Brittany (Normandy), Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel France

I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur (Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

After taking the tedious coast road route I was becoming increasingly impatient to get there and we eventually arrived at the elusive abbey and made our way to the car park.  Until quite recently it was possible to drive across a causeway (at low tide – very important) and park close to the walls but in 2012 all of this visitor convenience was ended with the demolition of the causeway (due to environmental (some say economic) reasons) and its replacement with a bridge and a new car park and a swanky visitor centre about a mile and a half away.

Having recently visited Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland and the horrific National Trust rip-off I was worried about cost but I was pleasantly surprised to find a flat rate car parking fee and no charge to enter the centre.

There is free bus transport to the tidal island but we choose to walk so that we could appreciate the stunning approach much as monks or pilgrims would have had over the centuries and it took us forty minutes or so to reach the entrance.  I thought there must surely be a fee, but no, it too was free and I liked this place even more.

Mont St Michel Normandy Brittany France

Once inside I wasn’t so keen because here was a busy tourist street lined with souvenir shops and bars that reminded me of Rocamadour and Carcassonne in the south of France and I was glad to elbow my way through the trashy commercial parts, which made it seem like more amusement park than UNESCO World Heritage site, until the crowds thinned out and we began our weary ascent to the top.

There were an awful lot of steps but at the top we were rewarded with fine views over the sandbanks of the gulf of St Malo and inland towards Normandy on our left and Brittany to the right.  It has to be said that this is a truly wonderful spot and a great place to build an Abbey and later a walled fortress.

From the Abbey’s highest point we admired the natural beauty of the bay and were convinced that we could see the Channel Islands in the distance. The river below us marked the historic border between the two regions of Brittany and Normandy who have long vied for geographic ownership of Mont St. Michel. In fact, the river used to pass Mont St-Michel on the other side, making the abbey part of Brittany. Today, the river’s route is stable and the abbey is just barely, but beyond challenge, on Normandy soil.

According to legend (and the travel writer Rick Steves), the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to “build here and build high.” and added “If you build it…they will come.” Saint Michael, whose gilded statue decorates the top of the abbey’s spire, was the patron saint of many French kings, making this a favoured place for French royalty through the ages.

I always thought that quote came from the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams but it seems the scriptwriters must have borrowed it because it wasn’t only Archangel Michael who said it but also President Theodore Roosevelt who used it to encourage the financial backers of the Panama Canal project.

Mont St Michel Door

I expected to stay longer at Mont St. Michel but the truth is that it is rather tiny and once you have climbed to the top and then back down again there isn’t an awful lot left to do so after a couple of hours we left through the main gate and made our way back to the car park.

It was getting late and no one was really enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk so we lined up instead for a shuttle bus.  This being France there wasn’t a queue but rather a bit of an unruly rugby scrum that would have had a referee reaching for his yellow card and we wondered how long we might have to wait.  We needn’t have worried because Kim is just as an accomplished a queue jumper as any Frenchman and she pushed her way to the front and dragged us all along with her until we had elbowed our way onto the first bus.

mont st michel Normandy France

One very good reason for remaining longer would have been to have stayed on the island overnight in one of the hotels.  I investigated the possibility of this but when it comes to hotel prices I have a tipping point and hotels on Mont St Michel were way beyond mine so I had made alternative arrangements inland.

As it turned out I was really pleased about that because at a fraction of the cost we found ourselves staying at a local Auberge.  It was only £50 a night, with a magnificent night time view of the Abbey from a restaurant that specialised in lamb dishes fed and fattened on the local seawater grass and over evening meal we watched the sun disappear into the sea and the Abbey slowly illuminated in the gathering dusk.

I had not been disappointed by Mont St Michel.

What is top of your bucket list?

Mont St Michel and Sheep

Please pop across and visit two of my favourite bloggers – Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels)

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36 responses to “Brittany (Normandy), Mont St Michel

  1. Nice post! You have beautiful photos wish there was more! 🙂

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  2. Visiting this is one of my most wonderful memories. What a great post. I really enjoyed your telling of your visit. Your hotel stay sounded brilliant too. I hope to get back there next year. Best wishes! TJ

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  3. Loved that place… but was last there back in ’94

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  4. A great write up – we could not wait to get to the top either, especially as we had a small dog in tow! Thanks for the mention.

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  5. 2 hours is quick for a bucket list experience! To answer your question, I think mine would be The Great Wall of China.

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    • Well, once you have walked to the top and back there isn’t much more to do except stop for an expensive beer in an overpriced bar. Two hours is enough.
      I’d rather like to see the Great Wall of China but it seems to me that access is generally restricted to a few heavily restored and touristic spots and away from these it is in a sad state of disrepair.

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  6. There is something so strange about Cornwall having its own extremely similar St Michael’s Mount, more or less opposite on the other side of the Channel. And why the same archangel? Very strange.

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    • This from Wikipedia explains –
      “In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.”

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  7. Andrew, that last photo is simply magical. It’s like a movie scene, and I almost started singing “we’re off to see the wizard.” Speaking of movies, I too associate the phrase “if you build it they will come” to Field of Dreams. It’s a great phrase and I’m glad to hear others have used it.

    This island is totally gorgeous the way it’s built up and I am sad to hear it’s touristy and filled with commerce on the inside. I’m guessing it’s been filled with commerce for a long time, but in the beginning the streets were probably filled with vendors selling wool and meat pies, rather than T-shirts and umbrella drinks. Your photos do it justice and show no hint of tourism, to my eye.

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  8. What an abbey. I can only imagine the view from the top.
    Sounds spectacular! 🙂

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  9. No bucket list for me. I tend to like trips taken on impulse with a minimum of fuss or planning, but we are leaning toward heading north up to the Olympic Peninsula and possibly the inland passage.

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  10. One of my favorite places in the world for sure. It doesn’t disappoint for one second. I would recommend visiting or staying at night to see it without tourists and in the nightlight.

    The sheep shot is amazing!

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  11. Ok my travel envy meter shot out the roof Andrew. Yes another for the list. On my bucket list well you name it really. I will be disappointed if I leave this world without getting to Antarctica.

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  12. Thank you for the link, Andrew.

    I think Mont St Michel is one of those places that must be viewed from a distance. They are not so interesting inside. Like you, we lived outside of the abbey and every morning and evening enjoyed its magical look. And took million photos.

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  14. Always seems to be a magical place, and one I have never been to, Andrew. Peggy has visited there and always raves about the beauty. As for sheep, I’ve seen plenty. (grin) Great photo of the flock though. –Curt

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