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Mont St. Michel – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Iconically French, and a View to Charish – Mont St. Michel

Sitting in my high school French class, I can remember struggling through a watered-down French version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The illustration on the well-worn soft cover was a wood block print of Mont St. Michel. Even though the story really doesn’t take place there, it’s always one and the same in my memory. I run through the labyrinthine passageways underneath the abbey, in the depths of the massive rock that Jean Valjean’s prison is perched.

Needless to say, it’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and as we drove towards it we kept catching glimpses here and there of its unforgettable profile; my heart beating faster with each kilometer.



A visit to the amazing Mont St. Michel should be on everyone's France bucket list.

Thankfully, my very first priority was to try and get some sunset images of Mont St. Michel, so our first trip out there was only as far as a viewpoint on the coast overlooking the marshland that separates it from the mainland. We had a great vantage point, and of course we were not alone.

There was a French family, a British family, some Dutch travelers as well as our small party. We all had an immediate camaraderie as we chased the same goal, the perfect image. I was elated, in my element, and I relished every shot. We stayed until the sun completed it’s dive, and then headed back to our gite ready to get a good night’s sleep and attack the rock in the morning.

A sailboat careens past Mont St. Michel.

We should have known to skip breakfast and just head out. Instead, being in vacation mode, we lingered enjoying our morning coffee.  By the time we reached the parking lots, they were beginning to really fill up.

Information on how to get from the parking lot to the castle.

Pilgrims have been going to the abbey since long before 1979 when Mont St. Michel was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. At first they only went for religious reasons, and now even though it is still a pilgrimage site, there are many tourists that climb the narrow alley to the top to visit the abbey as well.

Taking the shuttle bus to Mont St. Michel.

The story goes that in the late 10th century, St. Michael repeatedly appealed to the bishop of Avranches to build on top of the little islet in the bay. Apparently he wasn’t that keen on the idea until St. Michael reached out with his finger and burned a whole in his head. That quickly changed his mind, and he built the new abbey on top of the old Roman ritual site. As with many medieval edifices, the abbey was continually being added to throughout the centuries, and the central spire was not added until 1896 by an Italian architect.

Looking up at the Mont St. Michel World Heritage Site.

We parked our car in one of the many lots and followed the signs to the free shuttle. Cars are no longer allowed to drive out to the island. Even bikes cannot go past the gates; everyone must walk. The shuttles run frequently, but still they were filling up quickly; and by the time we reached the first gate, we were in a crowd.

The towering Mont St. Michel.

The way up to the abbey is a long, tedious climb, but of course there are many restaurants and souvenir shops to keep you occupied on your way up. The hardest and most frustrating was trying to take photos. There were very few opportunities to take shots without tourists in them.

A popular spot, the streets are filled with people.

The higher we climbed, the more spread out the tourists, and the views just got better and better. The stone walls, intricate carvings, cobble-stoned streets, all combined to give you the feeling of an ancient and special place. It was warm outside, and entering the chapels not only brought a sense of awe and admiration, but a cool and comfortable feeling.

Stone verandas and French houses.

After our visit, and on the way down, we entertained the thought of having lunch here. That is until we saw the menus. Wow! What prices! We quickly decided to hold out and get outside the steep walls with their even steeper prices.

Walking through the town of Mont St. Michel.

Practical Information:

Getting to Mont St. Michel by car is fairly easy, just remember you will need to park in the parking lots well outside of the town and take the free shuttle buses or walk the 30 minutes to the gate.

You can also get to Mont St. Michel by train and bus. Take the train to Rennes and then find the Keolis bus out the train station’s north exit. You can pay the driver when you get on the bus; check the website for current pricing and timetables.  Travel Tip: booking your train travel well in advance will significantly lower the cost as well.

Another view of the impressive height of the isle.

For a great sunset shot, exit the N175 at the D43 and drive north on the D43 towards Le Mont-St. Michel. Continue on the D43 until the D75 intersection. Leave the road at this junction by continuing straight ahead down a short 50 meter track to a parking lot looking out over the tidal plains towards Mont St. Michel.

Other world heritage sites we can recommend in France include: Scandola Nature Reserve, Mont St. Michel, and Carcassonne.

Ryan Biddulph

Wednesday 24th of May 2017

Hi Corinne,

Amazing. My SE Asian centric self needs to get out and visit...Europe ;) Not seen France or even been there as my focus has been in other spots. Tourist trap or not, gotta see this place. Thanks much :)


Corinne Vail

Wednesday 24th of May 2017

Ryan, That's exactly how I felt about it. We did enjoy walking up to the monastery, but honestly the best part was the sunset views!

Corinne Vail

Saturday 4th of July 2015

Back, Just go early and way off season!

Girl Gone Gallic

Friday 3rd of July 2015

All the famous sites are indééd super busy and overrun with tourists. My best visit there was years ago at dawn, long before the majority of the tourists had rolled out of bed. It was the only time possible to get a sense of what it might have been like back in the day...

Corinne Vail

Saturday 4th of July 2015

Girl, That sounds like the perfect time to go!


Friday 3rd of July 2015

I was there long ago,in 2002, so maybe I am romanticizing my visit but it may be my favorite place I have ever been. It was winter, on a cold and clear weekday and there were no crowds. The climb took us a long time but we had the whole day to meander. And we saw monks, just like Friar Tuck in Robin Hood, ringing bells. In fact, Mont St Michel is one of the few places that I really would like to go to again. Thanks for the photos that brightened my day.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 4th of July 2015

Jill, It sounds magical! Lucky you!


Sunday 28th of June 2015

I always enjoy your photos and your commentary. It has a similar feel to another place I cannot remember off the top of my head in Austria. Nevertheless, France, hmmm, on my do-go list :)

Corinne Vail

Sunday 28th of June 2015

Lani, Thanks. Were you thinking of our Halstatt article?