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Most visitors recommend taking an overnight trip to the famous tidal island of Mont Saint Michel, and rightfully so. Unwilling to leave our base in the city, however, we decided to take this day tour from Paris.
Being on the far side of Normandy, it’s important to note that this trip requires five hours of driving in each direction- so you really make sure that you’re invested in seeing this abbey, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Our day started off with an issue at the Metro, so of course we ended up jogging through the streets of Paris at dawn to make our pick up time. If we’re not running late, did it even really happen? Upon arrival, our tickets were checked and we were shown to a comfortable and clean double-decker bus for our journey.
Our guide was very informative and friendly- he spoke both English and Spanish and gave us an overview of the island in both languages.
According to legend, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop of Avranches in 708 instructing him to build the church. Over the next hundred years, the Mont became a popular pilgrimage site until it was captured by Vikings in 847. From this point, the Mont regularly gained strategic and military significance- most notably when it was unable to be captured during the Hundred Years War.
Our guide was very good at allowing time for napping- something that I was very grateful for, given the early pick up time. The driving portion of the trip was divided into two sections by a bathroom break at a rest stop two hours out of the city. This is a good time to grab a quick breakfast or dinner, depending on the direction.
As we got closer, the distinct silhouette of Mont-Saint Michel rose out of the mist in the distance- our first view of the beautiful island! The parking lots for this site are located about 1.5 miles away from the Mont, and there are regular shuttles that take passengers to a location just a few minutes walk away.
We were divided into two groups since the abbey only allows limited numbers of people on each tour and our guide showed us around both the abbey and the town surrounding it. Our guide was chock full of details about the abbey and always willing to answer questions.
After our tour, we ducked out of the Mont to experience the best part of visiting at low tide- we could literally walk on the bottom of the sea! Alright, maybe it’s just sand, but it was still very cool! It’s also one of the few times I’ve legitimately had to look out for quicksand. My younger self feels very validated right now.
The tide rises every 12 hours or so to make Mont-Saint Michel into it’s famous island, and keep in mind that it can rise very quickly- not something you’d want to be caught in.
With this tour, you’ll only have about four hours to explore the island itself, including the guided tour so it’s important to plan ahead.
Where to Eat
There are several restaurants in the village at the foot of Mont-Saint-Michel. The most famous of these is La Mère Poulard, which has what is supposedly the best omelettes in the world. Between the long line and the 28 Euro price tag, I was not going to be finding this out for myself. Those interested may want to consider making a table reservation in advance.
Instead, we settled for a nearby restaurant that had what would turn out to be my favorite crepes from the whole trip and a mug of cider brewed locally! Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the name, but the main pathway is lined with shops and restaurants for visitors.
Keep in mind that many of theses restaurants are seasonal- and the rest close early! Don’t spend so much time marveling at the church that you miss out on lunch!
What to See
While the tour of Mont Saint Michel was already included in our trip, I also really enjoyed taking a walk along the church ramparts for an amazing panoramic view, and running down to the beach to check out the whole island from below.
When to Visit
The timing of a trip to Mont Saint Michel is really dictated by two things- how much of a crowd are you comfortable with and are do you want to walk on the beach. Mont Saint Michel is famous for it’s tidal island, so it’s common that visitors want to see it in it’s island form. This usually takes place in the spring and summer and typically around full and new moons and is the best time to visit for that view. This does, however, mean that crowds will increase significantly around that time.
We visited in early December, which meant that not only were we able to walk around on the beach surrounding the island, but also that there were a relatively few number of people there. There were some disadvantages with many of the island’s restaurants being closed for winter, but I found this trade off to be worth it. Just make sure to dress warmly- it’s windy and cold on the water!
Be prepared for a lot of steps and uneven cobblestones. While there were accessibly toilets towards the bottom of the village, there are quite a few steps between the village and the abbey. The official website does a good job of explaining their accessibility options here.
All in all, I highly recommend this day tour for visitors interested in seeing Mont-Saint-Michel. It does require a full day of traveling outside of the city, but in my opinion it was worth it to not have to drive or pack up and move to a new location.