Visiting La Merveille: Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint Michel is a village and abbey that really is unlike that of any other. Medieval builders were constrained by the natural pyramidal shape of the granite outcrop, and so created an abbey in three stories, known as La Merveille. At the very top is the abbey church and cloisters, which are made possible by a series of underlying crypts and buttresses. Mont Saint Michel has a long history, the earliest documented evidence of which dates back to the start of the eight century AD. The Bishop of Avranches is said to have been given divine instruction from Archangel Michael to build a monastery on what was then called Mont-Tombe. It soon became a pilgrimage destination, and by the 10th century the abbey had been settled by Benedictine monks. The abbey was built with the church at the pinnacle, while a village developed at the foot of the granite outcrop.
During the Hundred Years War substantial ramparts and fortifications were built around the edge of the isle to resist the English. A few hundred years later after the Revolution in 1789, the religious community was dissolved and the abbey used as a prison until 1863.
Mont Saint Michel was classified as a historic monument in 1874, and underwent major renovations, which continue until this day. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. A multi-million Euro project started in 2009 to reverse the permanent causeway that joins the island with the mainland (for progress, see Mont Saint-Michel, June 2013)
Site: Abbey, Fortifications, Village
Visiting Mont Saint-Michel:
Getting to Mont-Saint-Michel
Long gone are the days where you could drive up to a car park just at the entrance to Mont-Saint-Michel. The initiative to make Mont-Saint-Michel an island once again precludes this possibility. Which is a good thing for at least two reasons: not only was traffic at the busiest times of the day during the peak holiday season a nightmare, a car park directly in from of the Abbey is unsightly. Now, everyone accesses Mont-Saint-Michel either on foot or shuttle. There is also a horse-drawn cart available for hire for adding to your experience.
All aspects of accessing Mont-Saint-Michel has been expertly designed for visitors with reduced mobility: there are no steps or height differences on the roads and paths, lighting that facilitates movement in the dark hours, and wide pathways are free of obstacles.
If you are making a day trip to Mont-Saint-Michel by car, you are required to park your car in the new parking area located just behind the strip of hotels on the main road in La Caserne. The free shuttle service runs from the car park, on to the main road running through La Caserne, and then onto the causeway and to within 400 meters of the entrance to Mon-Saint-Michel. The shuttle service runs regularly, depending on the numbers of visitors, from 8 am to 1 am between La Caserne and Mont-Saint-Michel.
The causeway road has a footpath, a gentle walk takes about 20 mins. Bicycles are no longer allowed to be taken to Mont-Saint-Michel. There are two facilities available for cyclists to lock bicycles and then proceed on foot or by shuttle: one is located in the car park, and the other is at the dam wall near the start of the causeway road leading to Mont-Saint-Michel.
If you are staying overnight in one of the hotels in La Caserne, you will be given an access code when you secure your reservation. You will be required to enter this code at the entrance to the restricted area of La Caserne to gain access to the hotel’s car park.
Guided Tours of Mont Saint Michel
Visiting Mont Saint-Michel Abbey:
Archaeology Traveller’s Tip:
As Mont Saint-Michel is France’s most visited attraction outside of Paris, it is always busy. My tip to beat the crowds is to get on to the island early, around 8 am (earlier if you would like to walk around the village and take photographs). Go straight to the entrance to the Abbey, which opens at 9 am in summer (May to August) and 9.30 am from September to April. If staying overnight in one of the hotels at La Caserne, they will sell you a ticket – buy one!