Next up on the tour of Normandy: Mont St. Michel! (Basically fairytale land in Amanda’s head) I’m going to be super real here, as we drove the night before past this area to where we spent the night in the neighboring town, I saw this from pretty far off (It’s the tallest thing around) and seriously cried… It had been an emotional day already I admit (understandably so at memorials), but there was something pretty unreal as far as dreams coming true when I saw Mont St. Michel in the distance. Like… this IS the place in France that I had dreamed of seeing since I saw a poster of it surrounded by water lit up at night when I first started taking French… in 7th grade. So while the previous night passed pretty uneventful at the B&B, we were up and out to check out this MUST-SEE of Normandy.
Like is it a fairytale or WHAT?! Anyways There’s a LARGE parking lot for you to park in that costs $12 a day (think of it as an admittance fee) and then there are several buses that will cart you the distance from the parking lot to the island (which ARE FREE). We opted to walk out to it to enjoy this view that much longer, and avoid the line of people waiting to get on the buses. The walk took us probably 20 minutes (with multiple stops to photo OP and is about 2.5 km from the parking lot.
Legit childhood dream coming true here.
Surrounding water and quick sand around the Mont. At high tide, this whole area is under water and the mont becomes a veritable island. During low-tide… there’s sand bars and stuff but considering a lot of it is LEGIT quick sand.. I’d recommend taking the bridge/ road out to it.
If you’re interested in the GEOLOGY of how the Mont was formed, here’s a quick sum up:
“Now a rocky tidal island, the Mont occupied dry land in prehistoric times. As sea levels rose, erosion reshaped the coastal landscape, and several outcrops of granite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks.” There are actually 2 other “islands” that are similar to this Mont called: Lillemer, the Mont-Dol and Tombelaine (the island just to the north). Originally Mont Saint-Michel was called Mont Tombe.
- The island has a circumference of about 960 metres (3,150 ft) and its highest point is 92 metres (302 ft)
- The overall surface makes up about 247 acres
- The island is about 600 meters from land/the coast
- Population as of 2009 was 44 residents.
- This site is visited by more than 3 million people each year
Looking at the sea walls of the mont and the sand that goes right up to it.
Imagine at high tide seeing no sand as the water tide levels can be up to 46 feet high (a very high tide indeed)
As you first enter the town at the base there are busy toilets and a tourist information center.
Then you cross the draw bridge and you journey begins!
We decided to head up onto the battlements first (there’s a few access points that are fairly obvious stairs) HOWEVER I would recommend if you are there early in the day, to enjoy the narrow street with less crowds and exit by way of the battlements. We were wishing we had as the afternoon crowds washed in.
Tops of the homes as seen from the battlement
Looking down on the narrow street from the wall… like I said it got quite A LOT more packed with people in the afternoon. Enjoy it before noon with less people.
Our first siting of the abbey as we walked into the entrance. Note the rather large… talons. lol
So the name of the Mont, comes from the Abbey which was named after Saint Michael. As I’ve previously posted statues of him in the Musee D’Orsay, here’s a quick synopsis on his claim to fame: He slayed the dragon. Saint Michael, the archangel referred to in the Old Testament and in Catholic writings, the chief defender of the Chuch and opponent of Satan. As in he slayed Satan/ the dragon.
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven”
My favorite story/ legend that we read about how the Mont came to be named AFTER Saint Michael goes like this: (It’s rather long so skip if short on time)
“To escape from his malicious neighbor Satan, St. Michael built himself a home on an islet in the open ocean (what would eventually be known as Mont Saint Michel). Only a saint like himself could build a residence of such splendor. For protection, he surrounded his island with treacherous quicksand. The devil lived in a humble cottage on the hill across the bay. He owned all the salt marshes and rich lands which produced the finest crops; St. Michael had nothing but sand.
After a few years of poverty, St. Michael became tired and decided to bargain with the devil. One morning, he walked across to the shore and found the devil eating his soup in his garden. When he saw the saint, he warmly invited him in for a drink. St. Michael had a glass of milk and told Satan of his proposition. He asked the devil for all his lands. He would work the land and then they would both share the crops equally. The lazy devil agreed to this, in exchange for some gray mullet fish from the waters around the mount. St. Michael agreed and they shook on it. St. Michael asked Satan whether he would prefer the part of the crops that grew above the ground or the part that grew underground. Satan declared that he would take everything that grew above the ground, St. Michael agreed and the devil was delighted.
Six months later, the lands had produced nothing but carrots, turnips, onions and parsnips, which all grew underground. Satan was furious. He declared St. Michael a trickster and said the deal was off. St. Michael told the devil how sorry he was about this unfortunate turn of events and offered to give him everything that grew in the ground the next year.
The following year, all of Satan’s lands were covered with golden wheat, giant oats, peas, cabbage, artichokes, and everything that thrives above ground. Once again, Satan received nothing, and this time he took back his fields in anger and would not hear another word from his cunning neighbor.
A whole year passed and St. Michael could do nothing but watch in frustration as the devil worked his fertile lands below and reaped his harvest. St. Michael decided he would have his revenge on this smug devil, and he went to invite him to dinner the following week. He told Satan that he regretted what had happened in the past and did not want there to be any hard feelings between them. This dinner was meant as a peace-offering. The greedy Satan eagerly accepted, put on his finest clothes and set out for the castle.
St. Michael had prepared a magnificent meal. They ate some delicious tender lamb from the salt-marshes, vegetables which melted in the mouth and a hot pancake covered with melted butter. They also enjoyed some of Normandy’s best sparkling cider and apple brandy. The devil drank and ate to his heart’s content until he was so drunk and full that he felt quite nauseous.
St. Michael saw his chance and in a fit of anger chased Satan out of the castle with a stick. Satan was sick, and no match for St. Michael. Before long he was cornered at the top of the highest tower. On a fine day, the devil might have stopped to enjoy the breath-taking views over Normandy, but on this occasion, the devil was concerned only with escaping the wrath of St. Michael. However, there was no escape and the saint gave the devil an almighty kick up the rear, launching him across the bay like a cannonball. He landed heavily by the town of Mortain, sinking his claws deep into the rock, leaving his traces there for all eternity.
Looking down toward the Abbey entrance.
Apparently “dragon” is a lose term for eagle monster as there were large portions of the statue throughout the abbey
Looking out of the bay from the Abbey walls
Pretty medieval walls
The last part of the “dragon” decor we saw in the abbey
The main abbey courtyard
Decorative arches in the abbey
One of the chapels within the abbey. They had an art installation of feathers that I thought was very beautiful.
Stained glass windows
A lower corridor within the abbey complex
Medieval walls from the abbey’s earlier days
The wheel that works an elevator/ pulley system within the abbey
Fun mirror balls were in some of the larger rooms and outside on the grounds
The exit from the abbey. (which you can only get to this area by walking through it (meaning you have to pay) If you notice the glitter of gold at the top of the steeple, it is a copy of the statue I posted from the Musee D’Orsay of Saint Michael slaying the dragon, but in gold.
Looking out through a hole in the wall
Brief history of the buildings on the Mont: The original site was founded by an Irish hermit who gathered a following from the local community. Mont Saint-Michel was used in the sixth and seventh centuries. In the 8th century it achieved monastery status and went from being called Mont Tombe, to its forever name: Mont Sainte Michel. According to another legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Aubert of Avranches, the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. The bishop is who founded the monastery. The mont was very briefly under the control of the Bretons, and in 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. During the Hundred Years’ War, the Kingdom of England made repeated assaults on the island but were unable to seize it due to the abbey’s improved fortifications.When Louis XI of France founded the Order of Saint Michael in 1469, he intended that the abbey church of Mont Saint-Michel become the chapel for the Order, but because of its great distance from Paris, his intention could never be realized and unfortunately by the time of the French Revolution, there were hardly any monks still in residence.
It was then that the abbey was converted to a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican regime, and remained a prison until it was converted back in 1863 and restored. The mount was declared a historic monument in 1874 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Mont St. Michel Abbey Practical Information:
Hours: From September 1-April 30th the abbey is open from 9:30-6:00 PM
From May 2- August 31st the abbey is open from 9:00-7:00 PM
Cost: 10 euros for adults
*Reduced price for ages 13-25 for 8 euros
*Audio-guides are an additional 3 euros pp should you desire them
Below are models of the development structurally of the abbey
After we completed the tour of the abbey (which took maybe 1.5 hours?) We headed back down through the town to pick up my souvenir magnet and head out on our way.
Beautiful stained glass in a church lower in the town (free to enter) The colors reminded me of the Beauty and the Beast stained glass.
A residential pathway behind some shops.
The narrow street with A LOT more people in it. I’m tellin ya… get there and enjoy it BEFORE noon.
As the sun came out, we did go for a quick stroll out onto the sand
Overall, an AMAZING stop when exploring the Normandy coast and I can honestly say that while it is small in terms of space to explore, it was one of my favorite things we saw in France. After we concluded our visit, we hopped in the car for a few hours heading south to the start of relaxation in the Loire Valley.
Day 6 part 1 costs:
Breakfast:Free included with our nighttime lodging
Mont St. Michel parking: $12
Abbey entrance fee: 8 euros pp
Gas stop: 31
Tolls on drive down: 18 euros (all at once… for like not that long, it was kind of crazy)
Lunch at McD’s: 11 euros
Total thus far on day 6: 120 for 2 people