Best Places to Visit in France
France Travel Guide
Best Places to Visit
Mont-Saint-Michel is an enchanting place to visit
|Mont St. Michel||
The Village inside the walls of Mont-Saint-Michel offers food, trinkets and lodging.
Mont-Saint-Michel, a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site is visible for miles across the rolling plains of the southern
edge of the Cotentin Peninsula. The historic, Benedictine Abby is majestic from a
distance and even more so when you enter its gate. Visiting Mont-Saint-Michel
is a privilege.
Although the location of the Abbey is out of the way, unless you are visiting Brittany, this is a place whose unique geographic setting is famous throughout the world. Known both for its beauty and interesting history, Mont-Saint-Michel is a spectacle that attracts visitors from around the world.
Crowds can be a problem in summer (over 3 million visit each year), so time your visit with the morning opening or later in the day (last admission is usually around 6pm in the summer and earlier in winter). At night the Abbey is illuminated in a view that should not be missed.
The History of Mont-Saint-Michel
Legend has it that Saint Michael the Archangel came to St. Aubert, the Bishop of Avranches (a local town on the eastern edge of the bay), in the early 8th Century and directed him to build a church on the site of Mt. Tomb, a granite knob that stood above a surrounding estuary west of the town.
St. Aubert initially resisted the request, but, in 708, St. Aubert was convinced by the Archangel of the importance of the task (apparently after a third visit by the angel left the Bishop marked with a head wound) and prepared to build a church on the summit of the granite knob . In a delightful tale, it is said that all of the men in the local community were unable to clear a large rock that needed to be moved from the top of the mound before construction could begin. The Bishop had a "sending" that the family of a local farmer could move the rock. When they failed, the Bishop inquired if there were any of the family's children not present and was told that only the baby had been left out of the effort. When the baby was added to the team, his touch helped slide the rock down the side of the knob and construction of the original Abbey was soon started. Unfortunately, the church built by the Bishop was later destroyed by fire. (Mont-Saint-Michel has had a history of fires caused by lightning strikes.)
The rock knob that serves as the base of Mont-Saint-Michel sits above the extensive Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel, which is known for powerful tidal movements that sometimes leave the Abbey surrounded by water and at other times by mud flats and meandering streams.
The speed of the tide in the Bay is world famous and the
rapid incursion of the tide can produce dangerous conditions for those
walking in the bay. In addition,
the tidal flats contain areas of quicksand that are continuously rearranged
by the scouring action of the tides. Of course, the tide and weather
conditions sometimes create oodles of fog, making the scene both ethereal
The Abbey church was the first major construction at the site (starting in 1023), followed by a new monastery later that century. Despite its off the "beaten track" location and perilous setting, Mont-Saint-Michel became an important pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. Throughout time, buildings were razed and new buildings substituted, although most of the buildings surrounding the abbey were constructed in the 14th century. In the 15th century, defensive walls were added to repel invaders from England.
During the Hundred Years
War the Abbey was converted into a fortress, but it was returned to its monastic role in later
years. During the French Revolution, Mont St. Michel served as a prison and
suffered from neglect until a restoration of its facilities took place in the late 19th
The Ramparts and the Village
Be sure to find some time
to walk the ramparts and enjoy the panoramic views of the bay and the
tidal flats from the ten towers along the walls. The ramparts provide
a number of excellent photo opportunities.
If you are interested, more information about Mont-Saint-Michel from its official website can be found here.
Note, you can arrange lodging within the small village inside the Mont’s walls (the hotels are presented in the site referenced above). If you choose to stay in a hotel inside the walls, be prepared to tote your luggage from the parking lot outside of the entrance to the Mont (about a quarter of a mile).
Alternatively, there are several
hotels located at the road junction just south of the Abbey’s
A new car park is located approximately 2.5 kms (1.5 miles) from the Abbey and a shuttle is provided for access to the Abbey. See this official site for transport information.
Mont-Saint-Michel Bay is an ever-changing complex of sandy shoals and impressive tides where the difference between high and low water can sometimes be as much as 45 feet! At low tide, the Mount loses its insularity as the sea withdraws far to the north, uncovering numerous pathways for adventurous travelers who wish to cross the vast expanse of the bay to the gates of the abbey. Whether you are crossing on foot or on horseback, make sure your traversée is a safe and enjoyable one by joining one of the many experienced and licensed Bay Guides. For those who love to travel in style, hiring a maringotte is a great option. These charming horse-drawn carriages were once the only comfortable means of transport for wealthy tourists commuting from the local train station to the foot of Mont-Saint-Michel.
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The scenic Chapel of St. Aubert, sits outside of the town walls, on top of rock that legend says was cleared from the top of the mount by a baby's push.
The dimly lit interior of the Abbey seems to hide many tales.
Even when the tide is out, the bay surrounding the Mont is beautiful.
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