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A Visit to France's Magnificent Mont Saint-Michel

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

While France is home to its share of magnificent monuments, historic sites, museums, and famous chateaux, there is one destination that really captured my imagination when I first learned of it. Sitting majestically just off the coast of Lower Normandy in the Gulf of Saint-Malo is one of the world’s most breathtaking and memorable sites, Mont Saint-Michel. If a photo of this Gothic island-fortress-village-abbey does not stir your sense of imagination and adventure then it’s time to see your doctor. All it took was one photo of Mont Saint-Michel that I happened upon years ago and it quickly found itself a spot on my bucket list. If I was going to visit France, then I would find a way to get to Mont Saint-Michel.

And so in the fall of 2014, with my wife and two other couples who have traveled extensively with us and share our common sense of adventure, we headed off to discover Mont Saint-Michel. This Romanesque and Gothic shrine that legend says was inspired by a visit from the Archangel Michael is now a well-deserved UNESCO World Heritage Site having been added in 1979. It receives upwards of three million visitors each year, which dwarfs its current population of just fifty residents.

Mont Saint-Michel from the causeway

Mont Saint-Michel from the causeway

How it All Began

In October of 709 AD a small church was built on this rocky island by Saint Aubert, then the Bishop of Avranches. Legend holds that supposedly the Archangel Michel appeared to him in a vision and requested that he build a church on the island. In the 11th century, the Benedictine monastery was constructed and over the next few centuries the abbey expanded and a small village at the base of the rocky island slowly took hold.

Although home to just fifty residents the village has always had a commercial calling to it and visitors have flocked to the island for centuries. During its long history the island has served a number of different purposes including being used as a fortress during the Hundred Years War and as a prison during the French Revolution. It has certainly withstood the test of time and the fact that the “rock” is pure granite has helped it to survive the harsh elements of the Normandy Coast for centuries.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

As you approach the community of Avranches on the mainland and the mouth of the Couesnon River you begin to get your first glimpse of Mont Saint-Michel, which is certainly an exciting moment. It sits one kilometer off the coast and at times the tide turns it into a true island. Rising majestically to over 300 feet above the sea the Mont is visible for miles in all directions. Resembling the medieval fortress that it once was, today Mont Saint-Michel is a curious mix of touristy shops and cafes that rises quickly and steeply up to the Abbey with its statue of Archangel Michael sitting prominently atop the spire.

Aerial view of Mont Saint-Michel

Aerial view of Mont Saint-Michel

There was a time when you could park on the causeway that takes visitors to Mont Saint-Michel and simply meander over to the island. A new project, which was completed in 2014 has added a pedestrian footbridge and an elevated causeway for shuttle buses and service vehicles. The old causeway, which will be removed, interrupted the flow of water around the island during high tides and resulted in a buildup of silt from the river. The new causeway will allow for the natural flow of water around the island.

The new elevated causeway on the left.  The old causeway on the right will be removed to allow the flow of water under the new causeway.

The new elevated causeway on the left. The old causeway on the right will be removed to allow the flow of water under the new causeway.

Along with the new causeway came the construction of a new visitor center and car park, which is located about 2.5 kilometers from the island. Here you can park for the day and take a shuttle bus to the island, or you can walk if you choose. We opted for the shuttle bus and in short order we found ourselves at the base of Mont Saint-Michel looking upward and thinking, wow, that’s going to be one heck of a climb. But, as we are always up for a challenge we crossed the drawbridge, straight out of medieval times, and headed through the Porte Du Boulevard into the heart of the Mont.

Entering the Mont through the draw bridge.

Entering the Mont through the draw bridge.

The lower levels on the island are an interesting mix of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, museums, small hotels and other ancient-looking buildings that are still a curiosity and a mystery to me. I presume that some of them are actually homes for the residents who live here. You really do get the impression that you are walking through a medieval village as you enter the fortified walls.

The Grande Degre - Grand Staircase

The Grande Degre - Grand Staircase

As we intended to visit the abbey atop the island we followed what seemed like the only direction one could travel in and slowly headed upward along the Grande Rue (Main Street). Eventually, you will arrive at the Grande Degre, or the Grand Staircase that takes you to the Abbey. Don’t rush to get to the Abbey, the climb is steep and there are scenic lookouts along the way that provide a rest stop with the most amazing views in every direction. The higher you go the more spectacular the views get. Along the way, you will pass the four museums on the island and the Church of St. Pierre, which was constructed in the 15th century.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

Another great view - notice the cannon

Another great view - notice the cannon

If you are visiting during low tide be sure to keep a lookout for groups out in the mudflats. This looked tempting but with a limited time schedule, we decided to keep our shoes on and continued the climb to the abbey.

Should you decide to venture out into the mudflats you might be well advised to do so with a tour guide. At the very least please check the local tides as this area is subject to some of the highest and quickest tides throughout continental Europe. You do not want to have your feet stuck in the mud when the tide comes in and more than one tragedy has occurred here.

Out on the Mud Flats

A group out on the mud flats during low tide

A group out on the mud flats during low tide

The Abbey

The Abbey is open every day except January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.

From May 2nd - Aug 31st, hours are 9 am to 7 pm with last admission at 6 pm.

From Sept 1st - April 30th, hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm with last admission at 5 pm.

  • The entry fee is 10 euros for individuals age 25 and older.
  • The rate is 8 euros for individuals age 18 to 25.
  • Under age 18 is free.
  • Under age 26 and citizen of European Union Country is free also.

Mass is celebrated at 12:15 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday’s at 11:30 am. Other masses are conducted at 7 am during the week and at 8 am on weekends.

The Church that sits at the top of the Mont

The Church that sits at the top of the Mont

Your tour of the Abbey will take you through a maze of Gothic rooms and chambers and at times you may feel quite lost. But this is the sense of adventure and anticipation that makes it so appealing. Most of the Abbey is barren, which gives it that medieval, creepy feeling and the large rooms and fireplaces certainly stir the imagination.

After touring the Abbey you will have a chance to spend some time on the terrace and visit the Abbey Church, which was constructed in the11th century. From the terrace, you get a magnificent view of the French countryside and the bay, which stretches from the coast of Brittany to Normandy. It really is one of the most spectacular scenes that I have ever witnessed.

Incredible views the higher you climb

Incredible views the higher you climb

The Garden and Cloister

The Garden and Cloister

From the terrace, your journey will lead you to a quiet garden courtyard and cloister that is the perfect place to take a quick break. Most monasteries contain a cloister and this area is usually set aside for the monk's to meditate and reflect. It's hard to believe that there's actually a garden growing on top of this rocky island.

And if you’re wondering how on earth they managed to construct the Abbey atop this hunk of granite your tour will take you by the giant human-powered wheel where six humans, presumably prisoners, would hamster-like turn the treaded wheel to haul material up to the top of the mount. It’s quite impressive.

The human powered wheel used to hoist supplies up the Mont.

The human powered wheel used to hoist supplies up the Mont.

Interesting facts on Mont Saint-Michel

  • During the 100 Years War, England captured all of Normandy except for Mont Saint-Michel.
  • The Statue of Archangel Saint Michael atop the Abbey spire also acts as a lightning rod to protect the island from electrical storms.
  • Mont Saint-Michel was the first site in France to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Stage 11 of the 2013 Tour de France ended at Mont Saint-Michel.

Museums

There are a number of museums on Mont Saint-Michel and although we did not have time to visit it appears that we did not miss much. My research tells me that all of the museums are in French only and the reviews on them are so-so at best.

There are four museums: Archeoscope, Museum of History, Maritime and Ecology Museum and Tiphaine’s House. The price for a single museum visit is 9 euros but you can visit all four of 18 euros. While this seems like a bargain make sure you have the time and interest to do this. The real highlight of a visit to Mont Saint-Michel is the Abbey itself and the views.

This place is straight out of the middle ages.

This place is straight out of the middle ages.

If you are visiting Normandy as part of a trip to France you would do well to include a stop at Mont Saint-Michel. This historical monument is worth the effort and trust me when I tell you that you will never forget your visit to this incredible one of a kind destination. Whether you are there early in the day, during a tidal event, or at night when it’s all lite up this place will be ingrained in your memory forever. Just be sure to travel light when visiting as you will have to climb the rock to fully appreciate its monumental beauty. I hope you enjoyed this visit to one of the world’s most sacred and treasured sites, Mont Saint-Michel.

Au Revoir

Mont Saint-Michel at dusk

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

On March 21, 2015 thousands gathered to watch a super tide at Mont Saint-Michel.

© 2015 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 03, 2020:

It does involve a lot of stairs to get to the top. Sites such as this one always get me thinking, how on earth did they build this? It is a visually stunning place and when illuminated it just adds to its beauty.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 03, 2020:

Thanks for showcasing this world UNESCO site of Mont Saint Michel. I am afraid that I will have to settle with seeing it this way. My old knees would never allow me to walk all of those stairs without complaint. It looks beautiful illuminated at night.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 27, 2018:

Hi Mary. MSM is quite an amazing place. Would love to return soon also. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2018:

It must be something to attend Mass in such an enchanting Abbey. It's time we go back to France. We haven't been for years now.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 28, 2016:

Hi Alun. Thank you. The Mont is certainly unique. It's become a tad touristy but certainly worthy of a visit. Just seeing it rising from the bay is quite a site. The abbey atop the rock offers wonderful views and the history of this place is fascinating. I am sure it is a place you would enjoy. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on April 27, 2016:

Mont Saint-Michel must be one of the most spectacular and unique of destinations, and there cannot be many islands which are so dominated by one building in the way that this is. Apart from its religious significance, one can well understand, looking at your photos, why it has also served as a fortress and a prison. It would have been virtually impregnable in past centuries. Glad to hear it was designated a World Heritage Site.

Good article Bill which gives a real impression of what to expect when one visits. I will have to go one day - no excuse as it's only just across the English Channel from me! Alun

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 24, 2015:

Hi Michelle. We had planned to visit MSM but it was still a wonderful surprise and experience for us. I would have loved to have stayed overnight on the island to experience it after the tourists leave. Perhaps next time? Thanks so much for stopping by and welcome to Hubpages.

Michelle Segrest from Birmingham, Alabama, USA on July 24, 2015:

This is one of my favorite places in the world! I visited there last year. It was not planned and we kind of stumbled on it. It was such a wonderful surprise and unique experience! Thanks for such an informative hub on the history.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 21, 2015:

Hi Jelena. Thanks for stopping by. MSM is such an amazing place. Even today when I look at the pictures I am in awe that they built this abbey in this location. Have a great day.

Jelena from Florida on June 21, 2015:

Such beauty its so amazing how old buildings can bring awe to a person. I always wanted to go to France.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 09, 2015:

Hi Glimmer. It does have a certain awe about it. Certainly unlike any place I have ever been to. We did have a great visit. I would love to return someday and spend the night there. I bet it's pretty amazing after dark and after all the tourists have left.

Claudia Mitchell on May 09, 2015:

How beautiful and I always thought Mont Saint Michel was rather romantic in a way. Looks like you had a wonderful visit.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 07, 2015:

Hi Torri Lynn. Thank you. So glad you enjoyed the tour of Mont Saint-Michel. If you love to travel you would certainly enjoy this place. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, have a great day.

torrilynn on May 07, 2015:

beautiful hub that you have here. I really enjoy the pictures that you have posted and I just love to travel in general. I thank you for the tour of Mont-Saint Michel. I can't wait to read more from you. Best of wishes.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 06, 2015:

My pleasure. You're an amazing tour guide.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 06, 2015:

You're welcome Bill. I agree with you there. You're an amazing virtual tour guide.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 05, 2015:

Thank you Kristen. It's an amazing place. Just incredible that they decided to build on this rock, of all places. Thanks for the vote, have a nice evening.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 05, 2015:

Bill, once again, I love your French travelogues. I wish to visit France someday. This was so lovely and beautiful with your photos and insightful descriptions on the trip. Voted up!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 30, 2015:

Hi Suzie, so good to see you here. When you drive to Italy make the time to stop here, it's worth the effort. Really unlike anything I have ever seen. Are you still planning on moving to Italy? I know you've been recuperating from surgery and hopefully all is well. Thanks so much for stopping by. Look forward to you writing again soon :)

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on April 30, 2015:

Hi Bill, my friend this is superb on every level. Your pics are outstanding and mix so well with your written words. I have never been to France, believe it or not but if we drive over to Italy we will be hitting near there by boat so have it pegged already! It is so worthy of its UNESCO spot, thanks for a wonderful journey and insight to Mont Saint Michele, il est magnifique!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 21, 2015:

Hi amine. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the visit to MSM. It really is an amazing place, one of a kind. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

amine sehibi on April 21, 2015:

Hey this place looks amazing , great hub.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 19, 2015:

Hi Denise. Thank you. MSM is a very special place, hopefully you get there someday soon. Thanks for stopping by.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on April 19, 2015:

A beautiful place, I'd love to visit someday! Thanks.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 14, 2015:

Hi Anne. Oh my, that sounds like a wonderful experience. We thought about spending the night but it just didn't fit our busy schedule. I think it would be great to wander the island after all the tourists have left. How neat. Thanks for stopping by.

Anne Harrison from Australia on April 14, 2015:

Mont St Michel is truly a magical place, as your hub shows. I enjoyed staying there overnight, when most of the tourists were gone and we could wander the place at our leisure; it took on a whole new atmosphere.

Thanks for sharing,

Anne

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 13, 2015:

Thank you breakfastpop. So glad this brought back some great memories. I take it you have visited MSM? What a place is all I can say. Thanks again and have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 13, 2015:

Thank You Linda. Glad you enjoyed the visit to Mont Saint Michel. It's quite a place. Have a wonderful day.

breakfastpop on April 13, 2015:

Your wonderful hub brought back beautiful memories. Thank you. Voted up, interesting and awesome.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 12, 2015:

This is a very interesting and enjoyable hub, Bill. What a wonderful place to visit! As always, thank you for sharing the information and the lovely photos. I love reading your travel hubs.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Hi Flourish. Thank you. You are very well traveled, I'm still trying to find a place that you have not visited :). Sure wish we knew about the back way up. But, the climb was well worth the effort and the views are certainly incredible. I'm not sure pictures do MSM justice. It still boggles my mind that they picked this island to build an abbey. Thank you for the pin, vote, etc. Have a great week.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Hi Linda. Thank you. This really is a remarkable place. If they are going to France and will be close they should go. This is one of those places that you will never forget. Report back and let me know if they make it there.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 12, 2015:

We were lucky enough to have visited MSM and to have a tour guide point us up a not too well known back way that was not as bad of a climb. It had frequent rest places and we didn't have as many stairs. We were thankful. It is a beautiful place and you have certainly done it justice here. Voted up and more and pinning.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on April 12, 2015:

Fabulous tribute to a fascinating historical site! My daughter and SIL will be visiting France again this month...this could possibly part of their tour thanks to you! :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Thank you Kelly. There is a lot of history to Mont Saint Michel and I probably could have written another 1000 words but didn't want this to be too long. I tried to get the right balance of history, the area, the visiting experience, etc.. Thanks for your input, glad you enjoyed it. Have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Thanks Thief12. It really is a beautiful place and I hope someday you get to experience it. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Kelly from NJ, USA on April 12, 2015:

great article. I like that you included the history and the pictures were very good. A thorough and enjoyable read, I feel as if I know everything I need to know after reading it.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Thank you Mary. I do feel fortunate and blessed to be able to visit these places. And I must say that Mont Saint Michel really was something special. There are some amazing places on this planet and I hope to get to many more and bring them to you :)

Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on April 12, 2015:

Looks like a beautiful place. Wish I could visit some day.

Mary Craig from New York on April 12, 2015:

Merci Bill. You take us to places we will probably never see in person. Your tours are wonderful and educational and your photos magnificent. How wonderful that you get to travel to all these wonderful places and share your journeys with us.

Voted all but funny.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Hi Bill. Thank you. There really are no adjectives that properly describe this place. When I first learned of it my initial reaction was "oh my god". I just could not fathom someone deciding to build a church on the top of this hunk of rock. Thankfully they did and over a thousand years later people are still flocking to see this wonder do the world. Have a great day Bill

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 12, 2015:

Magnificent is the perfect adjective in your title for this place. The first picture of it in the distance, rising above everything else, is fantastic. Man alive I would love to see that place. Thank you for a small taste of this wonderful site, Bill.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Hi Heidi. Thank you. This one definitely qualifies as an "amazing" place. I can't say I've ever seen any other place quite like it. It certainly was a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit. Thanks again and enjoy the weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 12, 2015:

Hi Sheila. Thank you. This was one of those places that I became somewhat obsessed with. Once we decided to visit France I knew I had to figure out how to work a visit to Mont St-Michel in. Happily it all worked out and I must say this place is other-worldly. Thanks so much for stopping by, have a great day.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 12, 2015:

Oh my goodness! Even if I never get to these amazing places (though I hope to one day!), your photos allow me to enjoy them from afar. Thank you for sharing your travels and your talents with us here on HP. Have a lovely weekend!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on April 12, 2015:

What a beautiful place! I can certainly see why you added this to your "bucket list"! I will probably never make it there, although I would love to see it in person. Your pictures are so beautiful! I really enjoyed your hub and I think I may be a bit jealous! LOL Great job!