Ah, Mont Saint-Michel, you tourist-trap beauty!
2.5 million – that’s how many come to Mont Saint-Michel per year, and we were one of them. Well, two of them I suppose.
I honestly had never heard of Mont Saint-Michel until we started planning this trip, but I’m a sucker for a good castle and a great view. And, it’s a top Normandy tourist attraction, remember? In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a castle on an island. During low-tide, you can walk the surrounding mud-flats for access. During high-tide the castle is completely surrounded by water and unaccessible (except by road, in modern times)!
Tip: It’s pronounced ‘Me-chelle’.
For all you English speakers out there who tend to butcher beautiful French words (obviously, myself included). I wanted to call it Michael, which I guess technically it is in English, but we’re in France so…
A quick history:
In ~708, a sanctuary was built on Mont (mount)-Tombe (now Mont-Saint Michel) by the Bishop of Avranches in honor of the Archangel, Michel. Over time, it became a pilgrimage site, and starting in the 10th century a village began to form after Benedictines (Catholic monks) settled in the abbey. Eventually, it grew into what we see today.
The mont became a symbol of France during the Hundred Years War (1337 – 1453, England v. France for control of France) when it’s fortifications proved too much for the English, and it was never taken.
And, like a lot of other rocky, fortified islands, the religious guys were kicked out and it became a prison. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument. Somewhere in there is a story about a commune and an Irish hermit, but that’s for another time…
So, how do you get to the castle on the island?
You can’t drive there, that’s for sure. There are plenty of parking lots (€14 – tourist trap, remember?) which surround the visitor center. From the visitor center, you can either take the shuttle bus (runs constantly), or you can walk ~2.5km (1.5 mi) across the bridge to the village. Their signs say ~30 minutes, but I would plan for 45 minutes if you want to leisurely stroll with pictures along the way.
Tip: If you have kids – don’t bring a stroller!
The walk to the mont is flat, that’s not the issue. Once you’re inside it’s cobblestone, steep streets, and stairs. And, with a stroller you’re guaranteeing to not walk the ramparts – too narrow for stroller + masses of people.
Tip: Pack a lunch!
While the restaurants have nice views, the food inside the village is tourist-expensive. Even better though, you can walk all over / around the village essentially unrestricted. We saw lots of people who managed to find a quiet spot to themselves for lunch: down by the beach, or in a corner with a nice view.
We packed a lunch, but on account of being losers who had leftover cold spaghetti, we ate it in the car.
It’s free to enter the village, but €10 (+ €3 for an audioguide) to enter the abbey. Well worth the money. It’s a legitimate castle perched on top of this mountain with way more space inside than you would imagine possible. Plus, the views are spectacular.
Tip: Walk the ramparts to the abbey.
You’ll want to walk the ramparts anyway, but they are significantly less crowded than the main street leading up to the abbey. When you first enter the village you’ll notice a staircase to your right – take it.
Tip: Plan to spend at least 3 – 4 hours (parking + walking + exploring).
So, was it worth it?
I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was craning my neck so much on the walk back to the car that Shane stopped me, turned me around, and we just stood there staring until the count of 10 so I could soak it all in.
Oh, and then this happened.
And, considering it was only a 2 hour drive from the D-Day landing beaches in the direction of our next stop, Dinan, it was basically destiny.