Road to Mount Saint Michael

Mount Saint Michael: The Monastery on the Sea

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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, Mount Saint Michael is rich in legend and history.


Mount Saint Michael – 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 – request 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 Mount Tomb and the mountain where the church is located has been known as Mount Saint Michael.

Morning at Mount Saint Michael

In the following centuries, Mount Saint Michael was turned into a centre 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 Mount 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 Mount Saint Michael and the surrounding bay as a World Heritage Site.

The floating monastery at dusk

The Layout

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.

Dim light on Mount Saint Michael

Travel from Paris to Mount Saint Michael

  • The nearest SNCF station is Pontorson (about 10km from Mount Saint Michael). 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 Mount 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.

Practical Information

  • 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, Mount Saint Michael 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.
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60 thoughts on “Mount Saint Michael: The Monastery on the Sea”

  1. cikitaokt – Just an amateur photographer, a dream digger, book enthusiast, music enjoyer, fashion lovers, monochrome addict, that's me :)
    cikitaokt says:

    Omg so beautiful! You’re so lucky have been there ! 🙂

  2. 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!

    1. 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!

  3. Those night shots are amazing. This place looks magical!

    1. 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!

  4. scenethat – For me, travel blogging is an opportunity to share stories, photos and videos of the experiences God has given me. Travel is altogether exploring, learning and opening doors. I’m a Southern Girl, a mom, a wife, a Sunday School teacher and a media analyst. I’m always looking for an experience to write a blog about. When I’m not blogging you’ll find me bicycling around town. And when I’m travelling, I’m always on the hunt for a bicycle tour.
    cyclering says:

    I love your storytelling and intricate details. A joy to behold.

  5. fkasara – I'm Sara, a Northern Italian with experience in Italy's travel industry and hospitality sector. Other than the classic travel tips, in my blog I mainly share cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Belpaese, that often elude tourists, yet make our country unique. Be inspired, avoid cliches and let Italy spice up your life!
    fkasara says:

    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

    1. 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 🙂

      1. fkasara – I'm Sara, a Northern Italian with experience in Italy's travel industry and hospitality sector. Other than the classic travel tips, in my blog I mainly share cultural and lifestyle aspects of the Belpaese, that often elude tourists, yet make our country unique. Be inspired, avoid cliches and let Italy spice up your life!
        fkasara says:

        OMG XD

  6. Nano @ Travels With Nano – Tokyo, Japan – Hi, I'm Nano! Welcome to my site! Travels With Nano is filled with everything I am passionate about: uncovering the world one sight, bite and cultural experience at a time. I'm here to share savvy travel tips and inspire (not influence!) your future travel adventures. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have you here reading!
    Nano @ Travel With Nano B. says:

    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!

    1. 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 🙂

      1. Nano @ Travels With Nano – Tokyo, Japan – Hi, I'm Nano! Welcome to my site! Travels With Nano is filled with everything I am passionate about: uncovering the world one sight, bite and cultural experience at a time. I'm here to share savvy travel tips and inspire (not influence!) your future travel adventures. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have you here reading!
        Nano @ Travel With Nano B. says:

        Haha we are blog theme twins Thanks for all the tips, will keep them in mind

    1. 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 🙂

  7. Incredible place!
    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.

  8. 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!

    1. 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.

  9. jacquelineobyikocha – Houston, Texas – A wordsmith with a vivid imagination, an eager mind and a burning desire to carve out tales. As I journey with my muse to that land of all possibilities and self discovery, I hope my personal evolution will serve as a beacon of inspiration for anyone who chooses to stop by.
    jacquelineobyikocha says:

    Fabulous photos

      1. jacquelineobyikocha – Houston, Texas – A wordsmith with a vivid imagination, an eager mind and a burning desire to carve out tales. As I journey with my muse to that land of all possibilities and self discovery, I hope my personal evolution will serve as a beacon of inspiration for anyone who chooses to stop by.
        jacquelineobyikocha says:

        You are welcome 🙂

  10. spiritofdragonflies – New York State – My purpose in life is to inspire others to reach their goals, dreams, higher selves. Are you ready to transform your life forever? Allow me to guide you along the steps toward reaching your inspirational, exciting life. I am a lover of life, a certified Mindfulness Outdoor Experience Guide, Certified QSCA Life Coach, Therapeutic Touch practitioner, amateur photographer, and aspiring writer taking steps to reach my own goals and loving every minute. Love and Light!
    spiritofdragonflies says:

    Beautiful photos. You have captured the many faces well and I enjoyed reading of the history of this location.

  11. I like your photos of the building, but for me the show stopper is “A photo of Master at La Merveille”. That’s excellent.

    1. Thanks a lot! I was lucky to have this photo. It was shot by another photographer whom I just incidentally met at the Abbey 🙂

  12. Inger – Combining my passion for exploring the great outdoors with a love for photography.
    Inger says:

    Jaw dropping beauty! Great summary:)

  13. dustyrucksack – >almitra & prathamesh❤️. >passionate travellers. >sailors by profession🛳. >hope to explore each and every corner of the world some day. >sharing our experiences here.
    dustyrucksack says:

    Bucketlisted !

  14. mumsthewordblog1 – Melbourne – Tracey & Lis, longlife friends, writing about life experiences, books, painting, travel & family.
    mumsthewordblog1 says:

    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

    1. 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!

  15. Wow! Absolutely sure that. Great information… I hope I make it soon

  16. Jennifer – Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.
    Jennifer says:

    You take such breathtaking pictures!

  17. 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!

    1. 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 🙂

  18. 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..

    1. 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 🙂

  19. 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)?

    1. 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!

  20. Tina Schell – I am passionate about photography, love traveling and exploring new places and faces, and seeing the world from different perspectives. My lens is always on the lookout for something beautiful or interesting.
    Tina Schell says:

    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.

    1. 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 🙂

      1. Tina Schell – I am passionate about photography, love traveling and exploring new places and faces, and seeing the world from different perspectives. My lens is always on the lookout for something beautiful or interesting.
        Tina Schell says:

        Hi Len, no there was a small road – nothing like your photo. We took a cab as I remember

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