accessing Mont Saint-Michel island
The Mont Saint-Michel, Nicknamed “Saint Michel in Peril of the Sea,” is an island just 600 meters off the Normandy coast and a brand new 2,500ft boardwalk has been built to access it( it took nearly ten years to design and build).
There is a regular shuttle bus service, called Le Passeur; visitors can use it to get to the entrance of the walls, and you can also walk along a pedestrian path or book a horse-drawn carriage. The shuttle buses run very frequently and have 4 drop-offs/pick-up points along the route.
It is also possible to walk across the bay at low tide with an experienced guide and learn about the history, waves, flora, and fauna along the way. Don’t be tempted to go alone, quicksands and unexpected riptides are too dangerous.
We parked at a visitors car park, located 1.5 miles away, walked all the way to Mont Saint-Michel and used a shuttle bus on our way back to the mainland. The parking fee depends on the length of your stay, and you have to pay admission to visit the abbey; however, entry to the island itself is free.
Where to stay near Mont Saint-Michel
One of the options for visiting Mont Saint-Michel, you can stay overnight on the island itself is one of the charming hotels or choose accommodation on the mainland.
Staying on the island is very popular but can be pricey, hotels situated a little further coast are about half the price, and you get the additional advantage of the view. If you fancy though, compare prices and book in advance.
Another great way to find reasonable accommodation is through Airbnb since prices are often lower than in hotels. We have used it throughout Europe and France and have always had a good experience.
We stayed in a little town called Pontorson and were happy with the choice as we could see the Mont Saint -Michel from a living room window.
Check out these hotels, situated on the island:
• Auberge Saint Pierre | Situated on Mont Saint -Michel tidal island, Auberge Saint Pierre is a 14th-century half-timbered house with clean and comfortable rooms. There are restaurants on-site, and some of the rooms offer sea views.
• Les Terrasses Poulard | Located in the centre of Mont Saint-Michel, Les Terrasses Poulard is a historic property overlooking the village and offering traditional French cuisine and rooms with modern décor.
Tips, hints, and things to do in Mont Saint-Michel
- Consider a visit during the off-season or shoulder season (May/September). Streets are very narrow, and the little village gets very busy during the summer month, especially during July and August, with hour-long lines outside the Abbey entrance.
- Although Mont Saint-Michal is famous for its gastronomy of traditional omelette and seafood, bring your food for picknick or lunch. Tourist cafes offer average and quite pricey food (think fries and boring sandwiches), and you’ll be charged around 40 EUR for the traditional omelette.
- Choosing when to visit is essential. To avoid big crowds of tourists, visit early in the morning or late at night. Colours and shades during the golden hour are incomparable if you are into photography, and it’s spectacular to see the island lit up after dark.
- To see the tides coming in ”at the speed of the galloping horse,” you have to be there during the highest of high tide. Mont-Saint Michel’s official website has the tides schedule you can see here.
- Climb 700 steps to admire the main attraction-beautiful Gothic Abbey. The entrance includes an hour-long tour around this engineering masterpiece built by monks in the 13th century. To check the prices and opening hours see here.
- If travelling by car from Paris, make sure you have plenty of Euros on hand as part of the way is on toll roads and many don’t accept American credit cards.
- Visit one or all of 4 museums on the island; Historical, Maritime and Ecology, Historical Home of Bertrand du Guesclin and Archeoscope and gain more insight about ”Wonder of the West” by checking out collections of ancient objects, paintings and more.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Mont Saint-Michel? Did you go at high tide? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Mont Saint-Michel and have travel-related questions!