Photo of Mont Saint-Michel in the mist

Mont Saint-Michel

Overview

Mont Saint-Michel is one of France's most iconic landmarks.

This ancient abbey is located on an island which becomes accessible from land at low tide.

Today, a raised walkway has been constructed to make the island accessible even at high tide.

Clear photo of Mont Saint-Michel

History

The first monastic buildings were constructed around the 8th century AD, although fortifications were located on the site for hundreds of years prior.

According to legend, Saint Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, founded the abbey in 708 AD, after the Archangel Michael appeared to him in a dream and commanded him to build a church on the island.

In the 11th century, the Italian architect William of Volpiano was selected by the Duke of Normandy to design the abbey.

The process of constructing buildings around the rock to form a platform at the summit, on which the church could be built began in 1017. The building effort was crowned by the flamboyant gothic choir in 1520.

The site became a symbol of national identity during the Hundred Years' War. The island remained unconquered during the war. The heroic efforts of a small garrison fended off a full-scale attack by the English navy.

Photo of Mont Saint-Michel

Visiting Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel is a busy place. We visited on October 31st, and while the area our hotel was in was very quiet and empty of people, the Mont Saint Michel island was packed by lunchtime when we left.

If you don't like crowds, it is best to visit as early as possible in the morning. The hours vary with the season, but the posted hours when we were there noted that you may visit Mont Saint Michel from 9:00am to 7:00pm during the summer season (May through August), and then only from 9:30am to 6:30pm during the rest of the year.

You cannot drive right up to Mont Saint Michel, but free shuttle buses run every 15 minutes, even during the low season when we visited.

We stayed in the town of Mont Saint Michel (but not on the island itself), and it was easy to walk to the island from there. The walkway has nice wide, flat sidewalks. We enjoyed staying so close to the island, and it made it easy to go early in the morning and beat the crowds. Our hotel was very reasonably price, but most likely it would be quite expensive during the summer season or on a weekend.

Photo of covered bridge

Getting to the abbey

You will climb a lot of stairs to reach the entrance of the abbey! Once you've climbed, you can look back and see the covered wooden walkway shown in the picture above.

Photo of abbey church

Gothic Architecture

The first part of the abbey that you visit is the abbey church. This is the part of the monastery that was constructed around 1000 AD.

The chancel collapsed in 1421 and was rebuilt in "flamboyant" gothic style.

Photo of benches inside of stone church
Photo of cross
Photo of altar
Photo of window in a church

Refectory

The refectory is where the monks would take their meals.

Being there at the end of October really made us think about how cold the monks would have been living here. Of course, they did have these massize fireplaces which are not used to warm up the tourists. But where did all the wood some from for them to burn on their island?

Photo of stone room
Photo of massive stone fireplace
Photo of stone room
Photo of window inside of a stone room