A magical island topped by a gravity-defying abbey, the Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay count among France’s most stunning sights. For centuries one of Europe’s major pilgrimage destinations, this holy island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is its breathtaking bay. The stunning and well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St. Michel, which is located on the island’s highest point and is encircled by the meandering alleyways and intricate architecture of the medieval town, is its most famous landmark.
Due to its distinctive aesthetic and significance as a medieval Christian site, UNESCO added Mont-Saint-Michel and the harbor it is situated into its list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. Every year, more than three million people go there. The commune is home to more than 60 structures that are designated as historical sites in France.
The History & Introduction of Mont Saint-Michel in France
For the Duchy of Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel served as a stronghold and a crossing point between Normandy and Brittany. New, strong fortifications had to be built to withstand the numerous battles of the Hundred Years War between France and England starting in the 14th century. For nearly 30 years, the English army was unable to approach the Mount because it was guarded by a small number of knights who were loyal to the King of France and surrounded by a wall with numerous military towers.
The church’s Romanesque chancel was destroyed in 1421 during a harrowing siege, and it took another 100 years for a magnificent Gothic reconstruction to be completed. The Mount lost its significance in terms of warfare and religion in the 17th and 18th centuries due to its administrative abbots leaving.
The Congregation of Saint-Maur was reformatted in 1622, creating a new religious order at the Abbey. They rebuilt the area while attempting to resurrect the monastic lifestyle and pilgrimages. As the Abbey evolved into a sort of “Bastille on the sea,” these monks also had to deal with the influx of inmates who had been given life sentences without a trial.
What you can do in Mont Saint-Michel
The Mont Saint-Michel is free to enter, and you could easily spend the day simply admiring the village and its surroundings. However, there are lots of sights to view and activities to do, such as cathedrals, museums, and, of course, the magnificent Abbey perched on top.
The Abbey has a minor (10 EUR) entrance fee, but it’s well worth it to visit the historic site. Look for the parish church of Saint-Pierre on the Grande Rue as you ascend to the Abbey. It is flanked by a cemetery and contains a silver statue of Saint-Michel. La Mère Poulard herself, Anne Boutiaut, is buried there. There is also the Maritime Museum, which provides information about the island’s surroundings and nature.
A walk in Mont Saint-Michel
Head up the Porte Échauguette, which lies to the left of the main entrance gate, for a stroll along the Abbey walls and spectacular shore views. Be sure to visit the Terrasse de l’Ouest for a breathtaking bay view.
Souvenirs of the Mont Saint-Michel
La Mère Poulard is well-known for her delicious buttery cookies, which make wonderful gifts. They are on sale all across the village, you can buy them for much less at practically any French grocery store.
Dining in the Mont Saint-Michel
Omelettes and crepes are two well-known delicacies from Mont Saint-Michel. La Mère Poulard, which is adjacent to the main entrance as you arrive through the King’s Gate, is noteworthy. La Mère Poulard, the most well-known restaurant on the island, has been operating since 1888 and is renowned for its fluffy omelettes, which are said to be the best in the world.
For a traditional omelette, expect to pay at least 28 EUR if you want the experience, and make a reservation in advance to avoid the long line. Visitors frequently go to Crêperie La Cloche for crepes. Anywhere you travel, you can expect to pay more to eat in the village.
Where to stay in Mont Saint-Michel
The island community of Mont Saint-Michel contains a variety of small hotels. On the mainland, across from the island, there are several hotels that are significantly larger. Between 07:30 and midnight, a free shuttle bus connects these hotels to the island and departs every few minutes. In the nearby town of Pontorson, there are hotels as well. Since the island can be comfortably traversed in a few hours, many visitors opt for a day trip from Rennes or Saint-Malo instead. The usual parking cost at the parking lot includes overnight parking for motor homes.
How to get to Mont Saint-Michel
There are some ways to get in the Mont Saint-Michel:
Although there are frequently extensive lines to enter the parking lot, driving is perhaps the quickest and least expensive way to see Mont Saint-Michel.
NOTE: Parking is available for €14 (July 2019) for 24 hours with no reentry.
Long-distance taxi rides are extremely expensive unless you can share the cost with other passengers. Mont St-Michel to Renne’s cab rides typically cost around €135 each way. Getting a taxi to the Dol De Bretagne station and changing trains in Rennes to get to Paris is a more affordable option.
By public transport
Although there are no direct trains from Paris to Mont St-Michel, it is possible to take the train to Pontorson and then take the bus for the remaining portion of the route. The TGV from Gare Montparnasse to Rennes is the most convenient alternative. From there, a bus operated by Keolis Emeraude offers a 90-minute ride to the island (there are 4 departures from Rennes per day, most departures are timed to match the arrival of the TGV in Rennes, but it is always better to check the timing for last minute changes).