The iconic reaching tower of Mont Saint-Michel is the unforgettable trademark of Normandy, France. You can easily stop off at this historical landmark for a few hours or an entire day trip.
The Tides of Mont Saint-Michel
The iconic French monastery sits on a small tidal island located less than a kilometer from the coastline. Pilgrims used to trek across a salty causeway to reach the island, accessible only at low tide. The traverse was risky, as the area is famous for rough tides and quicksands. Over the years, the island has been made more accessible and, in 2014, a permanent bridge was built for shuttling tourists. The fifty full time residents that currently live on Mont Saint-Michel no longer have to live around the tides.
A Salty Delicacy
There are many sheep farms located around Mont Saint-Michel. Farmers allow their flock to feast on the salty marshland at low tide, having a tasty result on the meat! Salty mutton from sheep raised in the area, called Agneau de pré-salé, is a delicacy in France.
Getting to the Mont Saint-Michel
I only had a few hours to visit the Mont Saint-Michel, but it was actually plenty of time. I parked in the designated parking lot on the mainland and caught a free shuttle to the island. No cars are allowed on the island, and when I arrived, it was easy to see why. The streets are narrow and made for pedestrian access only. The winding alleyways, wrap around and lead up to the entrance of the abbey. Walking around Mont Saint-Michel is actually quite a workout, but it’s also mystifyingly beautiful!
Weaving Through the Walled City
As I entered the walled city, we were greeted by a series of narrow and charming alleyways. I strolled through these ancient streets (now unfortunately full of tourist trinket shops and restaurants), and climbed the winding walkway toward the top of the hill, where the abbey has sat for hundreds of years.
I stopped for photographs as we made the climb, admiring the ocean scenery and the secluded island location. The views are spectacular, but the best was yet to come: going inside the mysterious, ancient abbey!
Inside the Abbey
The highlight of the Mont Saint-Michel is going inside the abbey itself. After you weave your way through town, you’ll enter the abbey gift store and pay the entrance fee. You can either hire a guide or walk the halls on your own. I chose the later to save some cash. If you’re looking for a historical education, hiring a guide (or audio guide) is probably the way to go.
Exploring the inside of the abbey is a spooky experience. The rooms are kept dark. The soft sound of my footsteps echoed off the arching ceilings and stained glass windows. The air was brisk, as a chilly breeze seemed to sneak in between the stones. 2.5 million people visit the abbey every year, but we still managed to have a few great halls and crypts all to ourselves.
The gigantic abbey was built from the 8th century to the 15th century, and some areas are more intact than others. After the French Revolution, the abbey was converted into a prison and housed over 1,000 high profile prisoners. If only these walls could talk!
The monastery is a maze of chapels, terraces, enormous stone fireplaces pillared halls and an ominous crypt.
At one point, I ventured into the abbey’s gardens and imagined monks walking around the greenery, speaking in whispers. I had a similar dream-like experience when I walked the gardens of Spain’s Alhambra.
After a few hours of walking around the abbey and the island, it was time to take the shuttle back to the parking lot. They light up the abbey at sunset, so the view of the island was completely different and magical! I strongly suggest visiting in the late afternoon so you can take in the views during the day and night.