Where should we go this year?
We had decided to make another trip to Europe to visit things we had not yet previously
seen, and we knew that we wanted Mont Saint-Michel to be part of this trip.
As our plans already included a trip to Paris to explore the Le Marais area, we enhanced our travel schedule to allow us sufficient time for a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel.
Before you proceed, if you are looking for a really good video of the island, click here. This video was taklen from a drone and is one of the best we've seen! The video is the property of LET'S FLY ! [PRODUCTION] via YouTube.
Caution: We are not (repeat NOT) advocating day-tripping to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris. Our time schedule was created months in advance and we wanted to spend the majority of our time elsewhere, so we devised a day-trip schedule that allowed us to explore the island quickly & efficiently. Our time management method might not work for everyone, but it worked out perfectly for us.
We ruled out renting a car when we realized that we would need to conserve our energy to explore the entire island. We ruled out tour buses because their schedules ate up most of the day, so we researched train schedules to see if they would be faster and found that if we departed Paris in the early morning, that we could arrive at Mont Saint-Michel with enough time to do everything that we wanted to see there and get back to Paris in the evening of the same day. This was all because the TGV trains operate at 300 kilometers per hour and I doubt that anyone could match that speed if they drove!
We came up with the following transportation plan, based upon using the Train schedule information found online (note: schedules at that time, which may differ now);
- We rode the Paris Metro from the Saint Paul Metro Station (nearest to our VRBO rental) to the Gare Montparnasse train station. Keep in mind that the Metro starts at 5:30AM each weekday and 2AM on Friday & Saturday.
- We boarded the 6:52AM TGV train to Rennes.
- At Rennes, we switched to a regional (TER) train to Pontorson.
- In Pontorson, we boarded a local bus to Mont Saint-Michel.
- The Pontorson Tour Bus meets every arriving train, no need for reservations. You will be taken directly to the island causeway, and dropped off next to the main gate.
- Our return trip to Paris was dictated by the Train schedule from Rennes to Paris, so we picked a 3PM train from Pontorson, so that we would arrive in Rennes in time for the Paris train. We were back in Paris by 7PM and ate dinner on the way back to our VRBO rental.
- This schedule provided us with a total of over five hours to explore the island and have lunch. This is more than enough time to do a thorough walk through the entire structure, taking pictures & enjoying everything there is to see.
If you do decide to drive to Mont Saint-Michel from Paris, note that the public parking lots are 2.5 kilometers away from the Abbey. From the parking area a free shuttle bus is available to visitors: called the Passeur. It starts from the shuttle hub, located next to the Tourist Information Centre, right next to the parking area. The Passeur will take you to the Mont Saint-Michel end stop, located 350 metres away from the city walls and it runs non-stop from 7.30am to 12.00am. It takes about 12 minutes for the shuttle to drive from the shuttle hub to the end stop.
When you enter the main gate, it is not immediately clear that there are two routes to the top. We
took the Porte Eschaugette route by turning left and going up the stairs. If you turn right and
follow the crowds, you will be entering the village area and it is slow movement due to the very narrow (and steep)
street and dense crowds.
The advantage of heading to the top on the route we selected, is that you are going to be able to get to the top without the crowds and visit the Abbey then you can see the village as you descend, so you will have as much time as you have to visit the little shops.
You should also keep in mind that taking the Porte Eschaugette route will require you to ascend a very steep trail and then steps at the top. The trail is a switch-back, so the ascent varies in steepness. Once you reach the top, you will be able to enter various areas of the Abbey that require you to traverse more steps.
Abbey entrance tickets are available, we purchased ours (€10 per person) in the visitors center on the left side of the main entrance. They check tickets at the Abbey entrance, so you need to have one or you will not be able to enter. Getting the tickets down below allowed us to skip the line at the top.
The following images & text, will show you our exploration of the entire island, the Abbey as well as the restaurant where we had lunch.
Here we are: Initial View of the Abbey
This was our initial view of the island after getting off the bus, the buses leave passengers off at approximately 100 meters from the main gate.
Various Methods of Transport
Besides the buses, there were horse drawn carriages, other tour buses, etc. It is about a two kilometer hike to the closest parking area. For those of you who don't like to "hike", there are a lot of alternatives.
The Closer we get
The island and Abbey are amazing, and as you can see the entire entire island "is" the Abbey. These views just made us even more eager to begin our trek through the Abbey.
Great background for a Picture!
With the Abbey so picturesque, we just had to stop and take a set of pictures!
The Pontorson bus from the train station, dropped us off on the causeway that leads out to the Abbey, so this was our first closeup view of this magnificent structure. The bus drop-off stop was perhaps 100 yards from the entrance.
See how the water has not quite completely receded? In less than an hour, it was nothing but sand and the water had departed for the English Channel. When you first learn that the water depth around the island (when the tide is in) can reach 15+ meters, you realize that a receding tide is a gigantic amount of water!
Main entrance area of Mont Saint-Michel
The stairs in the background of
this picture show you the route that we took. This method allowed us to not have to walk
through the village and the crowds that were already gathering. This is a rather steep way to get to
the top of the Abbey, but the views were well worth the effort.
The little building in the background, just above the stairs, is where we purchased our Abbey entrance tickets - do not forget to acquire those tickets, or you will be denied entrance !
View from the Top
A view of the area around the Abbey from the very top of the Abbey structure. You can see how the tide has almost completely receded, tidal variation here can be 15 meters or higher.
It is comprised of a church, several museums, and numerous areas where various church functions were carried out. These areas include places where the monks lived, ate and performed church functions.
Tidal Flats Tours
You can see a tour group setting out for a walk about the sandy area exposed during low tide. Although you do not need to be in a tour group to walk about, one must be aware of when the tide comes back, as well as being able to avoid the quicksand areas.
What happens to Boats when the tide is out
It is apparently "normal" for boats to be left at anchor when the tide goes out, obviously that boat is not going to move until the tide returns and refloats it!.
It is a Steep Walk to the Top
Did I mention that the route to the Abbey is steep? The steepness is continuous all the
way from the main entrance to the top of the island! Fortunately for the walker, the trail
has to keep switching back & forth in order to ascend to the top.
Seriously though, if you are not used to steep walks or are not in reasonably good health, you might not want to take this walk!
Occasional "flat spots" on the way up
It is fortunate that the route we followed would occasionally "flatten out" as it looped back and forth! We paused
here and took this picture of people descending back towards the The Center for National Monuments.
Many of the websites that talk about Mont Saint-Michel, describe that the total walking distance to tour the entire island is approximately 2 kilometers. Because the island is relatively small, the 2 kilometer description gives you some idea of how the trail loops back and forth.
As you ascend the Trail
You have to keep looking up & around you, or you will
miss these incredible views!
See the gargoyles sticking out from the top of the building in this picture? They are actually there to prevent rainwater from running down the masonry wall and slowly erode the mortar between the stones, thereby weakening the structure. By "sticking out" away from the building, the rainwater is forced away from the building, on it's way down.
For a more complete discussion of gargoyles (and some great pictures) found on French buildings, click here.
Spire of the Abbey
These are the kinds of views you get as you descend
from the Abbey at the top of the island to the village at the bottom. This image
is the inner courtyard of the Abbey, you can just barely see the tops of the
walkway arches on the very bottom right of this image. At the extreme left of this image,
is the entrance to the church (not available for tourist entrance however).
A gilded statue of St. Michael is at the very top of the spire.
This mechanism (called the Treadwheel crane) is how they hoisted heavy objects from the
lower levels to the upper floors of the Abbey.
The Treadwheel crane served as a windlass and was installed when Mont Saint-Michel was a prison, to bring supplies to the prisoners. Some prisoners would walk inside the wheel to rotate it.
The abbey was closed in 1791 and converted into a prison, initially to hold clerical opponents of the republican regime (up to 300 priests at one point). The abbey was then nicknamed 'bastille des mers' (Bastille of the sea). It remained a prison until 1863.
La Mere Poulard Restaurant
The restaurant was founded by Anne "Annette" Boutiaut (1851-1931), who
married Victor Poulard on 14 January 1873 and founded the Hostellerie de la Tête d'Or, finding that
customers came and went quickly with the tide, giving them the idea of cooking giant omelettes in
a wooden hearth to make them stay.
There are a number of places to eat in the village, see our "eateries list" at the bottom of this page.
Omelet Preparation at La Mere Poulard
This is the La Mere Poulard restaurant Kitchen. These omelets are quite large, and
I would imagine that the restaurant uses a lot of eggs each business day!
Notice how the large doors are open to the kitchen? Those doors open to the village street and the cooks preparing omelets draw quite a crowd, who enjoy watching the cooking activities!
A very good French friend of ours told us about this famous restaurant in the village area of Mont Saint-Michel. He told us to be sure and visit La Mere Poulard and that we would enjoy the omelets! However, this restaurant is pricey so be prepared - however - the omelettes are very good!
By the time we had hiked the Porte Eschaugette route, walked through the Abbey and visited every nook of the entire structure, we were very hungry. Touristy? Yes... Pricey? Yes - but very filling and very tasty!
If you take the Porte Eschaugette route, you will walk very close to this area, which is on the western side of the island.
La salle des Chevaliers (the Knight’s room): This room earned its name from the St. Michael
Knights’ Order, founded by King Louis XI. The King intended for the knights to meet here in this
room annually, however history says that these meetings never took place because of the distance
of Mont Saint-Michel from Paris. The end result was that the monks spent much of their time to copy and illuminate precious
manuscripts in this room.
Situated on the second floor of the Merveille, this hall is divided in four naves of different width by three rows of columns ; the southern nave is built on the rock, the other two on the pillars of the room beneath.
This room is directly underneath the cloister, and these columns and vaults support the weight of the cloister and its garden.
Crypt of the Massive Pillars: has long been a source of fascination for researchers. “In 1421 the choir of the Roman church collapsed and, with it, a part of its supporting crypt,” Yves Gallet (professor of medieval art history at the Université Bordeaux-Montaigne) recounts. “Later in that century, both the chancel and what we call the Crypt of the Massive Pillars were rebuilt in the purest Gothic style.” However, the Roman remnants in the crypt led the historian to question the actual age of the granite columns. “The form and appearance of the Gothic choir just above it got me thinking,” he says. “Although it is in the flamboyant style typical of the 15th century, it has the layout of older Rayonnant churches, like Évreux Cathedral, which is 200 years older.”
Gallet surmises that some of the pillars of the Romanesque choir withstood the collapse and were “sheathed” (reinforced) to bear the weight of the Gothic chancel, whose walls rise higher than the previous Roman structure. In order to align the church’s colonnades with those of the crypt, its layout was modeled after an older building. This hypothesis was corroborated by a GPR study in the autumn of 2016: “The probes revealed the presence of a core of different stone inside the Gothic pillars,” Gallet reports.
Cloister Garden: At one point several hundred years ago, they actually grew food in this area. This area is located above ("on top of") the Knight’s room, and the water for the garden continually leaked into the that room below. After repeated attempts to stop the water leaks, use of this area as a garden was eventually abandoned.
Contrary to tradition, this cloister was not built at the centre of the monastery and thus does not link with all the other buildings. Nonetheless, as in every monastery, it is a place of contemplation, a promenade uniquely for the monks. It also used to serve as an open air library as monks were usually copying books or simply reading. In order to build this space, the northern part of the Abbey’s transept had to be partially reduced. The western, gallery was supposed open onto another building, mentioned before, and the three bay windows would have been the doors.
The Nave and Gothic Choir area
Everything on the island (Interior & exterior of all
buildings) is granite stone, and as you can see here, it is not
only very pretty, but it is in excellent condition for as old as it is.
All of the stones were transported here from nearby quarries in boats, then hauled up the steep slope by ropes and sheer human strength.
A substantial amount of the granite was quarried from the Chausey Islands, and the granite extracted there was brought to the island by barges during high tide. The Chausey Islands belonged to the monks, as they were given to them by the Duke of Normandy in 1022.
The rough granite was finished at the island after it was delivered, which allowed the stone masons to create stones for specific construction areas of the island's structures.
The Abbey was entirely constructed between 1203 and 1228, but has undergone a number of enhancements and changes over the years.
Located in the monks living area of the Abbey and
it is adjacent to the cloister area. The refectory is covered by a wooden vault, far
lighter than stone.
The refectory is where the monks ate their meals in silence. To provide light to this large room, the side walls are pierced with narrow windows invisible from the entrance.
Town or Parking Lot Transportation: The horse carraige is the more leisurely way to get back to the parking lots and there are other methods including; walking, buses, taxis, etc. You may want to keep in mind that the parking lots are over 2 kilometers from the Abbey gates.
Village Shops: Most of the shops and restaurants in the village, or at least the ones that are on the east side of the island's only street, have doors that open onto a stone rampart that allows a great view of the tidal area below the wall.
Eastern side of the Island
The village is located only on the eastern side of the island, facing towards the bay & the mainland. There are a number of shops, creperies and restaurants here in the village.
Approaching the Village from the Summit
This is the village view you get as you walk down from the Abbey, you can see the trail continuing in the center of this image.
Abbey North Face
As we were walking up the trail, we noticed this ramp leading up to the building.
We learned later, that this ramp was used to haul cargo into the Abbey using
the Treadwheel Crane. You can see how steep that ramp is, I would imagine that hauling
anything up that ramp would be physically challenging.
If you go back to the top of this page, the large image shows this ramp (left center of the large image) and where it can be found on the side of the structure.
Treadwheel Crane Pulley & Chain System
Looking down the ramp from the upper level of the Abbey. You can see the "cargo cart" used to hold the items being hauled in place until the cart arrived at the top.
English Channel side of the Abbey
We came into the Abbey with the intention
of walking around this side on our way to the highest part of the Abbey. Due to the steep
walk ways on this side, the crowds were not as large as they were on the bay side of the
At the top of this picture, you can see the top of the spire that is on the very top of the Abbey. This is the "back side" of it, the earlier picture showed it from the front side.
To see the Abbey like we did, turn left (the Porte Eschaugette route) at the main gate because it is the least crowded route up to the top, and make sure you get your camera ready! Do not turn right (after the main gate) and enter the village, as this will have you walking along with the crowd.
Mont Saint-Michel Village
If you had not turned left and followed the Porte Eschaugette route,
you would have to wind your way through the village area shown in this image. The later in the day
you arrive, the thicker the crowds are going to be.
I have to admit though, there were a lot of interesting shops in the village. I am glad that we took the Porte Eschaugette route and saw the village after the Abbey. We were able to do a bit of window shopping and bought a few souvenirs as we explored the village.
- 2018 Europe Trip Overview & Guide We started in Paris and it has been called many things, but we like to think of it as one of our favorite cities in Europe, click here to read more.
- Mont Saint-Michel, France: We did this as a day trip from Paris, there is a lot of mis-information on the Internet about how to do exactly that, so click here to view our Mont Saint-Michel page and see how we did it.
- Nice, France: The capital of the French Riviera along the Cote d’Azure. A city of rich culture and history with a laid back vibe - a vibe very different than Paris. Click here to view our Nice France page.
- Principality of Monaco: Monaco is only a short train ride (~20 kilometers) from Nice and is more scenic than the images we took could possibly capture. Click here to view our Monaco page.
- Madrid Spain: The capital of Spain, and neither of us had ever been there so we were anxious to see what it was all about. Click here to view our Madrid page.
- A Week in Portugal: This destination was the centerpiece of this trip to Europe., click here to view our Portugal page.
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