If you’re staying in Normandy, one can’t miss the historical site of Mont St. Michel. Located on the northwestern coast of Normandy, this abbey is easily one of the most spectacular sites in France. I was lucky to visit this beautiful landmark twice while visiting Bayeux, France.
The hotel I was staying in, the wonderful Churchill Hotel, had a shuttle you can take each day to Mont St. Michel. It takes about an hour to drive from Bayeux to Mont St. Michel. Luckily, the scenery is beautiful. I saw lots of Norman cows, and I learned that the best cows in Normandy are brown and white ones. They are supposed to give the best milk for the best butter and cheese. I have to say there’s a lot of good cheese here so there must be a lot of brown and white cows!
A Brief History of Mont St. Michel
Mont St Michel has a fascinating history going back to 709 AD. According to legend, the archangel Michael kept appearing in Bishop Aubert of Avranches’ dreams. Archangel Michael asked the bishop to build a church on the land known then as Mont Tombe. Around 966, the bishop, along with a group of Benedictine monks settled on the island and began building a church. During the Middle Ages, the legend and the presence of the monks ensured that Mont St Michel became a pilgrimage site of faith.
The abbey became less popular during the French Revolution. It was eventually closed and used as a prison until 1864. Pilgrimages continued regardless and in 1874, the abbey was handed over to the French government with the aim of preserving it. The island was classified as a historical monument and renovations on the buildings began.
In 1979 Mont St. Michel was classified by UNESCO as one of their World Heritage Sites. It is now one of the top monuments to visit in France outside of Paris. Historically, Mont St. Michel was connected to the mainland via a tidal causeway, a path accessible only at low tide. Today, there is a permanent walkway raised above the water on which visitors can access the site.
Approaching Mont St. Michel
I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mont St. Michel. I didn’t know anything about it except my friend, Jonathan, was very excited I was going. Well, my first view of it literally took my breath away. When you turn off the freeway, it is there, rising out of the sea in the distance. Stunning! And it only gets more stunning as you get closer.
Up, Up, Up the Stairs….
Our shuttle parked in the car park and then we took another shuttle the 2 kilometers to the disembarkation spot. You then walk another kilometer or so to the entrance of the grounds. Once you are within the gate. You start an uphill trek to get to the entrance of the Abbey. It looks like Fantasyland at Disneyland. A couple of friends have said it also looks like Diagon Alley and that is pretty accurate also. What do you think?
There are shops and restaurants lining the street and you can hear five languages within 5 minutes. The further you proceed up the street, the steeper it gets and it becomes very narrow. I went straight up, not stopping at any of the stores, knowing it would get quite crowded as the morning wore on. After a bit, you hit the first stairs. Then you start climbing. And climbing. And climbing. By the time you reach the entrance you’ve climbed up ALOT of stairs.
You think you’re done because you’re at the entrance, but NO! There are still at least 200 more to go.
Once you get to the top, the view is so worth it. It’s spectacular! It’s also very cold and very windy. It makes you feel kind of sorry for those monks who built this place.
I walked through the Abbey and Cloisters. It was really beautiful. I think it’s amazing the monks built this place like, 1000 years ago. With no electricity.
After touring the inside, I started to make my way back down all those stairs. SO much easier than going up. I could walk down stairs all day!
I stopped for a sandwich and another chocolate croissant (I have eaten way too many of these!) before catching the shuttle back to the hotel. I have to say the ham sandwich I had at Mont St. Michel was easily one of the best sandwiches I have ever had. Thank you brown and white cows! Your cheese was delicious!
How to get to Mont St. Michel
Visiting Mont St. Michel is easy. Be sure to check the website to see most current information. There are lots of places to eat and do a little shopping. You will pay between 9 Euros and 15 Euros to park a car, depending on the season.
Your hotel may offer a shuttle, as did the Churchill Hotel in Bayeux. If you are visiting via a car, the easiest way to get to Mont St. Michel is by taking the A84 Caen-Rennes highway. You will nee to take the A11 towards Le Mans/Laval, exit at Fougères then head toward Mont-Saint-Michel or A13 towards Caen, then A84 towards Mont-Saint-Michel. As soon as you arrive, you will be directed to the parking section dedicated to private cars. You will have to pay for parking. A free shuttle is available to the walkway which leads to the entrance. This shuttle runs frequently.
Try to arrive early in the morning during the summer months to avoid the crowds, which will get bigger as the day goes on. The best time to visit is in the fall, when it is a little cooler and not as crowded. I went in July. It was very crowded, but I was still able to see everything I wanted to.
You will not be disappointed if you choose to visit Mont St. Michel. I will never forget being there. It truly was spectacular!