The Adventure of Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel is an interesting place with an amazing history. For nearly a thousand years people had been making a pilgrimage to this medieval site.

The monastery was built on a rock high above the water. When the tide comes in it becomes an island and when the tide goes out you can walk for miles.

The journey to Mont Saint Michel starts on a train from Paris bound to Rennes or Pontorson. When you arrive at the train station, you have to take a bus to the Mont. The bus only goes into the little town on the mainland closest to Mont Saint Michel. From here you can either take the free bus that leaves about every 12 minutes, walk or pay to take a horse drawn carriage. It’s about a 30 minute walk. I never did the walk. I chose to save my energy to climb around once I was on the island, so I took the free bus.

In 709 the Bishop of Avranches said he received a vision from the Archangel Michel to build a small church on this land. In 966 Benedictines settled and built a pre-romanesque church. In the 11th century the Romanesque Abbey Church was founded and monastery buildings were added. More monastery buildings were added in the 12th century.

The 14th century saw the start of the 100 Year War. Because of the intense tides, armys weren’t able to get to the island. When the tide comes in, it comes in fast. A village with ramparts was erected around this time for protection which still flourishes today.

The buildings were used as a prison during the French Revolution. 1966 marked the Monastery’s 1,000th anniversary and a religious community moved back into the Abbey. 

In 1979 it was classified as a UNESCO heritage site and these days the small island receives over 2.5 million visitors a year.  Since there are so many tourists every year, every place seemed to have a menu in English.

I chose to stay on the mainland outside of the Mont, it’s cheaper. I stayed at Hotel Mercure Mont-Saint-Michel.  The town on the mainland has painted cow statues all over. They are outside the hotel, on both sides of a window in the one general store and have even been made into benches at the bus stop.

When I arrived, the tide was out. People were walking around in the sand and tours were leaving for long walks. 

The first thing I did was climb the Ramparts to see the whole village and an amazing panoramic view. Because the village is on a steep hill, parts of the Ramparts are connected to stores and restaurants.

There are four museums on the island besides the Abbey. You can actually see all of these including the Abbey in one day since the museums are very small. Since I had more than a day I chose to do the Abbey on my second day. 

The museums include a history museum, a maritime museum, a 14th century residence, and an archeoscope which was like a movie and was not in English but had a cool model of the Mont coming out of some water. The ticket covers all the museums. There is also a small Parish Church which, according to legend, Joan of Arc had come to.

After visiting all the museums, it was chilly and I had to buy a heavier sweatshirt. 

I had made a friend on the train ride out and since it’s such a small island we ran into each other a few times. We sat on the edge of a giant rock that led into the sand as the tide started to come in. We thought we would sit and watch the tide come in then go get dinner. To our surprise within 15 minutes we had to jump up and move back up the rock because the tide had come up to us. It was incredible that within 20 minutes the whole place had become an island and a sign on the sand which had come up to my waist was completely submerged.

There is a famous restaurant and inn on Mont Saint Michel called La Mere Poulard. They make fluffy omelets using the same technique that was used in the 1880s. They use a whisk in a copper bowl set over a fire.

After a delicious meal the tide was already going out. 

The next day I planned to take a tour of the Abbey. There are only 2 tours in English a day and I planned to take the one at 11am. There are roughly a thousand steps up to the Abbey so I gave myself plenty of time. 

Our tour guide was great and very informative. We learned about how Brittany and Normandy were always fighting over what region the Mont was a part of. He told us about work that had been done to the buildings over the years to keep it up to date. We learned about the acoustics and the fireplaces. We learned about when it was a prison and how the prisoners helped turn giant wheels to move supplies up the mountain. Our guide even told us jokes.- If you can see the mountains it’s going to rain, if you can’t see them, it’s already raining.

After the tour I took the path back to the front of the Abbey leads down the outside of the building through the gardens. There is never a bad view from that high up.

After walking through the garden it was time for lunch. Everything in town is a little touristy so I chose a place that looked nice and had a good menu. I ate at Hotel du Guesclin.

In the afternoon, at low tide, I took a walk around the Mont in the sand. I took my shoes off like most people and walked around almost the entire perimeter of the island. There were little puddles and streams the sea left behind. It was amazing to see the patterns in the sand left by the ocean water. I collected some shells as I walked and checked out the water lines along the outside of the ramparts. 

After my walk I found a row of spigots to wash off the sand. I also spotted a baby seagull!

I headed away from the Mont to have dinner. I was more interested in good food than a good view so I was directed by the Mercure staff to La Ferme St. Michel. The restaurant is located in a stone barn next to an actual barn. The food was amazing and the prices were good too. A four course meal for 40 euro is a great deal. The wait staff was very friendly and helped me pick local cheese and homemade choices. The menu had these great illustrations and you could purchase them as postcards. Of course I had to get them to remind myself of this magical place.

I headed back to the Mont to watch the sunset. It was gorgeous. Because it was summer the sun didn’t set until almost 11pm.

On my way back to the hotel I saw a blue and white striped shirt with a patch from the Abbey on it. The woman wearing it told me you could only buy it in the gift shop in the Abbey. These striped shirts were everywhere around here but none with the patch! I knew I had to go back to the Abbey.

My last morning at Mont Saint Michel I did exactly that. I went and explored the Abbey on my own and got my striped shirt. Exploring the Abbey by myself also allowed me to get pictures of things I had missed the day before or wanted to get different angles of. The sky was giving off a much different light than the day before and it made for very different pictures.

This was an unforgettable journey. Next time I visit I plan to take a walking tour across the sand in low tide to a nearby town.

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I am a Special FX Make Up Artist who loves to travel through history.

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