One of the places we wanted to visit during our trip to Normandy was Mont Saint Michel. There is one overwhelming reason for visiting this town on the border between Normandy and Brittany—the iconic Mont Saint-Michel Abbey which is visible from miles away, and gets more dramatic the closer you get. We joined the hordes of people stopping to snap photos as we approached the area.
The highlight of visiting this ancient area is the Mont Saint Michel Abbey. The abbey is located on an island connected to the mainland by a sandbar which is submerged at high tide (although a recently-built causeway greatly facilitates access). You can reach the island by a shuttle bus from the parking lot (the shuttle is free but you pay for parking) or you can talk a lengthy walk to get there.
When you reach the island and cross the drawbridge, you enter a narrow village street crammed with tourist restaurants, hotels and souvenir stores, and wall-to-wall people. As you climb the street, you eventually reach the abbey which towers above the sea and forms an almost perfect cone on the horizon. A walk through the abbey (you buy a ticket to enter) begins on the terrace and takes you up and down through multiple levels to visit different rooms, each built in different styles to reflect the ages in which they were constructed. Among the most dramatic of these are the abbey church (which caps the island at 80 meters above sea level), the cloister, the large refectory (where the 55 monks who lived in the abbey took their meals), the guest hall (where the monks received visitors—especially benefactors), the Knight’s Hall (where, since it was never visited by knights, was used for study and to produce manuscripts) and the crypts (with its monumental support columns and the wheel used to hoist supplies from down below).
Once you reach the top of the abbey, you also have a beautiful view of the landscape around it. Unfortunately, we only saw it at low tide. If you go, go to the island twice: once it high tide and once at low tide. We didn’t and regret it.
Dinner and Lodging in Mont Saint Michel
We didn’t have a lot of choices of places to eat, but choose to eat at Le Pre Sale. After having large multi-course meals on our trip so far, we went on a “diet” this time, splitting one four course meal plus an a la carte entrée. The first course, as usual, consisted of the still wonderful local oysters, this time with a few langoustines. Our two dinners were fish (a perfectly cooked grilled sea bass wonderfully complemented by a citrus fruit butter sauce and a salad of leaks) and meat (a lamb platter with leg, skewer and fillet). These were followed by two local cheeses (Livarot, our favorite, and Pont L’Eveque) and a dessert of passion fruit and raspberry dome with a small cake topped with fruit and topped with a layer of light white chocolate, in an artfully designed puddle of passion fruit and raspberry sauce. While the oysters are always wonderful, the sea bass and the dome were the highlights of this meal. The only downside was that the fish (the a la carte item) was delivered at the same time as the appetizer of the four course meal. Strange.
Our hotel was in Mont Saint Michel and was the Mercure Mont Saint Michel. We had to get a code to drive our car into the area, but once there we had free parking (and free wifi). When we first saw the outside of the hotel, it looked more like a motel to us than a hotel. Our room was on the second floor in the building with our room entrance off the hallway. The room itself was pleasant and surprised us It was clean with comfortable beds and good wifi. And, it is in Mont Saint Michael itself. You can walk to the castle if you want. It is well worth it to stay within Mont Saint Michael.