If we can forget about the Eiffel Tower for just a second, Mont Saint-Michel might just be France’s most iconic monument. The mystical Mont Saint-Michel is a medieval town in Normandy that rises from the sea like a phantom. Yep, I’m not kidding: it’s pretty much an entire village in the middle of the beach.
The Mystique of Mont Saint-Michel
See, I told you! The old town of Mont Saint-Michel was built on top of a rocky island, situated along the shore of the English Channel. The impressive abbey is most iconic, towering on the peak of the mountain. When the sea level rose and fell with the tides, the road to the island used to sink below the water surface and reappear every day.
When the sea level rose and fell with the tides, the road to the island used to sink below the water surface and reappear every day.
The Long History of Mont-Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in France. The town is part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Every single day, a huge number of visitors from all around the globe head to the beach to catch sight of this peculiar island.
Reportedly, it may have been Celtic monks or hermits that first inhabited the original site in the 6th century. Until the year 710, the name of the religious site was “Mont Tombe.” Unfortunately, not much else is known about these early settlers. In later centuries, Mont Saint-Michel became a strategic site in many battles between European forces. While the very first origins of Mont Saint-Michel are thus much older, the abbey’s Romanesque church dates back to the 11th century.
Reportedly, Celtic monks or hermits first inhabited the original site in the 6th century.
Abbey or Prison?
The abbey certainly has an eventful history. Surprisingly, the abbey was even converted into a prison at one point in time. This was a result of the protestant reformation. After the prison closed in 1863, Christian worship was resumed in 1922. The abbey became part of the UNESCO list in 1979, causing the monks to leave.
Then, in 2001, Parisian monks again moved to the abbey to practice their religion and visitors are able to attend services. The abbey is located right on top of the “Mont” and its upper most levels give you access to incredible panoramas of the bay around the little island.
Not to miss: The Views from the Cloister
Here is one of the most crucial tips for visiting Mont Saint-Michel: don’t skip the cloister. The cloister of Mont Saint-Michel is up on one of the highest levels of the Mont, many meters above sea-level. I could see a vast stretch of beach and the sea in the distance.
The original function of this cloister was to bring the monks to meditation, people say.
The original function of this cloister was to bring the monks to meditation, people say. I have to admit, it was quite an unusual experience. A cloister normally doesn’t open to reveal an insanely beautiful view of the open sea.
Best Time to Visit
If you ever find yourself in Normandy, it would be a sin to skip out on Mont Saint-Michel. One downside: it does get very busy. Try to go as early in the day as possible. Alternatively, you can try to time your visit to catch the sunset on a clear and sunny day in winter, spring, or autumn (the sun sets late in summer).
Keep in mind that the summer months are the height of the French tourist season. Mont Saint-Michel is equally beautiful in spring or autumn! April, May, and October are good times to visit. Whichever way works best for you, just know you’ll have to pay a visit. Mont Saint-Michel is open everyday from 9 am to 7 pm.
Tips for Mont Saint-Michel: In Summary
- Don’t miss the view from the cloister (the climb is worth it)
- Bring your own lunch, most of the shops at the Mont are touristy and overpriced.
- Visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds
- Try to avoid the summer months if you can (visitor numbers spike)
- Opening hours are 9:00-19:00