As you might know, aside from the major landmarks of Paris, the Mont Saint Michel is one of France’s most iconic sights. This island (well, island at high tide, peninsular at low) sees millions of visitors every year, and for good reasons, it’s quite an impressive piece of architecture. The surprising part maybe for me is that, as a French citizen, I waited 30 years to finally see the place. Funny how we’re often willing to travel great distances to see exotic landmarks, but neglect to visit those in our own backyard.
Leaving France and Europe for a while is probably what has rekindled my love for everything my country has to offer, let’s see where the next visit might take me. But let’s get back to the Mont Saint Michel. City walls, narrow streets and hills to no end, while it’s definitely worth worth a visit, I will probably not return unless it’s on the way.
The Mont Saint Michel.
The Mont Saint Michel has seen a large amount of tourism in the past few years, the town seems to be constantly filled and we thought we’d had the right idea to get there in the morning, ahead of the hordes. Despite trying to be bright and early however, every street still seemed to be constant flows of people.
Another shock: coming from Brittany and after passing by a few shops along the way, seeing the prices of hotels, restaurants and simple souvenir shops here became pretty depressing, pretty fast. A single night in even the most budget hotels starts at around 200 euros, and restaurants serving up mere omelets at prices pushing 50 euros or more, clearly the town has been gorging itself somewhat on the business tourism has brought to them.
Unable, or simply unwilling to spend this kind of money on snacks and trinkets around town, we decided to stick to exploration, which comes at no cost at all, as entrance to the site is thankfully free. The walls offer a fantastic view of the mudflats surrounding the town, as well as the nearby fields when the tide is low. If you are willing to keep on climbing up (and you should, after all we did and I was not in good shape), you will get to the Abbey of the Mont Saint Michel. maintained by Benedictine monks, this amazing abbey can be entered if you are willing to spend the 10 euros entrance fee. Sadly a bit in a rush, I decided to give it a miss.
Please be aware that the Abbey is still in use, it’s not rare to spot monks and nuns in there or nearby, so be mindful of this as quite a few locals still come in to pray, and might not wish to be included in your selfies.
When is it best to visit?
Most people coming to visit follow a simple plan: visit in the morning, as most of the tourist buses or day trip visitors from Paris descend in the late morning or early afternoon,
And guess what: it’s true and it works.
I would also add that the weather can be quite grey in the morning which might not make for the best pictures from afar, but is perfectly reasonable when you will be in town. Time it well and once you are out you might even get some pretty blue sky to accompany your lunch midday.
It’s also important that you plan ahead and check the tide times. Arriving during high tide could mean you’re unable to reach the island, or worse, you could well end up stranded on the island and at the mercy of the 30-euro-a-cup coffee shops and the ruinously expensive guesthouses.
When and where to get the best views of the Mont Saint Michel?
Fancy to take one of the iconic shot of the Mont Saint Michel? You’ve got plenty of options, do not worry, but do not forget to come prepared!
To get the mirroring effect of the Abbey on the water you will need, once again, to check the time of the tides online. Don’t forget as well that the Mont Saint Michel lights up at night and brings so pretty nice colours to your shot.
If you want to get the sunset, give yourself at least 2 nights if possible, I got very lucky on the first night but the sunset was almost impossible to see on the following nights, would I have not battled with myself saying I was too tired for this, I’d probably would have been pretty bitter to miss out on those photos.
Before the wooden bridge, near one of the bus pick-up locations, you will find a bridge/dam with pretty fantastic views on the island, if you are planning for some long shots then this is not the spot you want to be on: people walking by will make your tripod shake and the result will be pretty blurry.
Bring a head lamp and head towards the field (left of the bridge when facing the Mont Saint Michel). Do not try to climb down and also don’t forget to bring some mosquito repellent because they will surround you pretty fast! And since you will stay a few hours (from the moment the sun starts to set up to when the Abbey finally lights up) you might want to spray yourself a few times to avoid the bites (thing I did not do and instantly regretted).
The head lamp is a very important item or at least get the flashlight ready on your phone, chances are that when you’ll be heading back you’ll find no light on the road at all, and it’s probably not the best place to get lost.
Local specialties, what to eat in that part of Normandy?
You will find two specialties native to the Mont Saint Michel : l’Omelette de la Mere Poulard and l’agneau de pre-sale.
I’ve mentioned the Omelette earlier. Apparently those are very airy and have been recognised worldwide, you can even find a few of those shops in Japan. I’m not the biggest fan as I am not willing to spend this kind of money on eggs but if you do want to give it a try you will find their restaurant right at the entrance of town.
L’agneau de pre-sale is lamb that has been grass fed on the mudflats surrounding the island. Because the grass growing there is affected by sea water, the lamb is as well, and it is said that the meat is naturally softer and a little salty. Quite a few restaurants outside of the Mont Saint Michel offer this option for your meal.
If neither of those attract you then you always have specialties from the region itself. Anything with apples can pretty much be seen as Normand. Tarte Tatin, cidre, you will be eating local! Mussels are also a pretty good bet. If none of that tempts you then again, worry not, you will find plenty of restaurants offering other options.
Where to stay near the Mont Saint Michel.
I would not recommend staying inside the Mont Saint Michel since you might pass on the views of the town at night, but you’ll find a lot of options nearby.
Close to the Mont Saint Michel and with rooms at around 50euros, the spotty wifi is more than compensated by the convenient location of this place, and the free parking that will save you quite a bit when visiting. An affordable option in the area might be hard to find so if you’re on a budget, this is the place for you!
(From 100USD to 200USD)
Starting at around 70euros, this lovely farm might be a little bit hard to book (consider contacting them through their website). While the host might not speak a lot of English, the location is perfect with a view of the Mont Saint Michel, and the animals there as well as the pool make for a great stay. Book early as they tend to be full quickly.
(From 200USD upwards)
Probably the best boutique hotel you’ll find near the Mont Saint Michel. Sure it is pricey at over 300 euros for a night but the rooms and the attention to detail brought by the owners make it money well spent. Aurele, one of the owners, is also the chef, and it is worth booking a seat at their “Table d’Hotes” at night.
How to get there:
From Paris by car it’s fairly easy, simply follow the highway, follow the A13 to Caen and then change route, the Mont Saint Michel should be indicated. Be careful though and consider adding around 25 euros to your budget to pay for tolls. Also don’t forget the price for parking which should be about 12 euros for the day.
By train you could take a TGV to Rennes and then get the bus to the Mont Saint Michel, a cheaper option would be to take a train to Caen then another to Pontorson where you will find another bus to the island.
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