Mont St. Michel
Sights in Mont St. Michel
Rising like Brigadoon from the very sea itself is Mont St. Michel, one of France's most popular attractions and a true marvel. It stands as a rock island 260 foot above the tidal salt plain surrounding it on all sides. Crowned with a steeple topped monastery, it sits in the most western portion of Normandy.
Nothing quite compares to your first glimpse of the Mont from miles away, so keep your eyes to the horizon and savor the excitement.
The idea for this special place was born of the Bishop of Avranches, when in 708 he had a vision of the Archangel Michael ordering him to build a place of worship on the site. Construction began and continued for over 1000 years, due to additions and destruction. Masonry had to be brought to the island by boat at the high tide, and then lifted to the peak by ropes. In the 14th century, fortifications were added which allowed the Mont to be the only place in France that was not taken over by the Germans during World War II. The most recent addition, in the late 19th century, was the statue of St. Michael atop the steeple.
St. Michael is considered the protector of faith, and the one who weighs souls to determine their admission into paradise. This power made him a popular holy figure, and so important that people would risk their lives wadding through the primordial quicksand surrounding the Mont to express their devotion.
In recent times a causeway has been added to allow visitors access to the Mont, and it can be a mob scene of cars and tour buses. The causeway has also interrupted the tides flow and caused a great amount of silt in the bay. Plans are underway to replace the causeway with a bridge, making the Mont a true island again. The tide is the highest in Continental Europe and can rise as high as 50 feet in just a few hours.
We recommend that you arrive late in the afternoon, stay the night and then leave before the hoards arrive again the following day. This way you'll be able to experience the magic and wonder of the Mont in peace. Avoid August, the month that many French take their vacations. It is the busiest month here because of the French love of this wonderful place.
It sits in the most western portion of Normandy and was at one time considered to be a part of Brittany. To this day there are those to whom this "move" remains a sore subject.
Car- Arriving by car is really the best option for visiting Mont St. Michel. It lies about 4.5 hours west of Paris. A train station is about 5 miles away and a taxi or bus connection can work, if you don't mind uncertainty or potential delays.
Parking- Unless you are traveling in off season you will be part of a steady stream of traffic arriving daily. The causeway leads out to the Mont and parking lots below on either side of the causeway. When the tides come in these parking lots will be completely submerged. Announcements are made to make sure you leave in plenty of time. If you are staying the night you will be given an access card to a small secured parking area that is on top of the causeway at the foot of the Mont where it can avoid sure disaster.
Walking- This marvel is recommended for those that are well rested and fit. You have quite a walk from your car to the entrance of the city, and then it's all uphill from there. People with walking disabilities will have a difficult time here.
The island itself
Hours- 24 hours
Cost- free entrance, parking is additional
You enter the city through Porte Bauole, a gate in the ramparts that was added in 1590. Upon entering you are on Grande Rue and begin an ever increasing climb passing the Tourist Information office, souvenir stands, restaurants and a few small hotels. The street is steep, winding its way up and around the Mont (even becomes steps in some parts) and finally reaching the abbey.
In the evening consider a walk out on to the causeway to get a view of the Mont when it is fully lit, or take a walk along the fortified walls and gardens of the abbey.
Hours- 9:00-7:00, shorter in off season and open some evenings from 9:00 to Midnight in late July and August.
Cost- $7.00 entrance fee with audio guide, $11.00 for an English guided tour.
You can choose to tour the Gothic abbey yourself, with or without an available audio guide, or join an organized tour. Highlights include the 13th century monastery (known as the Wonder - la Merveille), the center courtyard of which has an herb garden and provides access to the réfrectoire, or dinning hall, where the monks ate their meals in silence. Today it is a feast of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
If the abbey is open during the evening of your visit (ask at the T.I. or your hotel) make sure you take a night tour including a light show.
Hours- High tide times vary, with the fastest tides at the Equinoxes of March and September. The T.I. at the entrance to the village has a sign listing the tide times.
If you are staying the night, you will want to find a place to watch the tide come in. In the course of an hour you will see the quicksand around the Mont disappear, becoming a part of the bay as the water rushes in. This area has the highest and fastest tides in all of Europe. It is said that the tide comes in at the speed of a galloping horse (it is actually about 12 miles per hour). If you failed to check the tide times, you can't miss the announcements for people to move their cars.
Since the time of the Victorian Grand Tour it has been tradition on the Mont to serve omelets made with whipped egg whites and cooked in a long handled pan over an open fire. Why not join the illustrious company of other travelers, whose footsteps you follow, and enjoy this local delicacy? The originator of this dish was Mère Poulard whose restaurant makes this offering their specialty.
Day Trip from Paris- Join an organized day trip from Paris to visit Mont St Michel. More
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