This guide to Mont St-Michel covers the abbey, getting there and other tourist features on the island.
The flat bay of the same name stands just over the border in Normandy. The entire bay area is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site and the tidal island is a breathtaking place to visit.
An abbey has existed on the 80 m high outcrop since the 8th century and from this imposing position acts as a potent symbol of the Church. Today, Mont St-Michel is one of the most recognisable landmarks in France.
A regular bus service covers the 50 km journey from the SNCF station in St-Malo terminating at the lowest gate on Mont St-Michel. This is also the location of the tourist office. Those wishing to go by rail should alight at Pontorson, 6 km from the Mont, and take the connecting bus to the same point.
Travelling by car is straightforward with parking on the causeway or sands at 6 EUR. To avoid congestion, park on the mainland and enjoy the 2 km crossing on foot.
The majestic abbey has developed over time from humble beginnings in the 8th century when, according to legend, the Archangel Michael instructed Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, to establish a church in his name on the Mont.
The cross shaped Romanesque abbey is the earliest of the buildings visible today, dating back to the 11th century. Its centre sits directly on the Mont’s pinnacle with supporting crypts built up from the lower parts of the hillside.
The King of France, Philip II Auguste, financed the Gothic reconstruction of the abbey in the 13th century following its partial destruction during his wars against the English occupiers. This extension is known as the Merveille (the Marvel) and is the most architecturally impressive part of the site.
Further fortifications were added to protect the Mont during the Hundred Years War and these prevented the English from ever capturing the abbey. By the time of the French Revolution the last remaining monks had been expelled and the abbey converted into a prison. This sad state of affairs only ended in the mid 19th century due to the protestations of those with an interest in the preservation of French culture (including Victor Hugo). The neo-Gothic spire, topped by a statue of the Archangel Michael, was added in the late 19th century.
Although a visit to the island of Mont St-Michel is free, there is a charge to gain access to the abbey. This includes an optional guided tour which is available in French and English plus some additional languages during peak season.
Other Tourist Sites
The Grande Rue is the main street that twists and climbs up to the abbey and is home to the lesser known attractions on the Mont. These include several museums (historic and maritime), the multimedia Archeoscope which gives an introduction to the abbey and the 11th century church of St-Pierre.
The North Tower of the ramparts is a popular vantage point to watch the in-rushing tide.