A visit to Mont St. Michel

Mont St. Michel is one of France’s most iconic sites.  Seeing this island with a medieval town spiraling up to the church monastery and abbey is a sight in itself, but then the natural defense of the a tide that surrounds the island makes it even more intriguing.

Mont St. Michel
Mont St. Michel at Sunset

A UNESCO site and a major tourist destination, Mont St. Michel attracts more than 3 million visitors a year.  I decided to visit this island for a night on a side trip from my travels to Normandy to pay tribute to the World War II locations.  The island of Mont St. Michel is a few hours drive from Bayeux.

First View of Mont St. Michel
First View of Mont St. Michel

My first site of the Mont was a sight!!! The island sits out on beautiful sand flats. It is 600 meters from land and only readily accessible at low tide. At high tide, the island is completely surrounded by water.

The island has been recognized as a place of significance by many religions & cultures due to its natural qualities: isolation, place of defense to keep invaders out and place of captivity to keep prisoners in.

  • Pre-6th century: The Celts used it to worship the god Belenus
  • 6th-7th Centuries: Mont Tombe was used by Roman-British troops as a military stronghold. The Romans built a shrine to Jove.
  • 708: According to legend, the archangel Michael (Michel in French) appeared to St. Aubert, the bishop ofAvranches, and instructed him to build a church on the tidal island. The bishop ignored the order and Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull. The small churchwas built and dedicated on October 16, 709
    • One tidbit that I picked up from my travels through Europe is that whenever a chapel or religious site is named St. Michel, there always seems to be a pagan ceremonial site that said chapel is built on. St. Michel appears during the 4th century in over 400 places in Europe with many references to killing the dragon.
  • 966: Benedictine monks settled at the request of the Duke of Normandy and built a pre-Romaneque church
  • Stairway to the Mont St. Michel Abbey
    Stairway to the Mont St. Michel Abbey

    1066: The Mont is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry which is displayed in Bayeux. The tapestry was created shortly after 1066 and depicts the Norman conquest of England. In the tapestry, Harold, Earl of Wessex is pictured rescuing two Norman knights from the quicksand in the tidal flats during a battle with Conan II, Duke of Brittany.

  • 14th Century: The original Romanesque church, which had deteriorated, was replaced by a Gothic chancel in 1421. Mont St. Michel also became a place of religious pilgrimage.  The pilgrims and the Dukes of Normandy continued to finance the difficult construction on the mount which was only accessible by foot.
  • 15th century: The Mont survived a 30 year siege including a full attack by the English in 1433 during the 100 years war.  The natural defenses kept the English out.
  • French Revolution: French King Louis XVI used it also as a prison during the 100 years war for aristocrats and political figures until 1863.
  • 1979: Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gate to Mont St. Michel
Gate to Mont St. Michel

As you enter the main portal gate, you will see the layers of history in the the structural composition of the town reflecting the feudal society.

Outside the gates were the fisherman and farmers.

Streetways of Mont St. Michel
Streetways of Mont St. Michel

Just inside the walls and on the bottom layer are stores and merchants. This street will also make you curiously feel like you are in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.

As you climb the walkways and stairways, there are larger houses, store rooms and the great halls. At the very top is the abbey, monastery, and God.

The town is just fun to roam through as you really can’t get lost and it’s fun to find the different alleyways, levels and just roam around the ramparts with stunning views of the sunset and tidal flats.

Many folks were lining up on the walls to get their spot for the upcoming sunset.

Sunset view from the Ramparts of Mont St. Michel
Sunset view from the Ramparts of Mont St. Michel

I saw a few people walking out on the tidal flats taking pictures and thought I would go out for a quick look…  and I learned about the TIDES of Mont St. Michel!!!

Mont St. Michel Shadow
The view of the tidal basin surrounding Mont St. Michel.

 

INTERNATIONAL BUCKET LIST: Check

Tips:

  • Website: Click here
  • Tide Schedule: Click here
    • Be Careful !!!: Attempting to reach Mont Saint-Michel by any other route than the causeway can be dangerous. Upon returning to my hotel that night, I did more Google research (Yes a rookie mistake of after I visited) and learned that there is also quicksand. Some sites detailed that it is only in the marshes, but it is recommended that you only go out on the sands with a guide and make sure to know the tidal schedule.  People have been cut off and have drowned in these tides and shifting sand.
  • Hotel: I stayed at one of the hotels just off the Causeway. There is a free shuttle bus that runs frequently and takes about 5-10 min that runs from the hotels across the Causeway to the main gate of Mont St. Michel. There are only 3 hotels on Mont St. Michel to stay and then another 3 right of the Causeway.