Mont Saint Michel is a small UNESCO World Heritage site located on an island very close to the coast of the region of Lower Normandy in northern France. This island is the home of a well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel that was built at the peak of the rocky island. Mont Saint Michel was officially inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called “mons tumba”. Legend says that the Archangel Michael appeared to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, in 708 and told him to build a church on the rocky island. Aubert didn’t do as the angel told him but then the Archangel Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger. The saint’s skull, with the hole, can be seen in St Gervais churche in Avranches.
How to get there
You can land on one of the two Paris airports (Charles de Gaulle or Orly) and then drive to Mont Saint Michel. This is the cheapest way. The Mont Saint Michel is a short drive from the A84 Caen-Rennes motorway. Within the region of Normandy, drive from Caen along the A84 south-west past Avranches to the exit for Pontorson. From Brittany and Rennes, the exit is just before Avranches. Then follow the signs to Mont-St-Michel for about 20 kilometres. You will need 4 hours to arrive there if your departure point is Paris.
There are no direct train services between Paris and Mont St Michel, but it is possible to travel to Pontorson by train and then complete the last leg of the journey by bus. Also, you can take a bus. The bus stops at the entrance to the Mont St Michel itself. During summer, the traffic is crowded and you can be up to an hour or more stuck in a queue. You can also get there with a bike and the parking for bicycles is free.
Nearby places to see
The only way around Mont St Michel is on foot, and there are two gates into the walled city. Porte de l’Avancée is the main gate at the end of the causeway that will lead you straight to the Grande Rue (here you will find souvenir shops and tourists). The other not so popular and less used is Porte Eschaugette located to the left of the main gate. Abbey of Mont Saint Michel (L’Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel) is open from 2 May – 30 August 9am-7pm and from 1 September – 30 April 9:30am-6pm. They are closed for national holidays such as 1 January, 1 May and 25 December. You can get an audio guide in French, English, German, Spanish and Italian. Once a humble little monastery, the island and its fortifications have effectively grown up around this. During the French Revolution, the abbey was used a prison, and an extensive restoration was required to restore it.
Accommodation and restaurants
Mont Saint Michel is rich with small hotels located within the island township. If you prefer big hotels they can be found on the mainland opposite the island and in the nearby town of Pontorson. Most tourists are only coming to visit the island for a day. Besides hotels, there is a three star camping site in Pontorson, named Camping Haliotis on the D30 heading towards ‘Saint James’ or A84.
The culinary specialties of Mont Saint Michel are Omelettes and saltmarsh lamb (agneau de Pré Salé) dishes from the sheep that wander around the coast. Be prepared for pricey dishes, so if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on food, you can get decent prices on the mainland.
Best season to visit
Mont-St-Michel is directly related to the strong tides of the area. The strongest and highest tides take place in March and September of each year. In summer this place is packed, but it’s the only time to completely experience the attractions of the area.