Located in the Baie du Mont St-Michel, Mont St-Michel is a tidal island and at low tide it is surrounded by vast sandbanks. At times of very low tides, the sea can be as far as 12 kilometres away!!
In times of the highest tides, the island is surrounded by water for a couple of hours, and there is definitely no parking along the causeway! I would really have loved to see the island like that, as the car parks detracted from its grandeur.
During low tides you can take a walk across the sandbanks - but please go on a proper tour! There are horror stories of people drowning when the tide rushes in around them, or becoming disoriented when the mist suddenly rolls in and they can't see the island anymore.
When we visited the island the tide was starting to go out, and over the course of our visit we were lucky enough to see the water disappear and the endless sandbanks emerge.
St. Aubert's Chapel is a small chapel built on an outcrop of rock dedicated to Aubert, the founder of Mont St. Michel. It's truly amazing that this chapel ,built in 708, can still be standing after the pounding of the tides.
The Chapel can be reached by the stairs down to the sand on the gulf side of the Mont. During low tide there is no problem walking out to see and take pictures of this miniture chapel.
English attacks during the Hundred Years' War led to the construction of fortified walls and strong towers. The extremely strong tides in the Baie du Mont-St Michel act as a natural defense barrier. The tides rise and fall with the lunar calendar and can reach speeds of 18 miles per hour in the spring. I guess spring wouldn't be a good time to vist the Mont.
Basically, the to do list I can recommend in terms of visit (1 to 4 are detailed in a specific tip) is:
1. The medieval village itself
2. the parish church
3. the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel , including Notre-Dame Sous Terre Chapel (Our Lady underground)
4. the bay
5. Museums (not seen) and shops
About museums (see the website for details):
archéoscope museum (construction of the Mont St Michel), museum of history, knight Bertrand Duguesclin's wife house, maritime and ecology museum,
Prices for 4 museums : Adults from 25 years old: 18 € (9 € for one museum)
Adults less than 25 years old and children: Free of charge
There are three levels to Mont St Michel; the lower level houses the Cellar, Almory, Abbey Gardens, Abbot's lodgings and a Guard's Room. On the Middle Level you can see the Knight's room, Guest Room, St. Etienne's Chapel and St. Martin's Crypt. The Church Level is where you can see the Abbey, Refectory and Cloister. There is the Great Inner Staircase in front of the entrance to the church, and up another set of stairs is Gautier's Leap and on the next level is the West Terrace.
At the top of the Inner Staircase is the terrace named Gautier's Leap after a prisoner who leaped to his death. On the higher level up another set stairs is the West Terrace with has a great panoramic view of the inlet. Note in the picture how high the ramparts are above the water during low tide.
The Refectory is where the monks had their meals, this long narrow room had light from the many windows. The rest of the Cathedral was very dark typical of old Gothic structures. There are three levels to the Mont and the church entrance and refectory can be found on the top level.
The road to the Mont-Saint-Michel was built as a jetty and design to allow access at any time, even at the highest tides. However, as it disturbs the natural circulation of waters at the bottom of the bay, it is another responsible for the silting around the Mount. Moreover, it spoils the view. Both sides of the road have been arranged as parking lots but are under water at high tides. Each time, a few cars are drowned!
The Mont Saint Michel is situated in a bay of 40,000 hectares, traversed by three rivers, the Couesnon, the Sée and the Sélune, and washed twice a day by the tides.
It’s worth visiting the bay:
- for the bay itself
- too see the Mont with a different perspective
I advise you to remove your shoes, to raise your pants and to taste the enjoyment to remain a little stuck in sands (as some clay by moment)
You can clean your feet in town (to the left of the main entrance, don't use the drink water points for that)
but ... please, don't forget that it is dangerous to venture alone into the bay including immediately close to Mont-Saint-Michel (tides, quick sand,...). More under Warning and dangers
Most of the city wall was built during the Guerre de 100 ans (Hundred Years War), when the English were trying, but always failed, to invade the Mont-Saint-Michel. When it was built, its foot was only discovered at low tide. Now it is covered only at a few high tides in the year. That will change with the huge restoration work ahead (sea below).
La mère Poulard is the emblematical restaurant of Mont-Saint-Michel, worldwide known for her’s omelette. In the middle of the XIXth, Annette Boutiaut was running a small eatery and was known as “La Mère Poulard”, from the name of her husband. As pilgrims and visitors were always changing, she decided that she would never change her menu with one single meal, the omelette, which made her fame. The restaurant still exists. I have not tried it. There are now so many visitors that I feel that it is more or less a tourist trap but may be I am wrong… In my opinion, La Mère Poulard is more a monument to visit that a restaurant where to eat!
The Interior of the church is so very dark, even the light from the enormous windows did not light enough of the area for good pictures. There was a service being held and if you look closely you will see the priests getting ready for communion. A tour group was allowed to enter during the service so we followed them pretenting to be one of the group. We could barely see the priest in the dark as he offered communion.
The Flamboyant Gothic church is an Abbey Church. I have only one single photo and it is from outside and in the background : we had our little dog with us and of course could not visit with him. As it was not possible to have a quick look inside, we remained outside. I had visited it another time but did not take any photo! Too bad!
The nave is from the XIth and Romanesque while the choir was built between 1421 and 1521 and is Flamboyant Gothic.
La Merveille (the Marvel) was were the monks lived.
It was built at the beginning of the XIIIth and is made of two building stuck together. As space was scarce, it was built on three levels. The first level is the Cellar and the Chaplaincy. The second level is the hosts' room and the knights' room. The third and last level is the dining room and the cloister. The whole building is carved into the rock on the north and sustained on the south by strong abutments.
The first photo shows the Marvel from the west, the second from the south
Along the centuries, the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel has been silting more and more. When the first church was built, in 709, Mont Tombe was an island, even at low tide. Now except for the highest tides, it remains a peninsula and the see washes the ramparts only for the highest tides. Little by little, Mont-Saint-Michel was loosing a part of its character. For almost a century, projects have been established and discussed but as the possible unwanted effects were numerous, little was done.
In 2006 a wide scale restoration project has began that will last until 2014. Al detail can be found at:
To make a long story short, the goal is to restore the free circulation of water around the Mount, which requires putting down all manmade constructions that hamper it (dams, road access to the Mount and parking lot along the road) and requires the building of a new dam, of a new access, of a new parking lot on the continent with shuttles to bring visitors to the Mount. The restoration work will never hamper the visits.
Route du Mont Saint Michel, BP 8, Mont-St-Michel, Basse-Normandie, 50170, France
Good for: Solo
BP 16 Grande Rue, Mont-St-Michel, 50170, France
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo
BP 8 Route Du Mont St Michel, Mont-St-Michel, F - 50170, France
Good for: Business