Visiting Le Mont Saint-Michel: A Step Back in Time

When I had a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to visit Mont Saint-Michel on a day trip, I obviously said yes. Not having heard much about it before (this was before “Instagrammable places” existed and even before I actually had Instagram if you can believe it…), I did a little research and became fascinated by this fairytalelike semi-island fortress destination.

One Saturday morning, my friends and I woke up really early and made the trek to Gare Montparnasse for an8:05 AM train. I slept most of the way on the nearly 3-hour train ride to Dol de Bretagne, which was beneficial for the draining day ahead. After leaving the train station at Pontorson, we had a nice 20-minute bus ride and then a 10-minute shuttle ride to Mont Saint-Michel.

Jutting up from sea level, it’s impossible to miss Mont Saint Michel Pictures do not do it justice, as you can see below. Upon approaching it from afar, it reminded me a lot of a drip castle made on a beach, peeping out from the vast tan/grey of the surrounding sand.

mont saint michel france

How to get to Mont Saint-Michel:

When I visited, I took one way there and a different way back. Both ways will take about three hours via train and bus combinations.

  • Method 1: Train from Paris to Rennes (1.5 hours) and a bus from Rennes to Mont Saint-Michel (~1 hour).
  • Method 2: Train from Paris to Dol de Bretagne (2.5 hours) and a bus from Dol de Bretagne to Mont Saint-Michel (~30 minutes, although it took us less than that).
  • Once you arrive at the Mont Saint-Michel welcome area, you can either take a shuttle bus to Mont Saint-Michel or walk the 2.5km to the entrance.

Mont Saint-Michel: A fascinating [and long] history

Originally only accessible during low tide, Mont Saint-Michel was first built as a sanctuary to the archangel Michael in 708. It soon became a major focus of pilgrimage. In the 900s, Benedictines settled in the abbey and a village grew up around it. It was considered an impregnable stronghold during the Hundred Years War as the English assaults were unsuccessful. From the Revolution until 1863, the abbey was used as a prison. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Approaching Mont Saint-Michel

I mentioned before that Mont Saint-Michel looked like a drip sandcastle emerging from the surrounding sand. It was hard to wrap my mind around the small island castle popping up like that.

Not too long ago, it was only approachable during low tide. Today, there is a pathway that brings you up to the island so it is approachable at any time (except flooding). You can, however, still walk along the sand/mud during low tide. I opted to not do this as I didn’t relish spending the long journey back to Paris with muddy feet!

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approaching mont saint michel france

mont saint michel france

Mont Saint-Michel today

The streets were thin, winding, and cobblestoned. It really did feel like stepping back in time (minus all the tourists and other people like me waving around their cameras). Lots of little restaurants and stores filled with touristy items and foods lined the spiral pathway up to the abbey. Once we got our bearings, we found a decent restaurant where I had a Limonade (bubbly lemonade), tagliatelle a la bolognese, and a salted caramel crepe for dessert (gotta go all out while in France!). I really enjoyed walking round and round (whilst trying to avoid the tourists) and window shopping a bit.

mont saint michel streets

mont saint michel streets

mont saint michel streets

We then headed up to the abbey. It’s quite the hike with the street on a constant upward slant and hundreds upon hundreds of stairs. Definitely got my workout for the day and I can imagine how fit inhabitants or shop owners must be!

mont saint michel stairs

The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel

The abbey itself is very simple, yet beautiful. While it is Gothic in architecture, there was very little in the manner of decoration, which was different from some of the other churches in France I’ve visited.

mont saint michel clerestory

mont saint michel alter

mont saint michel retable

mont saint michel relief

mont saint michel room

mont saint michel hall

The Cloisters of Mont Saint-Michel

The cloisters were very peaceful, even with all the tourists. I can only imagine their true quiet when no one else is around. I also loved the symmetry of the columns surrounding the courtyard. #simplepleasures

mont saint michel cloisters

mont saint michel cloisters

mont saint michel cloisters

mont saint michel cloisters

Mont Saint-Michel views [as far as the eye can see!]

The views from the top of the abbey are absolutely beautiful! We were there as the tide was slowly coming in, so it was lovely to see people still walking around in the mud whilst streams of water slowly started growing bigger. It was very flat and peaceful, and even though the day was cloudy and a little rainy, it was still gorgeous. It made the green of the trees near the church and the grass in the distance that much brighter.

mont saint michel views

Such a steep view down. You can see the pathway that leads to Mont Saint Michel.

mont saint michel views

A rare photo of me!

mont saint michel views

Does this view not just inspire serenity?!

mont saint michel views

mont saint michel views

mont saint michel views

 

Let me just say that if I ever wanted to become a nun, Mont Saint Michel is the place I would choose to do it. It was stunningly beautiful and I’ve truly never seen anything like it since.

 

mont saint michel walls

Just look at those walls!

 

On my way back down, I ended up buying some La Mère Poulard cookies, which originated in Mont Saint-Michel in 1888. I bought a tin of caramel cookies and the checkout lady gave me a free sample of the original shortbread cookies. They were both to die for. I definitely recommend stopping by while you’re there! I also loved looking down at the shops from above.

mont saint michel rooftop

I want a roof like this!

mont saint michel shops

mont saint michel shops

Side note: don’t forget to look up while you’re on your way back down the island.

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mont saint michel spire

 

Final thoughts

Mont Saint-Michel is one of those places that’s so hard to describe to someone, you just have to experience it for yourself. While the pictures definitely won’t do it justice, definitely take a look, as they will surely make you want to visit this unique place for yourself! It was one of the highlights of my time spent abroad in Paris and you’ll probably say the same thing when you visit, either as a day trip or a quaint overnight trip in one of the inns on the island.

Have you been to Mont Saint-Michel before? Is it on your bucket list? Visiting Mont Saint-Michel is like taking a step back in time. It is a tiny island commune and abbey situated on the border of Normandy and Bretagne in France and a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mont Saint Michel is a stunning island commune and abbey situated on the border of Normandy and Bretagne in France. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a fascinating history and makes a great day trip from Paris.

France, Travels
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8 Comments

  • Reply
    Lucy
    16 February 2017 at 00:47

    Mont Saint Michel is beautiful! It’s like the architecture from one of the TV series I follow called ‘Reign’ about Queen Mary of Scotts who spent some of her time in France. I can totally see myself wandering around and taking snaps of every single thing I see. P.S I love your blog name! :)

    • Reply
      almathews
      16 February 2017 at 08:02

      Ooo I’ve not seen reign but it sounds right up my alley! When I was there, I took HUNDREDS of photos…it’s such a beautiful and unique place and everywhere you turn there’something photo-worthy haha. Thank you so much :)

  • Reply
    Rosaie
    16 July 2017 at 15:14

    Such a beautiful place, I’ve always wanted to visit! Have you ever seen To The Wonder? The opening scenes take place in Mont Saint Michel, and I think the film whenever I see it :)

    Rosalie

    • Reply
      almathews
      18 July 2017 at 19:04

      I hope you can visit one day! Oh, no I haven’t seen that but I will have to now!!

  • Reply
    Taylor
    18 July 2017 at 20:23

    Nice showing us the best places to go. Love the architectural and history of the place!

    • Reply
      almathews
      21 July 2017 at 13:34

      Thank you! So glad you enjoyed this!

  • Reply
    Nicole Simon Guldager
    21 July 2017 at 22:42

    I’m wondering how many hours you spent at Mont St. Michel? I’m planning a trip and can’t decide if I can do Normandy and Mont St. Michael all in one day or if I need a day for each.

    • Reply
      almathews
      22 July 2017 at 16:40

      I would definitely do Mont St Michel in one day. I left Paris early in the morning, arrived around noon and left around dinnertime. Plus, there is so much to see in Normandy! Are you thinking of going to the beaches or to Caen or Bayeux?

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