Welcome to the 8th wonder of the world ! The Mont-Saint-Michel, a rocky tidal island, is close to the Normandy beaches and a mere four hours from Paris. Currently located in Normandy, the Mont is also claimed by its Breton neighbors. Indeed, the river Couesnon, natural border between the provinces of Normandy and Brittany, changed its course through the centuries and currently runs to the west. "The Couesnon in its madness put the Mount in Normandy", is a local saying. The giant bridge currently under construction to access the Mount, will force the river to flow on the both sides of the islands. Both Normans and Bretons will finally agree the Mont belongs to both departments! But today the red flags with the lions which fly atop of the Mount belong to Normandy.


With its medieval alleys, incomparable abbey and splendid bay, the Mont-Saint-Michel is really one of the most beautiful destinations of the world. Athletic walkers can circle the bay and climb the Mount in one (tiring) day only. But the best plan is to divide your time at the Mont in two days. Walks without guides in the bay are highly discouraged, because of quicksand and swift tidal changes. The tides change quickly and have been described by Victor Hugo to move "as swiftly as a galloping horse".  It actually moves at the speed of a walking man, the fastest tide in all of Europe here moves at one meter per second.


The Mount is 1km in circumference and 80 meters in height. Saint Michael archangel, at the top of the abbey culminates at 170 meters high. The Mount attracts more than 3 million visitors each year. It’s the second most visited place in France after The Tour Eiffel and Chateau de Versailles.    


History

The legends say that Tombelaine island, in the North of the Mont-Saint-Michel was occupied first, and was named after Elaine of Avalon, the guardian of the Celtic paradise of immortality, but Elaine
too became mortal, after her union with a human knight. Legends say that she was buried on this island.

The famed King Arthur is said to have fought a giant there. The island was an English base during many attempts to conquer the Mont-Saint-Michel.  Tombelaine Island was carved so that the structures could not be used for a future English base. The Mont-Saint-Michel itself was also called Mount-Grave (Mont-Tombe) proves that these islands were always sanctuaries. This name came from "Mons vel Tumba Beneni”: the Mount grave of Belenos, Gallic god of the sun. It was then attended by druids.

A third crowned island was also in the bay, the Mont-Dol, today included in the grounds by the polders (close to the town of Dol). The Catholic hermits made two sanctuaries on Mont-Grave in the VI century: Saint-Etienne and Saint-Symphorien. It did not become "Mont-Saint-Michel-in-danger-of-the-sea" before 708 by decree of Avranches bishop, Aubert, following the edification of a vault of the same name, which one can still see the vestiges under the actual abbey. A manuscript of 10th century explains this history: the Archangel Saint-Michael appeared in dreams several times to Saint Aubert, then Bishop of Avranches, demanding that he build a church on the Mount. Saint Aubert refused until the Archangel burnt a hole in the Bishop’s skull.  The church was dedicated in 708.  Pilgrims began to come to the Mount from all over Europe. The population on the Mount passed from 132 inhabitants in 1962 to 43 today.



The Mount from A to Z

If you want to avoid the tourist stores and traffic, turn right at the exit of Pontorson after the bridge, which is at the top of the Main road, and turn immediately to the left. The small road, which goes straight, will take you along the peaks, through the villages of Moidrey then Beauvoir. Two miles before the Mount the road takes a turn to the left and joins the main road.



The Village : 


THE DOOR: There is only one official entry to the Mount, made by three successive strengthened doors (1) the door of l'Avancée (16th C), (2) the door of the Boulevard with its canons, and finally (3) the door of the King, his drawbridge and his harrow (15th C). The tourism office is on the left inside the first door. The restaurant La Mere Poulard is on the left after the second door. There are two large canons in the court that were taken to the English by the Mont soldiers in 1434. From there you can climb to the abbey either by the main street, or by the wall and its gardens. From one side or the other, you will see a great number of very old houses.


LA MERE POULARD: Annette Poulard made this restaurant legendary between 1873 and 1906, particularly for its world famous omelets. In addition to the window and decoration, La Mere Poulard sells small Breton wafers in the shop in front. On the walls of the restaurant, many dedicated photographs of stars and politicians are on display.


MAIN STREET (la Grand Rue): The shops for tourists are everywhere! It is impossible to escape the snow-globes and plastic swords, the narrow alleys are very crowded. At the top to the right of the street, the last store before the abbey contains various religious trinkets and interesting books. The bookshop inside the abbey also has some choices including posters, maps and children’s books.


The tourist trade has both modernized and unfortunately degraded the interior of the Mont-Saint-Michel village houses during the 20th Century. The village counts only a few actual inhabitants today. The exterior of houses remains splendid, as is the reputation of the Mount. About half-way to the top is Saint-Peter Church, parish of the village, with a statue of Joan of Arc, beloved of the French, in front of the door. Of simple styling, it was built between 15th and 16th century. It contains beautiful statuary, as well as votive candles offered up by the many loyal pilgrims. There is also a splendid silver statue of Saint-Michael. Behind the church, the tiny cemetery and its narrow paths are completely charming. The Mass is celebrated here everyday at 11AM (from December 1st  - Easter: only Thursday and Sunday). On Saturdays there is a vigil Mass at 6PM. Other Masses are offered on top of the Mont inside the abbey.



MUSEUMS : The most important part of your tour is of course the abbey. On the Grand Rue, there are a series of museums with discounted prices to visit several or all the museums.


- Historical museum (or Grévin museum): old collections (weapons, paintings, sculptures, watches). Prisons, dungeons, reconstitution of the oubliettes, tour of the 19th Century which explores the Bay surrounding the Mont.


- The Archéoscope: a multi-media spectacle which presents the Mount history and its construction

Internet site: www.au-mont-saint-michel.com


- Maritime Museum: video audio system which explains the phenomenon of the tides, the dangers of the sand around the mount, and exposes the phenomenal plans for the bridge and dam.


- Tiphaine: the home of the knight Bertrand Duguesclin: 14th Century house; recounts the life of the Constable Duguesclin and his wife Tiphaine de Raguenel (pieces of furniture, paintings, tapestries).


The Maritime Museum is open from February 1st until the end of Christmas holidays. Other museums are open everyday from February 1st to November 12 and during Christmas vacations. Reservations are not required, but the phone is: 02 33 89 02 02 or 02 33 89 01 85


RAMPARTS: They were built at the end of 14th and beginning of 15th Centuries, whereas the English tried to conquer the Mont. During the Hundred Years War, the English tried many times to occupy the Mont Saint Michel. The ramparts are reinforced by 7 towers. They begin at the main door of the Mount and go to the steps of the abbey. One can also observe them from the bay surrounding the Mont.


The Wonder (the abbey)

You need 2 or 3 hours a least to visit it, as it accommodates more than 20 000 visitors per day in summer. Human guides and audio guides are available in all the languages at the door of the abbey. In spite of the tourists flood, the abbey is extraordinarily peaceful and keeps its austere atmosphere transporting visitors into another era. The abbey started to thrive in the middle of 10th Century. The original pre-Roman monastery was replaced with a larger Gothic styled church at the top of the Mount as well as many other buildings that were added in the 16th century. The changing architectural styles coupled with the natural rock makes the abbey visually and historically unique.
In the 12th century there were about sixty Benedictines monks whose illuminated manuscripts were known throughout all of Europe. The copyist monks are known for their "lettrines normandes" and the miniature paintings they created between 10th and 12th century. All the vaults and arches turn your attention and lead your spirits towards upward. The staircase is impressive and requires good legs! All the historical architecture styles are present here, and some may have been initiated here.


The church, 11th Cent, in the form of a cross, measures 75m in length. It was built partly the top of the vacuum, the architects having built three crypts to support it below. A Roman abbey and another Gothic one surround it. The cloister next to the church, with a view of the bay, is certainly one of the most beautiful of the world.

By summer (only), some night visits are available. The best time to go is before sunset so you can experience The Mont during the changing light and in the evening! (Information on the night visits: Tel.: 02 33 89 80 00 - email: abbaye.mont-saint-michel@monum.fr) If you are on the Mount at night, don’t forget to see the deserted lanes between the abbey and Main Street; the external illuminations of The Mont are also very beautiful.




MASSES AND RETIREMENTS: Today the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, a mixed unit monks and nuns of the "charismatic" Catholic Church movement, are present on site. High Mass is everyday, except Monday, at 12:15. Admission is free for the Mass, appointment at 12:00 at the entry gate of the Abbey. Laudes is at 7AM during the week (8AM Saturday and Sunday), vespers at 6:30AM appointments 10 min before each, at the Abbey gate. No public liturgical office is available on Sunday afternoon and Monday. For any information (retirement, reception of group...): Tel.: 02-33-58-31-71 - Internet site: abbey-montsaintmichel.com





Around the Mount

The Bay of the Mount spans between the presqu'ile of Cotentin and the Country of Saint-Malo (Cancale in the North-West). There you can see the sheep grazing in the polders or taste oysters from the many oyster culturists (those of Cancale being famous). The tidal waves curving in the sand make fantastic patterns at low tide. Many guides are available at the tourist office inside the main gate of the Mount as well as inside the villages by the Bay. To walk or with horse: http://www.mont-saint-Michel-baie.com/


In ULM: www.ulm-mont-saint-michel.com/ (Photo of left: IGN) If you want to stay several days in the Mont area, you can also visit the castle of Bonnefontaine, in
the town of Antrain (few miles south of the Mont). Americans can enjoy also the castle of colonel Armand, Marquis de la Rouerie, in the town of La Rouerie (south of Antrain). La Rouerie was a hero of the Independence war, friend of George Washington, before becoming the founder of the Catholic Britton army against the French revolution. There are also several D-day memorials around the Mont.



SPECIALITIES:

- Roasted with the wood fire, the salt meadow lamb sheep, feeding in the polders of the Bay, is really the main specialty of the Mount.

- Near the Mount, the village of Saint-James gave its name to a brand, which gave letters of nobility to the clothing of sailors! The brand of clothing has enjoyed incredible success; some stores are opening even now in the USA! Charming for children and fashionable for adults, many shops are around the Mont: in the entry of the Mount, in Beauvoir, on the road just before the Mount, or directly in the village of Saint-James (east of the Mount). http://www.saint-james.fr/


THE DESANDATION: The large access dam to the Mount was built in 1879. But the progressive sanding of the bay created a fear that in a few decades, the Mount would no longer be an island. The idea is to build a large bridge allowing water of the river Couesnon on the both sides of the Mount in order to drive out sand towards the sea. Work began in 2006. The dam and the car parks will be destroyed when the project is completed it will be advisable in the future to take a shuttle or walk to the Mount from the coast. (Assembly synthesis of the future bridge by mont-saint-Michel Project).


- NEAR The MOUNT: The mont-saint-Michel is frontier of Normandy and Brittany. On each side you can discover small charming fishing ports and towns: as on the West coast of Cotentin close to Barneville-Carteret for example. In Brittany, the Mount is close to the pirate city of Saint-Malo (40mn), and to the very beautiful Emerald Coast (cote d’Emeraude: Dinard, Cancale, Cape Fréhel...). The D-day beaches are two hours east of the Mount by car, just like the forest of Brocéliande at 2 hours in southwest. The town of Rennes, current capital of Brittany, is one hour away.


Hotels/restaurants

Luxury:

- The Relay Saint-Michel (4 Stars). Best pick! http://www.relais-St-michel.com/ Traditional (and expensive):

- La Mere Poulard: just inside the entry of the Mount on the left with its famous omelets. (3 Stars) http://www.mere-poulard.fr/

- The Poulard terraces are in the same category but with a view of the sea. (3 Stars) http://www.terrasses-poulard.com/

These three hotels with restaurants belong to "la mere Poulard"; Cafeterias, fast food and crèperies less expensive than the first ones are all along the Main street.


HOTELS: All the hotels on the Mount are expensive. But there are many others on the road to the Mont or in Pontorson, for less. For example in Pontorson, all are under 60 euros per room, hotels:

- DE FRANCE (2 STARS)

- THE TOWER TOOLS (1 STAR)

- L'ARRIVEE

- THE LITHANA


Transportation

- By Car: 4 hours west of Paris. Take the highway towards Rouen, then Caen 1 hour in the North of Rennes.

- By Train: TGV leaves from Paris-Montparnasse or Charles de Gaule airport to Rennes in Britanny. In Rennes you’ll have to take the bus of the les Courriers Bretons.

- By Bus: Courriers Bretons: www.lescourriersbretons.com

- By Plane: Airport of Rennes, 12 regular lines from/to Paris and other towns. Or Dinard for the sources of London or Jersey.

- By Sea: in the ports of Saint-Malo, Granville or Cherbourg.



EVENTS: http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/manifestations.htm


 


SUMMARY


History         The Mont from A to Z          the Abbey            Around the Mont (the bay...)              Transports 


SEE ALSO OUR PAGES :            D-Day Beaches             Puy-du-Fou             France

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Translated by Helen Snyder.

 

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