It’s one of France’s most iconic images: a monastery with its slender spires and stout ramparts and rocky slope seemingly rises from the depth of the sea. Said by Celtic mythology to be a sea tomb to which souls of the dead were sent, Mont Saint Michel is rich in legend and history.
Mont Saint Michel – a masterpiece of religious and military architecture – is situated in the heart of an immense bay in Normandy that has Europe’s highest tidal variations. Annually, it welcomes over 2.5 million visitors and is counted as France’s most popular attraction outside Paris.
A Brief History
The first construction at the summit of the island dated back to the year 708, following the vision of Bishop Aubert of Avranches. In his vision, Archangel Michael – commander-in-chief of the celestial militia – requests him to “build here and build high”. Aubert repeatedly ignored the Archangel’s request until Saint Michael burnt a hole in the bishop’s skull by his finger. From then on, a church was built on the island known as Mont Tomb and the mountain where the church is located has been known as Mont Saint Michel.
In the following centuries, Mont Saint Michel was turned into a center of learning under the Benedictines. During the Hundred Years War, it developed into an unbreakable fortress that successfully defended against the English assault. In fact, the Mont was the only place in Northern France that withstood, and thus it has become a symbol of French national identity. However, after the French Revolution, this place was once again repurposed to an inescapable prison. In 1966, the abbey was finally returned to the Benedictines. And in 1979, UNESCO declared Mont Saint Michel and the surrounding bay as a World Heritage Site.
After going through the Boulevard Gate and then the King’s Gate fortified with its portcullis, you will find yourself at the Grande Rue (Main Street) filled with restaurants, shops, and a small parish church dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Blended in with the stonework all around, the church is dedicated to Saint Pierre – the patron saint of fishermen.
Continued walking along this street will bring you to the Grande Degre (Grand Stair Case) whose majesty is a prelude to La Marveille – the Gothic cloître with double rows of delicately carved arches. Here you will also have the chance to explore the rooms of the abbey and catch a glimpse of the golden statue of the winged Michael crowning the tip of the abbey’s spire. After admiring the abbey, you can enjoy the stunning view over the bay when going down the ramparts path.
Travel from Paris to Mont Saint Michel
- The nearest SNCF station is Pontorson (about 10km from Mont Saint Michel). Train from Paris takes around 3.5 to 4.5 hours, and you usually have to change at Caen or Dol de Bretagne.
- Bus 1 (every one hour or two) links Pontorson and La Caserne. The bus is timed to coincide with the trains to/from Caen and Rennes. Price: 3€.
- The shuttle bus from La Caserne to the Mont runs frequently and free-of-cost. If you are energetic, you can walk from La Caserne and enjoy a superb view. Duration: 30-45 mins.
Tips for visiting Mont Saint Michel
- Explore the surrounding bay with caution. Even when the tide is out, only do it with a guide. Do not underestimate the danger of the tide and the surrounding area.
- Be prepared for lots of steps if you want to explore the abbey. Price: 10€, but free for 26-year-old and younger.
- Aside from the architectural wonder, Mont Saint Michel is also known for its lamb. In fact, it was the best lamb dish that I have ever tasted. Other specialities include seafood, apple cider and the Breton galette – a pancake made with buckwheat flour usually with a savoury filling.
60 thoughts on “Mont Saint Michel: The Marvel of Normandy”
Omg so beautiful! You’re so lucky have been there ! 🙂
Thanks 🙂 I am glad that weather was on my favor too.
Wonderful article and pictures. One of my favourite places in England is St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall which is like a younger brother of the Mont. Hope to visit here one day!
Just google the one in Cornwall, and as you said they look very similar, except the spire 🙂 Thanks for letting me know that. Very interesting!
I have been there before! Its so beautiful! Those photos are truly lovely! Thanks for posting this!
Thanks a lot, Chiara 🙂
Those night shots are amazing. This place looks magical!
Thank you very much 🙂
Beautiful! We are going there. Thanks for the practical information!
Thank you! I hope you will bring a lot of warm clothes with you. We were there in May, and it was freezing because of the very strong wind. Now we have minus degree so it must be cooler now 🙂 Enjoy the time there!
Thank you. I will bring warm clothes.
I love your storytelling and intricate details. A joy to behold.
Your comment made my day. Thank a lot! 🙂
Nice pictures you captured!
Many thanks! This place is already photogenic so I did not have to do much 😉
Awesome pictures as always! Great tips and info as well, I didn’t know that story about the Archangel Michael! “Build here and build high”: it seems he had a clear idea of what he wanted, lol. Also in Italy, there are plenty of stories about “holy figures” who wanted a church built. For example in my city the Virgin Mary allegedly draw with a stick the perimeter of the church that was later erected in that precise point xD
Interesting story! I think as holy beings, they know which spot is the best in town 🙂
Regarding the legend of Mont St.Michel, the bishop at first ignored the building request of Michael. Then on the third time, Michael burned a hole in the bishop’ skull to show his power (I guess he must be angry haha). The skull with a hole on it can still be seen in the abbey 🙂
I want to see this place even more than Paris 😀
Beautiful photos as always!))
Thanks a lot! Well Paris is great, but this one is refreshing. A bit far, but it worth a trip 🙂
Len, your photos are STUNNING! Mont Saint Michel has been on my bucketlist for a while now, and I hope to visit next time I’m in France. Bookmarking this because your info is very helpful!
My pleasure. I suggest to spend 1-2 days there, because the nearby town Beauvoir is worth visiting as well. And lamb from this region is the best! As a culinary expert, I guess you would much like it 😉
Btw, I like your blog’s new look 🙂
Haha we are blog theme twins 😉 Thanks for all the tips, will keep them in mind 👌🏻
This looks aboslutely beautiful! It sort of reminds me of St Micheal’s Mount in the UK.
Another reader mentioned that as well 🙂 In Cornwall if I am not wrong. I googled that and they look very similar. The only differences are the spire and the size of the island 🙂
Yep, it’s in Cornwall! I’ve never visited it and sorely regret it now!
I’ve been there last year, it’s so inspiring…
When I got there, I remember very well that some sunbeams where lighting up the tower of the abbey, whereas all around it was dark and cloudy. It was amazing.
Wow! I could imagine that scene. It must be really cool. Lucky you 😉
This place reminds me of the Disney castle even more than the one it was actually inspired by which I actually got to see. This is soo pretty though!
Many thanks 🙂 They look indeed similar. But I guess Disney did not choose St.Michel as the icon because of its dark history as a prison.
Wow – fabulous shots! Love that one of St. Michel and the glowing sunset.
Thanks a lot! 🙂
Many thanks 🙂
You are welcome 🙂
Beautiful photos. You have captured the many faces well and I enjoyed reading of the history of this location.
Thank you 🙂 I am glad that you like it
I like your photos of the building, but for me the show stopper is “A photo of Master at La Merveille”. That’s excellent.
Thanks a lot! I was lucky to have this photo. It was shot by another photographer whom I just incidentally met at the Abbey 🙂
Jaw dropping beauty! Great summary:)
It is very kind of you. Thank you 🙂
Many thanks 😉
Great photos of an incredible monument … the problem with this world is there are too many awesome places to visit and it’s hard to prioritise 😃😃
I totally agree with you! Planning a trip is excited, but prioritizing destinations can sometimes break your head. Some destinations are beautiful, while some have extremely good food. In such cases, I usually let my stomach decide 🙂 Thanks for the compliment!
Wow! Absolutely sure that. Great information… I hope I make it soon ☺️
I’m glad that you found this post helpful 😀
You take such breathtaking pictures!
Many thanks! I’m glad that you like them 🙂
Mount Saint Michel has been one of my dreams since I was a little girl! I’d love to visit it soon! The photos are gorgeous, Len!
Many thanks! I highly recommend to spend one night in a nearby hotel because the Mont looks most impressive during high tide. In the morning, the sea level might be low, so you cannot see the Mont’s reflection. The place is also more crowded during the day, though it’s not as bad as Versailles or Paris 🙂
A stunning historical site. I have visited the place years ago but it still amazed with the beauty. I remember there was also french “galettes” store outside the area..
You are right! I cannot remember the exact location, but there was indeed a famous store which specialises in galettes. The shop front is pretty small, but I recognised it thanks to a queue of hungry visitors 🙂
Len, Mont St. Michel has been on my list for so many years and your photos (especially that dusk one) make me want to get on the next plane. Were you just there…how is April/May for crowds? Did you go to Saint Malo (another top priority for me)?
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Saint Malo. We travelled by train, so it’s a bit difficult to go there from Mont St. Michel. There are buses, but they are scarce.
I visited Mon St. Michel in May 2016. During the day, it was crowded, though not as terrible as in Paris. But when all the tour buses left, serenity returned and you can have the place for yourself. I would recommend spending a night in a nearby hotel, so you can watch sunset on Mont St. Michel. It’s breathtaking!
Thanks for the tips Len. I think staying overnight makes a lot of sense.
I was there so long ago I don’t think the well-developed road was even there at the time. It’s a magnificent spot altho the shops etc were pretty tacky at that time as well. I was actually a student then and am retired now so that gives you an idea of how much time has gone by. it’s just as beautiful now as it was then! Beautifully captured.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Tina! May I ask how you reached Mt. Saint Michel at that time? Was there a bridge or did you have to walk across the muddy bay? I saw groups of pupils did that. It looks fun, but quite strenuous 🙂
Hi Len, no there was a small road – nothing like your photo. We took a cab as I remember