I already wrote about how the Mont Saint-Michel was usually the kind of place you dream about or read about – but never actually set foot there.
But one of the advantages of being an expat in France is how easy it is to drive to the other side of the country, i.e. Normandy, during the August holidays. And that’s pretty much what I did (well, I take all the credit as usual, but my husband did all the driving. I was merely the energy drink provider).
And boy, the Mont Saint-Michel did NOT disappoint. The excitement for this unique place in the world starts when you see it from afar, when getting closer and closer to the coast, and all through the visit, and even after as you enjoy a locally produced apple cider.
Here are a few practical and handy Mont Saint-Michel tips to keep in mind for your trip.
Mont Saint-Michel: A Bit of History
The Mont Saint-Michel is perhaps one of the most and ancient Christian pilgrimage sites in the Western world, with the worship of Saint Michael’s going as far back as the 8th century, and the monastery foundations in the 10th century. The monastery gave its allegiance to William the Conqueror in his claim on the English throne in the 11th century and was rewarded with a doppelganger of sorts in Cornwall – a site known as St Michael’s Mount today.
The island was repeatedly assaulted by the English during the Hundred Years War but was never defeated. However, the French Reformation and Revolution left the monastery quite empty, and it was converted into a prison until it was declared a historic monument in the 1800s.
Today, the Mont Saint-Michel is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is the second most visited site in France, with over 3 million visitors every year (I’ll let you guess which is the first one).
Mont Saint-Michel Tips: What You Should Know
The best tip I can give is to get there as early as possible, as parking spaces fill up very quickly, and the island gets very, very crowded. Trust me, I am NOT a morning person but it is definitely worth getting up early for!
The island can be visited in three parts:
- The village: Where you will find the pricey restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and other quirky things. Make sure to take in the beautiful and ancient timber-framed houses, and to taste the famous local cider.
- The Abbey: Perhaps the most iconic part of the visit. This area will definitely make you feel what the Mont Saint-Michel is all about, its energy and its long history. The Abbey is one of the finest examples of military and religious architecture, with strong Roman and Gothic influences. Since it’s so up high, it also offers excellent views of the bay and coastal Normandy. It was undoubtedly my favourite part of the visit, despite what my calves have to say about it.
- The museums: There are many museums on the island, but for some reason, I felt most of them were very touristy, and expensive as well. I didn’t visit any for these reasons. But if you wish to spend a full day at Mont Saint-Michel, the museums would be a nice way to spend time.