Visiting Mont St-Michel, one of France’s Most Unique Destinations
Originally published on Monday, March 19, 2018
You’ve probably seen the iconic mound of Mont St-Michel in Normandy before as it’s an architectural marvel that’s emblematic of France, and I actually went there once by myself and took my mom there a few months later. It’s definitely one of the most unique places I’ve ever been and honestly, visiting it was not what I expected. It is quite touristy but still worth the visit.
The History of Mont St-Michel
The Mont St-Michel monastery was built around 708 to be a sanctuary because of Aubert of Avranches, a bishop. He had a dream that the archangel Michael appeared to him and told him to build a monastery atop the natural rock formation that was off the Norman coast. Even though not all of us are lucky enough to say, “I had a dream,” and get monetary funding to make said dream come true, it was built. A few centuries later, monks decided to build a monastery at the site, and construction of the modern abbey began.
The original building was renovated and added to heavily during the Gothic era which is why a lot of the arhitecture standing today is of that style. It also had fortifications added during the Hundred Years’ War and, ironically, became a prison during the French Revolution. It reverted back to its original purpose in the early 20th century and is regarded as a pilgrimage route. Today, it stays well intact and is a huge tourist destination.
Mont St-Michel Today
And let me be clear: this mountain is TOURISTY. There are still monks who live there but the streets that were once houses and shoppes are now filled with souvenirs and some not-so-great restaurants (but of course there’s not much selection). The local souvenir there is the caramel biscuit cookie (delicious), but most of what you’ll find is Norman soldier figurines and the “I ❤ France” t-shirt.
At the top of the mountain, the monastery is open for tours. It’s quite bare on the inside but still has a beauty in its incredibly old Gothic style architecture. This place has definitely lost a lot of its sacredness and tradition, and can be called a tourist trap. So why do I like it so much?
Because this place is just so unique and so beautiful, I feel it makes up for the mass tourism. Would I ever live here?
Absolutely not. But I wouldn’t recommend anyone skip Mont St-Michel.
The architecture is absolutely gorgeous and blends the gothic in with the medieval Norman coast. From the top, the views are absolutely breathtaking. The abbey so well-preserved, at least since it was rebuilt in the middle ages. There’s a lot to it, as well; the monastery is relatively large and there are a tonne of different buildings and the fortified walls, so it’s not just the abbey to see. It must have been an incredibly cute place at some point before mass tourism became a thing.
There’s also a church and a cemetery and for such a small place, there’s a decent amount to see. You could spend quite a bit of time going down alleyways and seeing what streets lead where. I feel like the inside of the town is so charming and that even though the iconic view is iconic for a reason, the town itself is underrated. It gives a good glimpse to the past several centuries ago and the views, both from the top of the abbey and far away from it, are worth visiting alone.
Also, the beaches are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Both times I visited were in low tide, but I was completely alright with that because the soft clay beaches extending into the English channel made the coast seem limitless. It was also very fun walking around in the clay! Though I was one of the few people who didn’t completely slip and fall around. However there’s no way this place isn’t also stunning in high tide. The fact of the matter is, there aren’t many places that look like Mont St-Michel so it’s one of the most unique places in France.
The beautiful beaches behind the monastery.
There isn’t a lot to do in this small place and I’m afraid my thoughts on it aren’t as extensive as some other destinations, but they are simple: it’s absolutely someplace to put on your French bucket list. I encourage you to pop in the churches, walk the defensive walls, take a stroll alone the beach if you can. Don’t just stop to take photos but really get a sense of what Mont St-Michel is really like and what it must have been at some point.
Getting from Paris to Mont St-Michel
To be honest, getting to Mont St-Michel is a bit more difficult than getting to other places. You have a few options to get there via public transport:
1.) Go to Rennes and take the bus from Rennes to Mont St-Michel. This is about 3.5 hours each way and the train to/from Rennes can be a bit expensive.
2.) Get to Pontorson Mont Saint-Michel from Paris, which requires a lot of time and one or more transfers. There are also very few trains. You can spend the night in a city like Bayeux or Caen – both beautiful towns – before heading to Pontorson. Unless you’re looking to take a more holistic trip of Normandy, I don’t recommend this option.
4.) Rent a car. Parking is available at the site.
As a note, I generally like to use Omio to look at public transport options in France.
I definitely think that a trip to Mont St-Michel is well worth the time and effort. It’s a bit more difficult to get to via public transit but there are of course lots of tours from different cities and it is accessible by car. Mont St-Michel is such a unique and charming place that despite its popular, it absolutely can’t be missed.
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Tags: europe, france, mont st-michel, normandy