One of the most visited places in France, the Mont Saint-Michel welcomes approximately 2.5 million guests a year. Who could blame anyone for wanting to experience this iconic island, with over one thousand years of history under its belt? With so many visitors, it’s important to be savvy with your planning. Here are some things to know before you visit the Mont Saint-Michel to make your trip a smooth and memorable one.
While it is possible to make a day trip to the Mont Saint-Michel from Paris, it’s a long and exhausting journey. Instead, plan to spend at least one night in the area. The Mont Saint-Michel is situated on the border of the Brittany and Normandy regions, both of which merit exploration. Consider basing yourself in Rennes, the capital of Brittany. Rennes is a 1.5-hour train ride from Paris, with buses (or car rentals) to the Mont Saint-Michel approximately one hour away. Another option is Saint-Malo; this coastal town is also an hour away from the Mont Saint-Michel and a great place to spend an evening by the sea.
The tides of the Channel are ever-changing, constantly rising and falling around the island. Both scenarios have their advantages. During high tide, the Mont Saint-Michel appears surreal, as though it were hovering above the water and in the right light, creates a mirror reflection. Low tide is just as interesting, surrounding the commune with sand, allowing visitors to walk around its perimeter and observe it from a different vantage point. This can be dangerous so if you’re interested, book a tour with a professional guide who is familiar with the Channel’s moody ways to ensure you’re kept safe. Check with the Tourism Office for more information; there’s an office located right after the main entrance gates.
It’s important to keep in mind upon visiting that the Mont Saint-Michel isn’t a fabricated tourist destination and is home to 44 inhabitants, including the monks and nuns that reside in the Abbey. You may even be lucky enough to hear the hauntingly beautiful sound of their choir upon entering the Abbey. Be respectful of their home and don’t take photographs of the citizens, particularly during religious ceremonies.
The climb up to the Mont Saint-Michel is considerable: the pathway leading to the top is steep, narrow and cobblestoned. There are also a good amount of stairs you need to climb, especially when venturing up to the Abbey. Be sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes.
The Mont Saint-Michel’s famous dishes include omelettes and crepes. A notable spot is La Mère Poulard, located close to the main entrance as you enter through the King’s Gate. The most well-known establishment on the island, La Mère Poulard has been around since 1888 and its notoriously fluffy omelettes are supposed to be the best the world over. If you want the experience, be prepared to shell out at least 28 EUR for a traditional omelette and reserve a table in advance to avoid the long wait. For crepes, a favourite spot among visitors is Crêperie La Cloche. No matter where you go, you’re likely to pay a premium for eating in the village. A packed picnic is a great option.
For rewarding vistas of the coast, head up the Porte Échauguette, located to the left of the main entrance gate, for a walk along the Abbey ramparts. Make sure to head to the Terrasse de l’Ouest, which offers a stunning panorama over the bay.
Getting into the Mont Saint-Michel is free and you could spend the day just taking in the village and its surrounding views. However, there are many things to see and do including museums, churches and of course, the spectacular Abbey perched on top. There is a small entrance fee for the Abbey (10 EUR) and it’s worth it to explore the historical monument. On the Grande Rue on the way up to the Abbey, keep an eye out for the parish church of Saint-Pierre, surrounded by a cemetery (where La Mère Poulard herself, Anne Boutiaut, lays to rest) and housing a silver statue dedicated to Saint-Michel. There’s also the Maritime Museum, which offers insight into the surrounding environment of the island and its ecology.
La Mère Poulard is also celebrated for her buttery cookies that make for a great (and tasty) souvenir. They’re for sale throughout the village, but can be found at almost any grocery store in France for a fraction of the price.