1 Day In Mont Saint Michel

July 16, 2015

One day in Mont Saint Michel - panoramic view cover

The legendary Mont Saint Michel, right on the border of Brittany & Normandy in France, was for years on the short list of places I wanted to visit. The image of a tiny medieval island, fully accessible only at low tide, with a giant pointy monastery at its peak – was more than enough to make us head out on one day visit to Mont Saint Michel. On a long weekend in May, Isabelle, myself and her lovely mother Anne-Marie, headed out on a road trip from Paris. We first visited the charming seaside walled city of Saint Malo and then, made our dream come true with a day trip visit to Mont Saint Michel.

? Got any questions? I love answering them! See you in the comments. 

A Tiny Bit Of History:

The modern story of Mont Saint Michel probably dates back to the year 708, when as legend has it, the Archangel Michael made an appearance and ordered a monastery to be built at the very top of this pointy island. For centuries to come, the island would be a strategic stronghold for the Brittons and French, not be conquered by even the English during the Hundred Years War.

With the post French Revolution dechristianization movement in France, the monks in the monastery were pretty much gone and instead the monastery became a prison. The prison was finally closed in 1863 and Mont Saint Michel was declared a historic monument in 1874. UNESCO named Mont Saint Michel and its tidal bay to a World Heritage Site in 1979 and today, only 44 residence of this tiny medieval village receive over 3 million visitors every year.

One Day In Mont Saint Michel Travel Tips:

  • With over 3 million annual tourists, this tiny island gets super crowded. To have a chance of enjoying your visit, aim to arrive as early as possible (between 9-10am)
  • You cannot drive all the way to Mont Saint Michel. A new carpark and shuttle service have been set up about 2.5 kms away. You’ll park your car and either hop on the free shuttle or walk on the newly paved road all the way to the entrance. We arrived at 10am and left at around 3pm and paid €12.50 for the parking.
  • Mont Saint Michel Bay is extremely tidal and you will see in the photos just how much more mystery and beauty the tide adds to this already mysterious place. You can access the medieval village even at high tide but be careful not to venture into the bay. Check out the tide timetable here.
  • There are just a small handful of accommodation options in Mont Saint Michel. If you cannot book anything inside the village, I recommend spending the night in nearby Saint Malo, as we did. It’s a picturesque walled city right on the coast and despite technically being in Brittany (Mont Saint Michel is in Normandy), it’s only an hour’s drive from Mont Saint Michel.
  • There are loads and loads of ‘tourist traps’ inside the medieval village, fighting for your attention and dollars. Aside from the ubiquitous souvenir shops, these traps include numerous ‘medieval prisons & dungeons’. I would seriously consider how authentic these are and I personally did not venture inside.
  • If you’re heading back to Paris, be warned of the infamous French toll roads. On the drive up, we followed the quickest route on the GPS and ended up paying €115, that’s right, for a short stretch of toll road (there was no way to know how much it would cost ahead of time). Keep that in mind, do some research before and/or avoid toll roads.

driving through french country side to paris

Getting There

As mentioned in the intro, we spent the previous night in beautiful Saint Malo, only an hour’s drive away. We looked for accommodation inside Mont Saint Michel but actually things worked out well as Saint Malo was just perfect. At the recommendation of our B&B host, we left Saint Malo by no later than 9am, to make it to Mont Saint Michel ahead of the weekend crowd, arriving at around 10am.

driving to mont saint michel from saint malo

The foggy drive did not look promising but don’t let this spoil your mood. In this part of France, the weather can quickly change, as you’ll soon see. We parked the car in the designated parking lot and hopped on the shuttle to the village entrance. Yay! we made it! I must admit that even in the fog, Mont Saint Michel is still very impressive, just like I imagined it to be.

foggy arrival mont saint michel

Walking Up To The Abbey

There aren’t too many options at this point but to enter the medieval fortress and start making your way up to the famous abbey. The main ‘street’ is a narrow claustrophobic mix of souvenir shops and unofficial museums, luring visitors to step inside and head down to an old medieval dungeon. I am not sure if this is authentic or not but use your good senses and continue walking towards the abbey. In fact, you want to start your visit with the abbey, all the way up at the top and then make your way down. That way, by the time other busloads of visitors arrive, you’ll already be inside the abbey with a lot less crowd.

enterance to mont saint michel

old village mont saint michel

There are a few deviations here and there that you can make. A good one is at the Parish Church, about half way up to the abbey. This tiny church dates back to the 15th & 16th centuries.

Parish church and village mont saint michel

A bit further up, you can walk along the old ramparts and catch great views of the town below, the abbey above you and perhaps even a few adventure seekers taking advantage of the low tide and making their by foot to Mont Saint Michel (only do this as part of an organized tour as it can be fatally dangerous with the tides).

mont saint michel ramparts

mont saint michel view of town from ramparts

people walking to mont saint michel

The Abbey

The famous Mont Saint Michel abbey & monastery are accessed through steps leading you all the way to the top. This is definitely the highlight of the trip as far as sightseeing goes. The abbey & monastery have been around since the 8th century and they are certainly showing the signs of aging in this moist climate. Even by today’s standards, this is a real piece of engineering marvel. The massive structure sits atop the pyramid shaped island and is essentially a giant fortress wrapped around the steep granite rock. What wouldn’t they do in those days for a saint?

mont saint michel abbey climbing up

view of mont saint michel abbey

Entrance to the abbey is a steep €9 but check the official page to see if you qualify for a discount. We entered without a queue at about 11am and by the time we got out about an hour later, there was a massive line to buy a ticket.

The first stop on your tour is the terrace, offering medieval soldiers a commanding view and for you, the 21st century tourist, fantastic panoramic views. If the winds are right, you might be treated to this bizarre behavior by the local seagulls – hovering in the air, just for fun. Super strange!

strange seagulls in monet saint michel abbey

Next up is the abbey church, rebuilt after the Hundred Years War, following a collapse in 1421. There’s nothing too fancy over here except the fact that the church is about 80 meters long and on top of this tiny island!

church at mont saint michel abbey

Your next stop is probably the prettiest. The abbey’s cloister was built in the 13th century and was designed as a gathering spot for meditation or ceremonies, as well as way to connect the various sections of the abbey. Can you imagine a medieval war going on down below and you’re just chilling in this tranquil spot?

mont saint michel abbey cloister panoramic view

mont saint michel abbey cloister

view across cloister mont saint michel abbey

Next up is the Guest’s Hall, a massive room with a giant fireplace that was used as a room for hosting royals and noblemen and women.

guest hall mont saint michel abbey

mont saint michel abbey guest hall gian fireplace

painted glass window mont saint michel abbey

Your visit of the Mont Saint Michel abbey then takes you to a couple of crypts that were basically built to support the rooms above and then to a massive wheel that was installed in 1820 to make deliveries to the prison that replaced the monastery, after the French Revolution.

massive wheel mont saint michel abbey

The last major stop is at the Knight’s Hall, another massive room that actually sits right below the cloister. As the name does not suggest, this hall was actually the study room of the monks.

knights hall mont saint michel abbey

painted glass knights hall mont saint michel abbey

Overall – the abbey is definitely a must see when visiting Mont Saint Michel: good views, lots of history, impressive architecture and a few strange sea gulls – what’s not to like?

Lunch

If the abbey was the sightseeing highlight of our one day visit to Mont Saint Michel, lunch at the legendary La Mère Poulard restaurant was the absolute highlight of our visit! First starting out as a hotel (still is today), Annette Poulard added a restaurant back in 1888, as a way to keep the hotel guests a little longer and to satisfy the craving of arriving passen on the island. She became world famous for her souffle style giant omelettes and this the reason people from all of the world make the journey here, including statesmen, dukes, kings & queens, musicians, actors and us common folks.

la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel making omlette

la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel

Apparently, the secret is in the batter, hand mixed to a creamy paste. But that’s not all, the batter is mixed to a unique beat, really making a show out of it as you can see in the video. The batter is then poured into copper bowls and placed on a wood burning fire – just like Annette prescribed over a hundred years ago! The result is a giant and super fluffy omelette that just melts in your mouth.

It ain’t cheap though folks and make sure you’re sitting down for this one. The basic omelettes are priced at over €50, that’s right f-i-f-t-y Euros! The good news is that the lunch set menus are easier on the pocket and if you come after 3pm but before dinner, the deal is even better. For about €170, the three of us took the set menu consisting of foie gras and other cured meats for starters, the famous omelette for mains (each with their own filling) and probably the best creme brulee we’ve ever had, for dessert. Oh, and being in Normandy, you really do have to drink some cider on the side – so good!

first course la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel

famous fluffy omlette la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel

best creme brulee ever la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel

Overall, eating at La Mère Poulard is super expensive but it is super good. At two hours long, it was probably the longest lunch I’ve ever had and definitely a unique experience that if you can afford, give it some thought – but not too much thought as reservations are an absolute must!

lunch at la mere poulard restuarant mont saint michel

Before Leaving

By late afternoon, the weather cleared up as you can see. We took advantage of the good weather and snapped a few photos just outside the main gate where the shuttle drops you off.

closeup view mont saint michel

mont saint michel people walking

Just as you leave the parking lot, you’ll see a few shops on the road selling local delights. We stopped in one of those and stocked up on the some local cider. There are pretty good views from a distant perspective of Mont Saint Michel – exactly how I imagined it to be.

distant view mont saint michel

Closing Thoughts

Our one day in Mont Saint Michel was a dream come true. It’s been on our ‘to do’ list for so long, so coming here as part of a long weekend from Paris, was a no brainer. Visiting Mont Saint Michel can either be a dream come true or a nightmare. This place is super tiny and super popular. I hope this post will help you plan your own visit to Mont Saint Michel!

? Got any questions? I love answering them! See you in the comments. 

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2 comments

  1. Hi. Found your post. Going in 2 weeks to mt st Michel. How king does it take to walk to the Abby ? Are there steep steps ?
    How long were you in the Abby ? Are there other places for a quicker lunch. . We are taking the bayeux shuttle so have about 4 hours of free time there

    1. Hi Cindy!

      Four hours should be enough time to see the highlights and grab a bite to eat. It shouldn’t take very long to get up to the abbey, maybe about 30 minutes or even less. I recommend going straight there when you enter the gate as most folks tend to stop on the way. This way, you’ll beat some of the crowds. In the abbey, you’ll spend about 60-90 minutes after which I suggest starting to walk back down and stopping on the way for lunch. Hope this helps.

      Bon voyage!

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