Mont St Michel
Located in Normandy, France, this colossal gothic structure is located about one kilometre off the mainland, isolated when the tide is in, but surrounded by sand at low tide.
Built in 709, Mont St Michel is home to just under 50 inhabitants, but sees thousands of visitors each year, all drawn by its grandiose façade and extensive history. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this magical dreamscape causes you to catch your breath as soon as you see it towering on the horizon.
How to get to Mont St Michel
From Paris, catch a train to Rennes (see here for timetables), then you will need to take a bus from Rennes to Mont St Michel. The bus departures are coordinated with the train arrival times, and the bus station is next door to the train station. Exit the main doors and head towards the building on your right. Buy your ticket at the ticket desk and keep an eye on the screens above for which bay your bus is in and its departure time.
The bus ride takes around an hour and a half and drops you at the end of a causeway, and from here there is only a short 1km walk out to the Mont, or free shuttle buses run back and forth.
How to get around
Cars are not allowed to access the island, so the only way to access Mont St Michel is by foot. Stroll along the boardwalk from the mainland out to the Mont, and enjoy the tidal flats and horse-drawn carriages passing you by. Prepare to get a little windblown as the wind can really whip up on this coastline. Once within the historic island, you can walk through most of the streets and up to the top castle for a fee.
To explore the surrounding areas, you’ll need to go on foot as there is no local bus service. There are a few hiking trails – marked maps only seem to be found in tourist information offices – but just walking through the countryside and through the charming towns is rewarding. If you are visiting in April to May, you’ll also be able enjoy the striking canary yellow squares of canola crops highlighting the landscape.
Where to eat
Majority of the restaurants within Mont St Michel are geared towards tourists and quite overpriced. Keep an eye out for three-course-meal deals, where you can follow a set menu for a total price. These are often the best value and help when you’re overwhelmed by choice. Le Chapeau Rouge in the main street of Mont St Michel offers a terrific ‘express menu’, with the choice of three entrees, mains and desserts. The country pâté, local Normandy fish and panna cotta were delicious.
The area is also well known for its dairy cows, so cheese and cream products are quite popular. The Biscuiterie La Mère Poulard biscuit factory is also on the mainland, which distributes their wide range of sweets across Europe. From shortbread to caramel slice, you can sample these if you stop by their giftshop, or throughout stores in Mont St Michel.
Where to stay
Staying within the Mont is by far the best way to experience this momentous structure, as it gives you the ability to wander the streets and really soak in the history within the walls, long after the tourist rush subsides. However, to stay at one of the hotels on the island is both expensive and in high demand so consider an Air BnB as an alternative.
I stayed with Jean-Pierre at his AirBnB; he is the keeper of a historic French farmhouse constructed in 1758, located around 7km from Mont St Michel. He offers transport to and from the island every day, bicycle hire and a complimentary breakfast of croissants, breads, and tea and coffee. His property looks out over neighbouring canola fields and friendly dairy cows, and you can see the towering structure in the distance from the bedroom window.
An idea of costs for one day in Mont St Michel
€66 per day
– One way bus ticket from Rennes: €11
– Air BnB: €30 per night
– Free Breakfast at BnB
– 3 course lunch deal at restaurant: €15
– Postcards/souvenirs: €2
– Homemade meal at BnB: €8
How long to spend here
One day is enough to sight see in Mont St Michel itself, however if you’d like to explore the surrounding farmlands, add another day.
What to see and do
Drift through the narrow streets and window shop at the many boutiques selling souvenirs, trinkets and local produce, then explore the Abby & enjoy the view across the countryside.