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How to Spend the Perfect Day in the Wizarding World of Mont Saint-Michel?


Unlock the secrets to creating an enchanting day in Mont Saint-Michel. Delve into its historic marvels and immerse yourself in the magic of this captivating destination. Join us for a journey brimming with wonder and enchantment.

 

Our journey to Mont Saint-Michel during the Ascension Weekend of 2024 was not our first encounter with this iconic French landmark. It all began in 2016, while exploring tourist spots in Picardie close to Thomas' parents' home. While discussing the region's attractions, I had asked about Mont Saint-Michel, only to learn that it was too distant for a visit. However, the idea of visiting this magnificent landmark remained, so in 2017, we decided to go over the long weekend of All Saints' Day.

 

For our second visit, we chose another extended bank holiday weekend and stayed at a cozy cottage near Dinan, about a five-hour drive from Thomas' parents' place. From there, we explored the picturesque cities in the surrounding area. We also returned to Saint-Malo, a place we had previously fallen in love with. You can read all about our adventures in Saint-Malo in our blog post here. But for now, join us as we discover the history, charm, and breathtaking beauty of Mont Saint-Michel.


Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel



GENERAL INFORMATION

Mont Saint-Michel, situated off the northwestern coast of France in Normandy, is a breathtaking island commune renowned for its stunning medieval architecture and rich history. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is often referred to as the "Wonder of the West".

 

As the third most visited tourist attraction in France, Mont Saint-Michel ensures a well-organized visitor experience through careful oversight. Recent restoration work has focused on preserving its maritime character, with a site redesign completed a few years ago. It is important to know that it is not possible to drive to the site; instead, visitors can park in designated areas and walk to the site along footpaths (about a half-hour walk) or take the shuttle bus (included in the parking fee).

 

During our first visit in 2017, after checking into our cozy B&B in Pontorson, we wasted no time and headed straight to the walled city of Mont Saint-Michel, under the cover of darkness! A nighttime visit allowed us to witness the illuminated beauty of Mont Saint-Michel, and we took advantage of a great parking deal – arriving after 6.30 p.m. meant free parking until late at night. We took advantage of the magical lights of the castle but while the views were breathtaking from the outside, we found the morning visit even more enchanting!

 

Opening hours - all year round |

| Admission - free of charge |

Parking - between 8 EUR and 20 EUR a day |

Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Every year, over 3 million visitors flock to Mont Saint-Michel, especially during the summer months. We recommend going during quieter times, although this might not always be possible. For example, we found ourselves amidst crowds during each of our visits, all of which coincided with bank holiday weekends. Our tip is to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon when there are fewer people around.

 

When we first visited in 2017, we went early in the morning to take photos without crowds. Waking up early was tough, but it was totally worth it! We suggest not taking photos right away when you get off the shuttle bus (unless it’s high tide) because the streets quickly get crowded. It's better to wait until you're leaving Mont Saint-Michel to take your pictures from the outside.

 

It is also important to note that the scenery of Mont Saint-Michel is ever-changing, and for a compelling reason: the site boasts the highest tides in Europe, with tidal ranges reaching up to 15 meters! During high tide, the site gets spectacular as the walled city reflects in the sea water (check the tide schedule here and plan your visit accordingly).

Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

HISTORY

Mont Saint-Michel has a fascinating history that dates back to the 8th century. Legend has it that the Archangel Michel appeared three times to the Bishop of Avranches, Aubert, instructing him to build a temple atop a mountainous island at the shore of the sea. Thus, a small church was erected on October 16th, 709, and it quickly became a popular pilgrimage site.

 

In the 10th century, a group of Benedictine monks settled on the island and began constructing a larger church and an Abbey. Over the years, the Abbey continued to expand and became a prominent cultural and religious center. A village started growing below the walls of the Abbey.

 

During the Hundred Years War between England and France in the 14th century, Mont Saint-Michel gained strategic importance as a fortress, and its Abbey was fortified with walls and military constructions. Despite being under siege for 30 years, the Abbey managed to withstand the English attacks.

 

The village of Mont Saint-Michel, which grew on the southeast side of the rock during the Middle Ages, prospered due to the pilgrimage and military activities. The village included shops and inns and it became an essential part of the island's cultural and economic life.

 

Following the French Revolution and until 1863, the Abbey served as a prison after the dissolution of the religious community. A decade later, the site was designated as a historic monument. Since then, Mont Saint-Michel has undergone regular restoration efforts.

Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

THINGS TO DO

TAKE PHOTOS FROM THE BRIDGE

As Mont Saint-Michel comes into view, the excitement grows, offering a breathtaking sight as the stunning architecture emerges on the horizon. Take in the captivating views of Mont Saint-Michel from the iconic bridge leading to the island. Be prepared with your camera as you walk across, ready to capture the striking architecture and the picturesque scenery. This bridge provides a distinct perspective, allowing you to photograph the grand silhouette of the Abbey set against the vast bay in the background.

WALK THROUGH MAIN STREET

The main street of Mont Saint-Michel, known as Grande-Rue, is a captivating thoroughfare winding through the heart of the island. This charming narrow lane and quaint storefronts on either side reminded us of Diagon Alley, the bustling wizarding marketplace in Harry Potter. Lined with historic stone buildings, charming souvenir shops, and cozy cafés, Grande-Rue offers a glimpse into the island's rich history and vibrant atmosphere.

 

During the Middle Ages, this street catered to the needs of pilgrims seeking lodging, meals, and souvenirs. As you meander along Grande Rue, you'll immerse yourself in the timeless beauty of medieval architecture, featuring intricately carved façades and narrow cobblestone pathways. The street is alive with shops offering an array of goods, from souvenirs to local specialties and delicious treats. Don't hesitate to wander away from Grande-Rue, exploring the adjacent alleyways, where you'll discover intimate gardens and picturesque viewpoints.

Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Old town, Diagon Alley, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

VISIT THE ABBEY

The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel stands as a captivating testament to medieval architecture and spirituality. Founded in the 8th century, it has endured centuries of history, serving as a place of worship, pilgrimage, and reflection. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Abbey welcomes visitors from around the world to explore its halls, chapels, and cloisters.

 

There are various ways for visitors to explore the Abbey's treasures. A self-guided tour typically spans from 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a more immersive experience, an audio guide can be rented for an additional 5 EUR fee. Alternatively, our preferred option is the guided tour, which is included in the ticket price. It's advisable to check availability and make reservations online through the official website. During our guided tour, despite following the same path as the regular visit, the guide offered fascinating historical details and amusing impersonations of the monks' lives in the Abbey. The only drawback was the limited time for taking photos due to the tour's pace. Additionally, during the summer months, night tours are available, providing a unique and quieter exploration of the Abbey from 7.30 p.m. to midnight.

 

Inside the Abbey, we were impressed by the grand common salons with little furniture, the cloister with a garden for contact with nature, and rooms and chapels for prayer and meditation. The simplicity and restraint of the decoration reflect the daily life of the Benedictine monks who inhabited the Abbey. Founded in the 8th century, Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a masterpiece of medieval architecture.

 

Opening hours - from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. |

Admission - 13 EUR |

Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Sculpture, Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Abbey, Abbaye, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

WALK ON THE RAMPARTS

Exiting the Abbey grounds, visitors are treated to stunning views of the town from atop the walls. From this vantage point, you can see both the interior and exterior of the town, with its enchanting gates, towers, and ramparts. These ramparts, built in the 14th and 15th centuries to protect Mont Saint-Michel and its Abbey from English attacks during the Hundred Years' War, played a crucial role in its defense. Interestingly, the Mont was never captured, forcing the English to settle for its twin rock, Tombelaine, located 3 km away.

 

Taking in the breathtaking scenery, we couldn't help but feel like we had been transported to a scene straight out of a fairytale. As we made our way through the narrow streets, we were constantly awed by the charming details of the town. It was like stepping into the world of Harry Potter, with its winding cobblestoned streets and charming storefronts. We could have easily spent hours strolling around, taking in the beauty of the town and capturing it all in photos!

Ramparts, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Ramparts, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

Ramparts, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Cemetery, Cimetière, Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

STROLL AROUND MONT SAINT-MICHEL

During our first visit to Mont Saint-Michel, we couldn't resist taking advantage of the low tide before leaving. Exploring the sandy surroundings allowed us to capture stunning photos of the iconic structure from a different angle. It was a breathtaking sight and definitely worth the extra time.

 

However, we don't recommend following in our footsteps and completing the entire tour around the Mont. It can be a long and tiring walk, especially if you're with someone like Thomas, who complained the entire way! Instead, we suggest exiting through the gate in Tour Gabriel and heading clockwise towards the Chapelle Saint-Aubert. This small chapel was built outside the walls in honor of the bishop who oversaw the construction of the first temple dedicated to Saint-Michel. From there, you can return counterclockwise and stop a little after the main gate to snap a photo of the Mont from the sandbanks, which will undoubtedly be a cherished memory of your visit to this marvel of faith and architecture.

 

Exploring the bay area freely is not recommended due to the unpredictable and rapidly changing tides, making it extremely dangerous. It's best to avoid such a risk. However, if you're interested in further exploration of the area, you can opt for guided tours with expert professionals who can ensure your safety while offering unique viewpoints and access to seldom-seen locations. Additional information regarding such tours can be found here.

Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont-Saint-Michel, Baie du Mont-Saint-Michel

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

GETTING THERE

Mont Saint-Michel is accessible via various transportation options, ensuring visitors can reach this iconic destination conveniently. Here's a breakdown of the different ways to journey to Mont Saint-Michel:

  • By car: Traveling to Mont Saint-Michel by car offers the flexibility to enjoy the picturesque countryside during your journey. The distance from Paris is approximately 360 kilometers, taking around four hours to drive. From Rennes, it's about a 70-kilometer (approximately 43 miles) drive, taking around one hour. Upon arrival, you'll find designated parking areas located about 3 kilometers away from the Mont itself. The price of parking typically ranges between 8 and 20 EUR per day and includes access to shuttle buses that link the parking to the Mont, making it convenient to reach the island.
  • By bus: Several bus companies operate services from major cities like Paris, Rennes, and Caen to Mont Saint-Michel. FlixBus, Ouibus, and regional bus companies offer affordable and convenient options for travelers. These buses typically drop passengers off at designated stops near Mont Saint-Michel, from where shuttle buses or walking paths lead to the island.
  • By train: Although there is no train station directly at Mont Saint-Michel, you can take a train to the nearby city of Pontorson or Rennes, and then take a bus or taxi transfer. The train journey offers scenic views of the French countryside and is a comfortable option for travelers. Pontorson is particularly close to Mont Saint Michel and serves as a common transit point. During the summer months, there is a direct train service available between Paris and Mont-Saint-Michel.
  • Join a guided tour: Joining a guided tour to Mont Saint-Michel is a hassle-free way to explore this enchanting destination. Numerous tour companies offer day trips from Paris, Rennes, and other nearby cities, providing transportation, guided tours of the Abbey, and free time to wander the narrow streets. These tours often include informative commentary, skip-the-line access to attractions, and optional add-ons like lunch at a local restaurant.

Regardless of the transportation mode chosen, a visit to Mont Saint-Michel promises a memorable experience steeped in history, breathtaking views, and architectural marvels. Choose the option that best suits your preferences and embark on an unforgettable journey to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

STAYING THERE

When planning a visit to Mont Saint-Michel, finding suitable accommodation is crucial for a comfortable and memorable experience. While there are lodging options available on the island itself, such as hotels and guesthouses, sleeping on the Mont comes with a hefty price tag. Another popular choice is to stay in nearby towns like Pontorson, where the range of accommodations is wider, with better quality and service. During our first visit, we opted to stay in an Airbnb called Le Grenier du Jardin located in Pontorson. This charming accommodation provided us with a cozy and homely atmosphere, allowing us to unwind after a day of exploration. Pontorson, situated just a short drive away from Mont Saint-Michel, offered convenient access to the island while also providing a quieter and more relaxed environment compared to the bustling tourist crowds on the island.

EATING THERE

As you explore Mont Saint-Michel, you'll find several place for lunch. But keep in mind, the view often steals the show, sometimes overshadowing the food quality, which might come at a high price. For a budget-friendly alternative, pack your own sandwiches and snacks for a picnic in the picturesque Jardin Sainte-Catherine. This allows you to enjoy a meal amidst the island's stunning scenery without breaking the bank. Nonetheless, dining out can be costly. But if you're still hungry for the flavors of Mont Saint-Michel, here are some lunch spots you might like:

  • La Mère Poulard: Renowned for its legendary omelettes cooked over an open fire, La Mère Poulard offers a diverse menu with meals priced between 20 and 40 EUR per person, catering to various tastes and preferences.
  • Au Pèlerin: A cozy snack bar with picturesque views of the bay, Au Pèlerin is known for its simple menu featuring pizzas and sandwiches. Prices here usually range from 10 and 20 EUR per person.

Additionally, in Pontorson, you can indulge in delicious salted galettes and crêpes at Le Grillon, typically priced between 10 and 20 EUR. This local gem comes highly recommended by locals for its affordable yet tasty offerings.

OUR FINAL THOUGHTS

Regardless of our personal beliefs, we couldn't help but feel moved by the grandeur and magnificence of Mont Saint-Michel. For those who are fans of Harry Potter, it may feel like a dream come true to be walking around the magical shops of Diagon Alley. Whether you hold a specific faith or not, one thing is certain: Mont Saint-Michel has a way of enchanting and providing a magical experience for all who visit! To fully immerse yourself in the charm of this French region, consider embarking on a day trip to the fortified town of Saint-Malo (check out our post here).



We'd love to hear your impressions, thoughts, and tips on visiting the Muggle world's version of Hogwarts. Have you had a chance to visit Mont-Saint-Michel yet? Please share your comments with us in the section below. We're excited to read your feedback!



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