For over a thousand years, the first glimpse of the towering ancient abbey atop Mont Saint Michel has inspired awe in pilgrims and tourists alike. Some visitors have pursued spirituality or solitude, while others appreciate its beauty and grandeur. Nowadays, the tiny island enjoys a simple, yet modernized way of life. They welcome millions of visitors a year and work hard to preserve its heritage. Rain or shine, tourists continue to make the pilgrimage to this iconic Christian monument. A new dam, modern bridge, and free shuttle service from the car park have made visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site much easier. Beauty and mystery are just the beginning of what there is to this intriguing city and its temperamental weather.
Even before you arrive at the site of this medieval masterpiece, the island of Mont Saint Michel dominates the Normandy skyline for miles. You'll pass through charming villages and see flocks of sheep grazing in open fields along the road. Within the ancient city's walls, gothic architecture is juxtaposed against colorful crowds of tourists and broad skies. The photo opportunities continue inside the abbey and especially at the top, where you can watch the tides creep up the shoreline toward the rock. Make sure your camera or smartphone is fully charged, and don't forget a portable battery charger. It'd be a shame to miss out on Instagramming the perfect shot of high tide or sunset because your battery died.
The microclimate on this tiny island is quite chilly year-round. With temperatures consistently averaging below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it's safe to assume you won't be needing the usual beach gear at this seaside attraction. More often than not, a warm jacket and long pants will suit you in the summer evenings. During the colder season, dress in warm layers. You'll also likely need a scarf and gloves to protect you from those bitingly cold ocean breezes. Be sure to check the weather forecast ahead of time to avoid getting caught in the rain.
A decent breakfast is advisable before starting your Mont Saint Michel adventure. Just don't spoil your appetite for eggs. This small town is known for cooking up some of the most famous omelets in the world. Developed as fast food for hungry pilgrims trying to beat the tide, it didn't take long for these tasty and extremely fluffy creations to soar in popularity. Now, the Omelette de la mère Poulard is an emblem of the city's heritage, and visitors can enjoy it as a savory lunch or dinner course. Some restaurants that serve this dish can be on the pricey side, but the rare experience is worth the splurge.
A rule of thumb while traveling is to keep a stash of cash on hand for emergencies or cash-only vendors. Yet somehow, there is always that perfect souvenir or delicious pastry that makes it worth parting ways with your last five Euros. If you find yourself out of the local currency on the road to Mont Saint Michel, don't waste your time searching for a bank or an ATM. Take care of parking fees with plastic and catch the free shuttle bus from the Tourist Information Center to the island. Shops, restaurants, and the Mont Saint Michel Abbey ticket office also accept most major credit cards, making shopping and dining in the commune a worry-free experience.
The rocky island of Mont Saint Michel rises to over 300 feet above sea level at its highest point. Cars aren't allowed across the bridge from the mainland, so the only way of getting to the top is on foot. Make sure to pack enough water for the trek, and to wear comfortable shoes. Numerous shops and eateries line the main road leading up to the abbey, so feel free to browse at one of these vendors to rest your legs for a bit. If you prefer a physical challenge, channel your inner champion and head straight for the top of the rock. Climbing the steep staircases along the ramparts is a great way to get the heart pumping and to warm up in the chilly weather.
One of the biggest draws to Mont Saint Michel is the tides. Water levels can fluctuate up to 46 feet between low and high tides, sometimes rendering the island inaccessible for short periods. Check the tide calendar ahead of time to make sure you can get inside the city, perhaps to watch the water flow into the bay from the abbey or ramparts. You can also find a tour guide to escort you across the mudflats during low tide. Just make sure to bring an extra pair of shoes.
After spending a day wandering this historic town, you might as well stay and enjoy a glorious sunset from your unique vantage point on the island. If you also plan on dining in Mont Saint Michel, you may have to wait for the restaurants to open for dinner. Wouldn't it be nice to have a hotel room conveniently booked within the city's medieval walls? Take advantage of the deserted city streets with a late-night stroll, and awaken to the sights and sounds of an ancient city. Rates can be quite affordable, with some rooms overlooking the bay or the cobblestone city streets. It's best to make reservations well ahead of time since accommodations are limited.
The Benedictine monks may be long gone from this house of worship, but the Mont Saint Michel Abbey church continues to hold regular masses for visitors to the island. Monks and nuns from the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem welcome people of all faiths with solemn services and beautifully sung hymns. Verify mass times online, and be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes early to get inside. Don't forget to dress warmly, as the stone structure is not heated. After services have ended, take your time exploring the church's vaulted ceilings, tall windows, and elegantly carved columns.
While shopping the Grand Rue and touring the ancient abbey guarantee a well-rounded experience at Mont Saint Michel, the cloisters deserve particular attention during your visit. Located at the top of the Merveille, or the monk's living quarters, you'll visit this medieval masterpiece toward the end of your tour. Save some time to browse the beautifully designed arcade and manicured garden. In between waves of crowds, relish a moment of solitude at the arches opening out to sea. Monks have meditated in this tranquil place for hundreds of years; allow yourself to connect spiritually with the cloisters before heading back into the bustling crowds.
Staying overnight in Mont Saint Michel is sure to be a lovely experience, but it may not be realistic for some travelers. Maybe you don't have the time or budget for such an endeavor, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a few hours in town. For shorter day trips, it's a good idea to first visit the shops, museums, and abbey during business hours. After all that walking and climbing, your stomach will most likely be growling before lunchtime. Restaurants and cafés can fill up quickly in the afternoons, but a picnic lunch will ensure you won't go hungry waiting for a table. Visitors can enjoy their meals and the view from a shaded terrace or patch of grass. Afterward, you can afford to splurge on something sweet.