Magical Mont Saint Michel

Updated: May 18


One of France’s most stunning sights and a major pilgrimage destination for centuries, this holy island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is its breathtaking bay. The story of how the mount came to be a great Christian pilgrimage site dates back to the early 8th century, when Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself had pressured him into having a church built atop the island. From the 10th century onwards, the dukes of Normandy, followed by the French kings, supported the development of a major Benedictine abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel. Magnificent monastic buildings were added throughout the Middle Ages. The main abbey became a centre of learning, attracting some of Europe’s greatest minds and manuscript illuminators. The Mount later served as a fortress against the invaiding English army during the 100 year war. Its ramparts and fortifications resisted all the English assaults and as a result the Mount became a symbol of national identity. Following the dissolution of the religious community during the Revolution, and until 1863, the abbey was used as a prison. After several years of restoration starting in 2006, visitors can now experience the splendour of the abbey that the people of the Middle Ages regarded as a representation of the heavenly Jerusalem on earth, an image of Paradise.


Though there has been a lot of effort made by the French authorities to ensure the best possible experience for all visitors, the volume of tourists each year makes it a challenge that is being addressed on an ongoing basis. Our recommendation is to visit off season, i.e. avoid July and August and preferably in the early hours of the morning. We chose to take the 8am bus(provided free from the visitors centre) and were the first tourists to enter the abbey when it opened at 9am. It takes a while to climb up to the abbey and there are so many wonderful buildings and nooks and crannies to explore that time passes and we were waiting just 5 minutes outside the doors of the Abbey before it opened. As a result we were able to enjoy each room of the Abbey alone and take several photos without anyone else in them!


There are several day tours organised from Paris and other parts of France. The disadvantage is that these tours tend to arrive all at once and mostly during the afternoon due to travel time from Paris. This makes the Abbey very crowded in the afternoons especially in summer. There are online ticket purchase apps which suggest that tourists buy tickets in advance and ask that a fixed time be chosen for the abbey visit. We initially considered buying the tickets well in advance but changed our minds when we were asked to fix the time. We opted to go to the visitors centre the evening before and purchase our tickets there. The very friendly and helpful staff explained that we did not need to fix a time when we bought the ticket from them. The added small advantage is that the ticket is also slightly cheaper bought this way. We paid EUR11.0 vs EUR11.60 bought over the app. The bus transfer to and from the mount is included in the price of the ticket but remember that dogs which are not in a basket/bag cannot be taken on the bus and will not be allowed in the Abbey.


It is possible to visit the mount and not visit the Abbey. In this case you do not need to purchase the ticket and the bus commute is still free. It would also be possible to walk to the mount (45minutes) or cycle (15-20minutes) from the visitors centre along the specially created path and bridge for that purpose. In this case your dog can accompany you and visit the mount but not the Abbey. However, we highly recommend visiting the Abbey which is beautiful and very interesting. There are guided tours available mostly in French though you can ask when the English or other language tours are available. Audio guides in various languages are also available for EUR3.


For those cycling to the mount it is necessary to leave your bycicle at the foot of the mount (at your own risk). Cycles were not allowed on the bridge till very recently. Therefore, there is still a sign at the start of the bridge saying cycles not allowed beyond this point. This is no longer the case and the sign will probably be removed shortly.


There are several shops, bars and restaurants offering all manner of souveniers and delicacies along the main streets of the mount. There is also the possibility of staying overnight at one of the B&Bs or hotels. Though we did not need a hotel having our expedition mobile with us, I am sure it is a wonderful experience for those who choose this option. Adding to the experience are the tides in the bay surrounding the mount which are the most extreme in Europe. The difference between high and low tide can be as much as 14 meters. It is quite special to observe the ebb and flow which is so unique to this area especially as it effects the whole context in which the mount is viewed. Picturesque sunsets and reflections of the mount in the bay all serve to make the experience truly magical.


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