How can anyone not be impressed or even overawed with Mont-St-Michel? It’s an extraordinary site with a rich history and superb architecture. The streets below the abbey and church are invariably crammed with visitors, served by restaurants, a few hotels, and souvenir shops selling products of variable quality.
Why is Mont-St-Michel famous?
It is the overpowering sense of isolation that dominates, especially on the few occasions each year when the sea finally isolates the granite island. According to mythology, Mont-St-Michel was the abode of the souls of the dead.
In its time, Mont-St-Michel in Normandy has served as a prison, and in the mid 1960s, the abbey was symbolically returned to the Benedictines. It became a World Heritage Site in 1979.
In 2012, it was decided to end the ability of visitors to drive onto the causeway and park beside it, as part of a proposal to restore the causeway. Visitors must now park off-site and either walk (3km) or take a shuttle bus to the island, from near the car park (charge €11.70, 2016).
Ongoing development is intended to restore Mont-St-Michel to its nature marine state. As part of this work, a 760m bridge from the coastline of northern France to the World Heritage Site opened in late July, 2014, 19 years after the government decided to restore the historic venue to its island glory.
The existing causeway, which has stood for 135 years, was destroyed to allow the sea to completely surround the historic site again for the first time in more than a century.
Bear in mind that with Mont-St-Michel, which is one of our Top 10 Places to Visit in France, you are paying for the location, and that means everything is just that little bit more expensive than elsewhere, e.g. a regular flat white coffee costs €5 compared with €3.20 in Caen city centre.
Mont-St-Michel travel tips
When to Go
It is always exciting, and a little intimidating, to go at high tide as the sea surges in.
How to get there
Walk, or ride the free shuttle over the bridge connecting the mainland parking lot and Information Centre to Mont St. Michel.
Where to stay at Mont-St-Michel
Like spending a night in the citadel at Carcassonne, doing the same on Mont St Michel, and walking the ramparts after the tourists have left, will be a memorable experience.
Les Terrasses Poulard has 29 rooms in two separate buildings, although getting there is not for the faint hearted, and involves climbing steep stone steps.
So, to make the climb easier, just take a small overnight bag and leave any large luggage in your car.
However, there are numerous hotels just on the mainland: Hotel Mercure, St Aubert Hotel, Hotel Vert, Le Relais du Roy, Hotel de la Digne, Relais Saint-Michel Hotel.
Top Tip: Go in winter and spend the night on the Mont. The weather is dramatic, and the crowds are virtually non-existent.
How to cross the bay to Mont-St-Michel
It is dangerous to cross the Bay alone. Rivers, sand bars and large expanses of mud and quicksand are different from tide-change to tide-change affected by currents and winds, and the sea level can rise as much as 15 metres.
The incoming tide roars in at a speed sometimes said to be as fast as a galloping horse – that probably isn’t entirely true, but it comes in faster than you can walk…or run.
So, for your safety, cross to Mont-St-Michel only with one of the licensed bay guides, the first of whom were the bay’s fishermen and hunters who then passed their knowledge to the next generation from which many of today’s guides come.
To obtain further information, or to make reservations (essential), apply to the Office de Tourisme Intercommunal de Sartilly Porte de la Baie at either 4 place des Halles, 50 530 Genêts Tel: 02 33 89 64 00, or 13 rue Pierre Lejaudet, 50530 St Jean le Thomas Tel: 02 33 70 90 71. www.tourismebaiemontstmichel.com.
Two private guide companies organise crossings to Mont-St-Michel:
Chemins de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, 34 rue de l’Ortillon, 50530 Genêts. Tel: 02 33 89 80 88. www.cheminsdelabaie.com.
Découverte de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel, La Maison du Guide, 1 rue Montroise, 50530 Genêts. Tel: 02 33 70 83 49. www.decouvertebaie.com.
There are also a great many private guides conducting interesting specialised tours (nature, history, as a pilgrimage, etc.). Consult the listing at www.tourismebaiemontstmichel.com.