Mont St Michel – 9/6/2016

Mont Saint-Michel is an island in the Normandy region, located one kilometer off the coast at the Couesnon River mouth.  The Mont was consecrated in 708, after a Bishop from a nearby town was spoken to by the Archangel Michael and instructed to build a church on the rocky island.  Although the most visible structure on the island from a distance is the church and abbey, the mont is actually a medieval town.  The town’s composition is that of a feudal society with God, the abbey and monastery at the top, the halls below, followed by the stores and housing and at the bottom, outside the walls were the farms and fishermen. The population of the island in 2015 was 50 people although not all live there permanently.  Mont St Michel’s does play host to around 2.5 million annual visitors. 

Mont Saint Michel sits in a shallow bay that stretches between Brittany and Normandy, which has been a source of contention between the two regions as to who has ownership of the islet. The bay has a tide variance of about 14 meters, causing the Mont to be surrounded by mudflats during low tide and at times cut off from the mainland.  The huge tidal variances made attacks on the island difficult due to the risk of the quicksand, disorientating fogs or being swept out to sea. In 1889 a permanent raised causeway was constructed so island access was easier, this as well as farming led to the bay silting up.  Since 2005, a project with the aim of preserving Mont Saint Michel as an island has been undertaken.  This project has included the building of a damn to remove the sand from around the rocky islet, moving the car park 1.5 km away from the Mont and the replacement of the causeway with a stilted bridge which will allow water to flow around the island.  How has this affected the tourists?  Well you now have shuttle buses that take you to the bottom of the Mont, included in your parking cost or you can use the walkways or another alternative is the horse drawn carriage.  

This is one of my favourite castles, its magical the way it rises from the water and yet it can look forlorn and mysterious in overcast weather and for our family holds a lot of memories.  We visited here in 2002 with our eldest two children, Josh and Tristan, then aged 4 and 18 months.  On our way down from the Abbey we had stopped to buckle our then youngest, Tristan into his stroller, while we were both involved in getting a squirming and fussing child done up, our eldest had disappeared.  After searching the nearby vicinity we thought he must have kept walking while had stopped and continued down to the Gendarmerie (police station).  The police put an announcement over the radio, broadcast throughout the mont, in French to no avail.  Andrew then explained in very broken french that Josh couldn’t speak French and he made the announcement.  All ended well when a shop assistant found him looking at a sword in a store (he has always loved swords) I can’t relay the relief we felt and the number of times we have retold the story.  I am pleased to say that we did not lose anyone on this trip.

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Enough reminiscing and onto what there is to see.  The walk over the bridge does give you amazing views of the Mont in all her glory, even in low tide surrounded by the mud flats, as was the case this time for us.  From there you will cross the draw bridge and enter the gates to the city, where you will be swallowed up in the crowds as you make your way through the winding, cobbled streets filled with tourist shops and make your way up to the abbey.  Of course there are lots of photo opportunities on the way as well as various lookout points.

The Abbey

Mont Saint Michel’s history began when local bishop Aubert placed a tomb on it in 708 after receiving a message from Archangel Michael. There wasn’t a permanent population on the Mont until 966, when the Duke of Normandy, Richard I, asked benedictine monks to settle there, soon becoming a center for pilgrimage by European Christians.  The abbey’s construction began in the 10th century and had alterations made after fire and damage until the 19th century.  The wall and defense towers were added in the 14th century for protection during the 100 year war between the French and English.  Although the Mont was not taken during the French/English war, the church was damaged. There is little to see through the abbey besides its Gothic, haunting architecture which is made more meaningful if you have the audio-guide. 

The stairs leading up to the Abbey and views from it.

One area of the abbey is the cloister, it was an area that the monks grew vegetables and read the bible.  The cloister maintains its serene, peaceful feel to it even now. Part of the permanent population on Mont St Michel, is in fact monks.

Photos from left: the monk’s walkway through the Abbey and the cloister of the abbey.

During the abbey’s history it has also served as a prison, firstly during the revolution and then following the revolution the priests themselves were imprisoned in 1793.  It was later used for mainly political prisoners before closing in 1863.  

As you walk through the abbey you will also see what looks like a giant hamster wheel, it was actually powered by workers to haul supplies and stones up the Mont.

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The walk through the abbey is one way and after walking through some gardens you will eventually end up heading back down the hill.  This is a fabulous castle and should definitely be on your list if heading to France.

Tourist Information for Mont Saint Michel

Parking

  • Car: < 30 min – free, 2 hr < €6.40, > 24 hrs – €11.70, 24 – 48 hrs – €23.40, yearly – €47
  • Motorhome/Campervan – < 30 min – free, >  24 hrs – €17.20, 24 – 48 hrs – €34.40
  • Motorbikes – > 30 min – free, > 24 hrs – €4.20
  • Bikes – free
  • Website for parking information: http://www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/en/preparing-your-visit/prices 

Getting to Mont Saint Michel

  •  You can walk from the car park to Mont Saint Michel, its a well signposted walkway. 
  • A shuttle bus runs continuously between 7.30 am – 12 am and takes about 12 minutes.  It has a pickup stop in the car park and drops off partway across the bridge.  
  • The shuttle is free with your car parking if arriving by car.
  • If arriving by train the shuttle costs €2.80 each way, under 4 is free
  • Horse drawn carriage (Maringote) – €5.30, under 4 is free
  • Website for information on transport to and from Mont Saint Michel: http://www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/en/preparing-your-visit/prices 

Abbey

Opening Hours:

  • 2nd May – 31st August – 9 am to 7 pm with last admission at 6 pm
  • 1st September – 30th April – 9.30 – 6 pm with last admission at 5 pm.
  • Closed 1st of January, 1st of May and 25th of December.

Cost:

  • Adults – €10
  • Group price (20 or more people) – €8
  • Under 18 – free
  • 18 – 25 EU or EEA residents – free
  • Reduced Price (pensioners) – €8
  • Audio guide – €3
  • Official Website for ticket information: http://www.abbaye-mont-saint-michel.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/PRATICAL-INFORMATION#price

The Official Website for Mont Saint Michel (excluding parking): http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en

written by Karen
Last updated January 2018

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