Mont St. Michel – Returns to the Sea

Mont_Saint_Michel_bordercropped[1]It rises like a mirage on the horizon. Thirteen hundred years of history…..of faith…of contemplation and prayer. An act of faith and obedience.

Mont_St._Michel_Spire[1]Mont St. Michel began as a modest church in the year 708, after St. Michael appeared to the  bishop of Avranches in a dream, and instructed him to build a church on top of the rock.  In 966, the Duke of Normandy gifted the island to the Benedictines, who expanded the Abbey over the centuries .  Today, the entire island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  and you’ll see St. Michael in gold, atop the tallest spire, slaying a dragon…to symbolize the constant struggle between good and evil.

Mont St. Michel is the most visited attraction in France outside of Paris, attracting over 3 million visitors per year.  Besucher_in_Mont_St_Michel[1]Most are day trippers who make their way across the causeway, up the narrow steep street, past the gauntlet of tacky souvenir shops and astronomically priced omelets.  We would have loved to stop at Mere Poulards for the incredibly fluffy omelet, but no way we  could justify 100 euros for scrambled eggs. Keep going past, and a thousand steps up…up…further up.

Once inside the Abbey, marvel at the beautiful stonework, the  columns and arches, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. P1010076



Tour the abbey, the monastery, and the beautiful cloistered courtyard. The view from the top is stunning.P1010080

Another (better) way to visit MSM is to stay overnight in one of the many inns just outside the village. Check in to your room, then make your way up in the early evening. The hordes of day-trippers will be gone, and you’ll have a much more intimate experience, as well as this jaw-dropping view.
Mont-Saint-Michel-At-Night 2

Remember in summer, it stays light until nearly 10:00pm, and there are often evening concerts and special evening tours.  Check the official Mont St. Michel website for events schedule and touring information.

The current causeway was constructed 100 years ago to help the throngs of tourists and pilgrims reach the Abbey easily, and not have to rely on the vagaries of the swift tides.  Today, you drive right up to the base of the Mont and park in a “charming” car park with the convoy of tour buses.  

 But over the years, the bay silted up because the water could no longer circulate freely around the rocky outcropping, and now the entire island is in danger of becoming landlocked.   Residents, government officials, engineers and historians have been debating for years how to return the glorious Mont back to the sea. After much debate, a plan was voted upon and construction has begun on a series of locks and dams to redirect the water, which will, over time, carry the silt back out to sea. The causeway will be torn down, & replaced by a footbridge. Visitors to the Mont in the future will approach the same way as pilgrims did centuries ago….by crossing the water…… either by ferry boat or by a new footbridge.   

It’s been said that a pilgrimage is as much about the journey itself, as it is about the final destination.  And there is no doubt that when the new footbridge  is constructed, and the Mont is returned to the sea, the approach to the Abbey will be spectacular.   Construction is due to be completed in 2014, you can read all about the project and track progress at this site.    The Abbey remains open for touring during the reconstruction, but check the official website above for details before your visit, as plans can change.

Getting There
MSM can be tricky to get to. A car is very handy in this region as there is no direct train service. You can take a train from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Rennes, and connect by bus to MSM.  Wiki Travel has details here on the train/bus option. But I recommend renting a car and spending several days exploring the region.  Base yourself in Bayeaux for 2-3 nights, visit the picturesque harbor at Rouen and the wooden church of St. Catherine’s, the WWII beaches at Normandy, and Bayeaux with its famous tapestry commemorating the Norman Conquest.   Then make your way over to MSM, and stay the night. You don’t want to miss this glorious site at night.  And while in Normandy, be sure to sample the crepes, both sweet and savory, as well as the many apple products, like cider and Calvados.  Camembert cheese also comes from this pastoral region… will be well fed!

14 thoughts on “Mont St. Michel – Returns to the Sea

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks Amy! Yes, you must add this to your “must see” list. It’s gorgeous. Thanks for the nice comment.

  1. ohcassis

    Nice article – like it very much.

    On the cheese front, I much prefer both Livarot and Neufchâtel (the heart-shaped one) to Camembert.

    If visiting MSM, don’t miss Fougères – not far away and a great fortified town.

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks, glad you approve, as you were so kind to send me the link! Very hard to get Livarot in my neck of the woods. I’ll have to try it on my next trip to France! Yummmm.

  2. MudslideMama

    We never made it out to Mont St Michel – how was it? I mean, it’s obviously so historical (duh!) and beautiful, but were the crowds manageable? My big fear was that we’d have taken this day trip to see it – a whole precious day – and it would feel like Times Square.

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks for your comment! It only feels like Times Square as you go up the single narrow street at the base of the village. A colleague of mine refers to this as Disneyland on crack. (It’s not really that bad, but prepare to be jostled). Luckily the narrow street is not too long, a few blocks as I recall. Once you get past the street, the stairs leading up to the Abbey are wide, and the Abbey itself, the buildings and grounds are quite spacious. Most people tend to loiter around the cloister courtyard, taking photos because the architecture is so beautiful.

      Yes, it’s touristy, no doubt. But next time, try spending a night at MSM and touring in the evening when the day-trippers are gone. Abbey stays open late in summer. Magic!


  3. Cynthia in the French Alps

    Hi, Mary Ann, thanks for the follow on Twitter and on my blog. I havent seen St Michel yet but it’s definitely on my list. Thanks for offering such an informative and pretty blog which I will definitely use for my future travels. Hope to meet you someday on your next trip to the French Alps (not too many tourists here!). Cynthia in the French Alps

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks so much Cynthia! And congrats to you too on your great France videos. Makes me so “homesick” for France! 🙂

  4. LadyWanderlust (Lisa B)

    Now I have one more glorious and beautiful sites to add to my Lisa’s 100 Things to Get Done in This Life List. I have just recently checked off a couple. I guess I am back up to 99 things to do! Thank you for the lovely photos and well-written words!

    1. enchantedtraveler Post author

      Thanks so much Lisa. I’m glad you liked my post. Mont St. Michel is really specially. Do you have your list posted somewhere? I’m curious!!

  5. enchantedtraveler Post author

    Thanks so much Teena for your kind words!! I love your blog too! I haven’t been to France all year, and I”m having withdrawals…hope to go again next year. How about you?

  6. lechant

    It’s created quite a ‘buzz’ in our local paper. Even here in the Maine et Loire they’re talking about ‘giving the island back to the sea’.

    Nice ‘blog.


  7. Marcus

    I don’t know if it’s true but I was told that the majority of visitors to Mont Saint Michel don’t get as far as the abbey, preferring to stop at the tourist tack as you enter the town.
    Sort of defeats the object of visiting I would have thought…


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