Mont Saint Michel *

Discover the Iconic Mont Saint Michel

Introduction

A visit to Mont-Saint-Michel should definitely be on your Normandy bucket list. It’s a rocky island commune topped with a 13th century Gothic abbey. Discover 13 centuries of history and restoration at this UNESCO World Heritage site. The iconic abbey is perched on top of an island and it literally takes your breath away the first time you see it. It’s magical and an absolute must-see for visitors to Normandy.

Mont Saint Michel

1. Visit The Abbey

Mont Saint Michel Abbey

Your visit will take you on a journey across three different levels and through time. You start on the ground floor and walk up a wide external stone staircase to the upper floor. The staircase sits between the abbey buildings and the church. Look up and you’ll see suspended passageways built between the 14th and 16th centuries that linked the two sides. At the top of the stairs look left for a great view toward the dam.

The west terrace also gives wonderful views of the Normandy and Brittany coastlines. The abbey church is accessed from here. Before you go inside look up at the Neogothic spire of the church tower that was built in 1897. It has a gilded statue of Saint Michel as it’s crowning glory. The church, cloister and refectory are all on the upper floor.

On the middle floor is La Salle des Hôtes (Guests’ Hall), La Chapelle Saint Madelaine, Crypte des Gros Piliers, Crypte Saint Martin, La Grande Roue, Chapelle Saint Étienne, the ambulatory and La Salle des Chevaliers (the Knights’ Hall). 

The ground floor comprises the almonry and the gift shop. The exit leads to a small garden at the back of the island. You can then explore the village and ramparts.

For an in-depth behind the scenes view, watch this amazing video below. Given special access to secret passageways and hidden areas of the abbey, it’s a fascinating insight into those parts of the abbey that aren’t open to the public. It’s in French but sub-titled in English. You may need to click on the settings icon (the cog) to activate the subtitles.


Mont Saint Michel

2. The Island

Mont Saint Michel Dam

If you want to explore the small village, it’s completely free to wander around. Watching the spectacle of walkers crossing the bay, glorious sunsets or sunrises as well as the high tides are free. Early morning and evenings tend to be quieter.

The main entrance leads to a courtyard. Access to the narrow cobbled street which takes visitors to the foot of the abbey steps is via a gate with a drawbridge. This street (La Grande Rue) is full of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and galleries. There is a small flat grassy area below the abbey where you can pause and take a picnic. At the top of the main street is the parish church of St-Pierre, cemetery and four museums. Also look up as you navigate the cobbles at the houses above the shops. These houses were built in the 15th and 16th centuries.


Mont Saint Michel

3. The Dam

Mont Saint Michel Dam

The dam is built at the mouth of the Couesnon rives and regulates the ebb and flow of the water. It came into operation in 2009 and offers a great view of Mont Saint Michel. Equally, you get a great view towards the dam from the island. If you catch the free shuttle bus from the main car park, you can get off at Place du Barrage and explore the dam. It’s the second stop.


Mont Saint Michel

4. Learn About the Island’s History

Mont Saint Michel history

Mont-Saint-Michel’s long history began in 708 and its diverse architectural styles reflect construction methods from the 10th to the 20th centuries. The Abbey church is built on the summit of the Mount and sits on an 80m long platform consisting of four crypts. The abbey church is known as La Merveille; a thirteenth century addition regarded as its crowning glory.

The abbey buildings have been transformed throughout the centuries. The conflicts of the Hundred Years War between France and England in the 14th century led to powerful fortifications being built. These additions included a wall flanked with defensive towers and enabled Mont-Saint-Michel to resist attacks by English troops. It remains the only place in Normandy not to have been conquered by the English and is a symbol of national identity.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the Mount lost its importance in both military and religious terms. Following the French Revolution the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel were driven away and the abbey became a prison until it finally closed in 1863. While the prison saved the Abbey from destruction this former religious monument was severely dilapidated. In 1874, the Abbey was classified as a historical monument and the long process of restoration began. A causeway, constructed in 1878, made access to the Mount easier. This was followed by a tramway line for transporting visitors whose numbers continued to grow.

The conservation work led to it being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. In 2014 a building project started 10 years previously saw a dam and a new elevated road bridge opened. The previous causeway had permanently linked Mont-Saint-Michel to the mainland. However, the tidal surges in the bay had led to the area becoming silted up. In July 2014 the new bridge returned Mont-Saint-Michel to an island which now becomes cut off from the mainland at very high tides.

In 2016 the statue of Saint Michel was re-guilded. This project involved shrouding the abbey spire with scaffolding and removing the statue by helicopter before it was replaced. A year long project during 2017 focussed on the restoration of the cloister. The Abbey therefore undergoes continuous building and restoration work led by the Chief Architect of Historical Monuments.


Mont Saint Michel

5. The Surrounding Area

Walking across Mont Saint Michel Bay

The surrounding area offers helicopter trips, train rides around the bay, health and well-being experiences and nature trails. You can also visit American and German cemeteries as well as artisan producers. Walking across Mont Saint Michel’s bay should only be attempted with a qualified guide due to the tides and quicksand.

Find out all the practical information about the island on the Mont Saint Michel page.


If you have any questions feel free to get in touch