The moment I saw a photo of Mont Saint Michel in a magazine I was mesmerized. The notion of an island off the coast of France topped by an awe-inspiring medieval monastery still in use today immediately captured my imagination. The realization that I could not only visit Mont Saint Michel but also stay at the very base of the Romanesque chunk of history sent me over the moon.
Mont Saint Michel is one of the world’s most magnificent sights, there is no doubt. Aside from picturesque, why should you visit Mont Saint Michel?
Mont Saint Michel is connected to the mainland via a causeway which until recently was a thin natural land bridge. During high tides, the bridge was engulfed by water during high tide and revealed at low tide. Victor Hugo described the tides as á la Vitesse d’un coeval au galop, “as swiftly as a galloping horse”. What a superb description because the tides can roll in at one meter per second. You wouldn’t want to be caught in that. In fact, over the years more than a few lives have been claimed by the tides and even quicksand. In 2014 a new causeway opened which allows visitors to safely cross to the island but also opens the flow of seawater so once again the mystical quality of Mont Saint Michel reveals itself during high tide. You can download the current tides schedule at Mont Saint Michel before your visit.
The abbey built high on the island catches your eye from great distances. If you’re driving, it will seem as Mont Saint Michel gradually appears out the earth like magic. The slow emergence into your view only adds to the anticipation of what lies ahead, though the sheer magnitude of this wonder is only appreciated when you stand mere feet away from the entrance. For me, it is inconceivable how such a grand structure could be built on an island over a thousand years ago.
When you enter, you’ll walk directly into a medieval town though the buildings are filled with modern restaurants, souvenir shops and museums. Many of the tourists walk no further as the climb to the abbey, which is at the very top, is difficult. If you choose to climb to the abbey, you’ll have peace of mind knowing few others will join you. Walk the steps. By the time you’ve reached the famous Escalier de Dentelle (Lace Staircase) to the gallery around the roof of the abbey church, you’ll have climbed no less than 900 steps. The climb is worth every inclined step you take. I guarantee it.
Halfway up Grande Rue is the medieval parish church of St Pierre, which is still used today. The church features a beautifully carved side chapel with a dramatic statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The day I visited I was treated to the sight of a monk pulling on a long rope to ring the church bell. When the rope ascended toward the bell, the monk was lifted off the ground. The memory stays etched in my memory and I can only hope to witness this again.
The Grand Degré, a steep, narrow staircase, leads to the abbey entrance, from which a wider flight of stone steps leads to Salt Gautier Terrace outside the dignified church. Alongside, you’ll find stunning arcaded cloisters which offer sweeping views of the bay. Be sure to wander at your leisure amongst the maze of rooms, staircases (yes more) and vaulted halls that make up the abbey.
If you’re able, let your creative imagination take you back hundreds of years to enhance your experience.
Information about The Abbey at Mont Saint Michel ::
The Abbey is open every day except January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. From May 2nd – Aug 31st, the hours are 9 am to 7 pm with the last admission at 6 pm. From Sept 1st – April 30th, the hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm with the last admission at 5 pm. The entry fee is 9 euros for individuals age 25 and older. The rate is 7 euros for individuals age 18 to 25. Under age 18 is free. Under age 26 and citizen of a European, Union Country is free also. Mass is celebrated at 12:15 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday’s at 11:30 am. Other masses are conducted at 7 am during the week and at 8 am on weekends.
Interesting Facts About Mont Saint Michel :: During the 100 Years War, England captured all of Normandy except for Mont Saint-Michel. The Statue of Archangel Saint Michael atop the Abbey spire also acts as a lightning rod to protect the island from electrical storms. Mont Saint-Michel was the first site in France to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stage 11 of the 2013 Tour de France ended at Mont Saint-Michel.
Where is Mont Saint Michel? GPS Coordinates of Mont Saint Michel :: 48.6361° N, 1.5115° W
Map Showing The Location of Mont Saint Michel
Old Map Showing the Layout of Mont Saint Michel