Rising out of the sea in the Baie de Saint-Michel on the coast of Normandy, the island of Mont Saint-Michel and its magnificent abbey are among France’s most striking sights. The Abbey of Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, perches on the highest point of the rocky islet. Looking like a fortified castle surrounded by ancient walls and bastions, it is one of the most awe-inspiring Gothic churches ever built.
Abbaye du Mont Saint-Michel
Known as “La Merveille” (“The Marvel”), the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel is truly a marvel of medieval architecture. Since the Middle Ages, this ultimate pilgrimage site has also been called “The Heavenly Jerusalem” and “Pyramid of the Seas.” Soaring to a height of 155 meters above the sea, the abbey is an amazing feat of construction. It is even more miraculous considering the difficulties of bringing building materials across the Bay of Saint-Michel; many perished while attempting to cross the bay’s sandy shores during unforeseen riptides. In spite of great technical challenges, the abbey was built between the 11th and 13th centuries in exquisite Gothic style.
Although getting to this remote setting from Paris may not present the dangers it did to medieval pilgrims, it can still be a challenge. It takes about 3.5 hours to drive there and about an hour longer by train to Rennes and then by bus. With so many things to do here, you’ll want to spend at least four hours to tour the abbey’s cloister, refectory, and ramparts; have lunch; and see the extreme tides shift the landscape between water and sand. This makes a long day for a driver. A more convenient way is to join a full-day tour to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris that includes direct transportation by bus or van. Or you can stay overnight either in the village below the abbey or in nearby hotels on the mainland.
Mont Saint-Michel Pilgrimages
At the end of July, there is a pilgrimage across the Bay of Saint-Michel. However the pilgrimage depends on the tides. Those interested in taking this pilgrimage should check with the tourist office before planning a trip. There is also an important pilgrimage, known as the Autumn Pilgrimage, at the end of September on Saint Michael’s Day. The pilgrimage celebrates the Archangel Michael and several religious events. On the nearest Sunday to Saint Michael’s Day, a solemn mass is held in the Abbey Church. Later that day, there are vespers and an evening mass at the Parish Church. On September 29th (Saint Michael’s Day), the Abbey Church and Parish Church hold morning prayers and mass.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Mont Saint Michel
Tours to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris: Enjoy the lovely Normandy landscapes while someone else drives you from central Paris on a 14.5-hour Mont Saint-Michel Day Trip that includes transportation, lunch, and a guided historic walking tour through the abbey and ramparts, as well as time to explore on your own.
Getting to Mont Saint-Michel
If arriving by car, park in the parking lot which is located on the mainland two-and-a-half kilometers from Mont Saint-Michel. From the parking lot, a shuttle bus drops visitors off 400 meters from the entrance gates to Mont Saint-Michel.
If planning to arrive by foot, first inquire about the tides. It is important to pay close attention to the schedule of the tides as it is extremely dangerous to venture into the bay when the water is rising. During spring tide days, visitors must cross two hours before the tides. Also note that walking across the bay is best done in bare feet.
Official site: http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/en/accueil.htm