Visiting Le Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy
Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a small tidal island commune located off the coast of Normandy in France. It is best known for its impressive and historic abbey, which sits atop the island and is surrounded by the sea during high tide. It’s a unique place to visit and exploring the narrow streets and historic buildings will leave you in awe. In this blog post, we’re sharing everything you need to know about visiting Le Mont-Saint-Michel, including the best photo spot locations.
The changing of the tides in Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a natural phenomenon that has been a source of fascination for visitors to the island for centuries. There can be a difference of up to 15 meters between low and high tide. During high tide, the sea around Le Mont-Saint-Michel rises and the island is completely surrounded by water. This creates a dramatic and beautiful sight, as the island appears to be floating in the middle of the sea. During extreme high tide, the causeway that connects Le Mont-Saint-Michel to the mainland is submerged for about an hour, making it impossible to enter or exit the island.
During extreme low tides, there’s hardly any water to be seen in the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. When the island is surrounded by sand, you can walk all the way around it. This offers a different perspective of the island and the Abbey. Be careful when walking around the island during low tide though. Tides can change quickly and when the water is rising, the sand surrounding the island turns into quicksand. This can be very dangerous when the tide rushes in.
We visited Le Mont-Saint-Michel during low tide. It was possible to almost walk around the island, but not entirely. Nevertheless, the low tide offered a unique point of view of the tidal island.
If you want to experience Le Mont-Saint-Michel during extreme high or low tide, you can plan your visit according to the tide schedule. The tide schedule is published on the website of Le Mont-Saint-Michel’s Tourism Office.
Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel’s abbey was built in the 10th century and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The abbey is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture, with intricate carvings and stained glass windows. You can visit the rooms and halls of the abbey, including the great hall, the cloister, and the refectory. The abbey also contains a number of historical artifacts, such as ancient manuscripts and religious art.
As we visited Le Mont-Saint-Michel in the evening and in the early morning, the abbey was closed at those times so we weren’t able to witness the interiors of the abbey. Fortunately, we could admire the beauty of the abbey from multiple places on and surrounding the island.
The earliest evidence of human habitation on the island dates back to ancient times, and it is believed that the island may have been used as a place of worship by the Gauls. In the 8th century, the Benedictine monk Aubert built an abbey on the island, which became a center of religious and cultural life on the island. Over the centuries, the abbey was expanded and reconstructed a few times.
Fun fact: did you know that Le Mont-Saint-Michel has an English counterpart off the coast of Cornwall called St Michael’s Mount? Both places share the same tidal island characteristics and similar conical shape, but Le Mont-Saint-Michel is much taller.
Opening hours of the abbey
May-August: daily from 09:00 until 19:00
September-April: daily from 09:30 until 18:00
Entrance fee: €11
Check this website for current opening hours and to buy tickets online.
Strolling through the village
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a real French village with a mayor, a priest, a postman, municipal policemen and waste services. The village is tiny though, in 2019 there were only 29 inhabitants which is an extremely small number if you take into account that the island has 3.5 million yearly visitors.
In the narrow streets of Le Mont-Saint-Michel you can find plenty of shops that offer souvenirs, clothing and local specialties as well as various restaurants. One of the island’s most famous dishes is the Omelette de la Mère Poulard, a fluffy omelet. Together with her husband, Madame Poulard owned a restaurant and inn in Le Mont-Saint-Michel. In order to make tourists stay longer in Le Mont-Saint-Michel, she came up with the idea of cooking giant omelets for them. In a traditional omelet, the egg whites and yellows are whisked together. However, in an Omelette de la Mère Poulard, the egg whites and yellows are separated and whisked separately. The omelet is cooked over a wood fire by first adding the whisked egg whites before slowly adding the whisked egg yellows. It’s an easy recipe on paper, but a lot can go wrong in the execution.
Even though Madame Poulard is no longer with us, the original Omelette de la Mère Poulard is still served at the restaurant La Mère Poulard. If you want a taste of the original fluffy omelet recipe, be prepared to take out your wallet. The simplest omelet on their menu, a fluffy omelet with vegetables (no bread or fries), is €32. Besides that, the restaurant also gets a lot of bad reviews on Google Maps. Therefore, we decided to try the fluffy omelet at a restaurant a little further down the street.
We had dinner at Restaurant du Guesclin, where they serve a typical Mont-Saint-Michel fluffy omelet with fries for €18. To be honest, the omelet was nothing special. I think I like a non-fluffy omelet better, haha. Joop’s steak also was dry and cooked too long. The restaurant offers great views over the bay and the service was nice, so I guess it could be worse keeping in mind that Le Mont-Saint-Michel is an insanely touristy place.
Ramparts of Le Mont-Saint-Michel
The tidal island is surrounded by ramparts (remparts in French), or walls, that were built from the 12th to the 14th century for defensive purposes. The ramparts at Le Mont-Saint-Michel were designed to protect the abbey and village from invaders. During the Hundred Year War, the island resisted attacks by the English army for nearly 30 years due to these ramparts and the tidal changes.
Nowadays, you can walk along the ramparts while enjoying the panoramic views of the village and the bay. You can find the stairs to the ramparts across the Tourist Office along Grande Rue. Click here for the location.
The best photo spots of Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Le Mont-Saint-Michel is very photogenic and we couldn’t stop taking photos of the tidal island. We specifically loved capturing the island from a bit further away. During extremely low tide, you can walk on the sand in the bay and capture the island from this unique perspective. Be extremely careful and check the tide schedule when the high tide will kick in. The sand can turn into quick sand when the high tide comes in creating dangerous situations.
To get to the next location, you have to climb a boulder pier which is only possible during low tide. Be very careful as the boulder pier is wet and probably slippery. The view from here is magnificent though, especially during sunset.
The last photo spot is the easiest to reach. Head left onto the grass from the walkway to the island for this spot. If you’re lucky, there might even be some sheep behind the fence too. After staying the night near Le Mont-Saint-Michel, we wanted to take some more photos during sunrise. Unfortunately for us, it was raining and very foggy. Because of the fog, it was almost impossible to see the island. Not worth getting up in the middle of the night for, haha.
How long to stay at Le Mont-Saint-Michel
As Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a tiny village, you’ve easily seen it all within a few hours. If you want to explore the streets of the village, the rampants, visit the abbey and take photos of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, you could easily do it all in four hours. A day trip to Le Mont-Saint-Michel would therefore be enough. However, if you want to enjoy the tidal island without the crowds, we’d recommend staying the night in or near the village. We arrived at Le Mont-Saint-Michel at the end of the afternoon when the village was still flooded with tourists. After dinner, almost all tourists had disappeared and we had the entire island almost to ourselves.
Where to stay in Le Mont-Saint-Michel
There are a few hotels on the island itself. While this is the most expensive option, it’s also the best way to experience the island to the fullest. If you’re traveling by car, it might not be the most convenient option though, as you can’t park your car nearby. If you’re staying on the island, you can park your car at the car park, and then take the 40-minute walk to the village (with your luggage). There are also shuttle buses running between the car park and the village, but these are often crowded. In other words, if you’re traveling with a lot of luggage, staying on the island might not be the best option.
Another option is staying at one of the hotels near the car park. This is less expensive and you can park right next to the hotel. The rooms in the hotels here get filled quickly, so make sure to book ahead of time if you want to stay here. Because we couldn’t get a room in the car park area of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, we opted for a hotel in the nearby village Beauvoir. We stayed at Hotel Restaurant Café Le Beauvoir that offers simple and clean rooms for a reasonable price and free parking next to the hotel. It’s a 50-minute walk from the hotel to the tidal island, which is quite long but it’s a pleasant walk as you’re surrounded by nature.
Click here to book a room in Hotel Restaurant Café Le Beauvoir
Click here for more accommodations in and near Le Mont-Saint-Michel
How to get to Le Mont-Saint-Michel
By public transport
The closest train station to Le Mont-Saint-Michel is Pontorson. From the train station of Pontorson, there are direct buses to Le Mont-Saint-Michel that take around 15 minutes. It’s around a 4 to 6-hour journey to reach Pontorson from Paris by train, depending on whether you take a regional or high speed train.
If you ask us, traveling to Le Mont-Saint-Michel by car is the best option. It’s not only the fastest option, but many other places in Normandy, especially the smaller villages, are best reached by car as well. This way you can combine a visit to Le Mont-Saint-Michel with some of the most beautiful villages in France. From Paris, it’s around a 4-hour drive to Le Mont-Saint-Michel.
The island itself isn’t accessible by car. You’ll have to park your car at the car park area of Le Mont-Saint-Michel, which is a 40-minute walk from the village. The car park price is €9,80 during low season (October - March) and €15 during high season (April - September). There are free shuttle buses operating from the car park to the village if you don’t want to or can’t do the 40-minute walk.
If you’re planning a trip to France, be sure to add Le Mont-Saint-Michel to your itinerary. This beautiful and historic island is a must-see destination that will leave a lasting impression. Have you been to Le Mont-Saint-Michel or is it still on your travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!
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