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A Weekend at Mont Saint-Michel

Mont-St-Michel

Last weekend my friends and I went to Le Mont Saint Michel, the UNESCO World Heritage site on the border of Normandy and Brittany. The abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael was founded in the 8th century. If you go (and you should), I highly recommend staying overnight. We also did a short lunch detour to the cute little village of Villedieu-les-Pôeles.

Mont St Michel
First view of Mont St-Michel

On April 9th my friends and I left Paris at rush hour (because we’re too Parisian to get up early) and drove to Le Mont St Michel, about 3 hours northwest of Paris on the Normandy/Brittany border. It’s hard to resist stopping when you first catch a glimpse of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Walking path sign
Here’s one of the signs for the coastal walking path that leads to the Mont St-Michel.
Mont St Michel
It doesn’t look real from far away (I keep hearing “It’s only a model” à la Monty Python).
Mont St Michel
Arrival at Mont St-Michel

Parking at Mont St Michel in April wasn’t too difficult, we found a spot relatively close to the entrance (the fee is €5 for 24 hours). In high season you have to park a few miles away on the mainland and take a shuttle or walk to the island.

sign
Somebody’s Watching You

A sign just outside the gates politely informs visitors that they are under video surveillance (for our own protection, of course).

The Streets of Mont St-Michel
The Streets of Mont St-Michel

There’s only one street through town, with stairs and pedestrian paths connecting the different areas. Even in April the street is packed tightly with tourists. A small garbage truck (basically a forklift with a bin on the front) had to honk continuously to pass through. Deliveries are made (with much noise) early in the morning before the first tour buses arrive from Paris.

Souvenir tins
Souvenirs from Mont St Michel
decorative plates
More souvenirs…
Statues of St-Michel
Statues of St-Michel

There are many photos, statues and postcards featuring the Archangel Saint Michael defeating the dragon (representing the devil). A local Archbishop in the 8th century had a vision of Saint Michael, and built the pilgrimage site on the present site of Mont St-Michel. You can read the whole detailed history of Mont St-Michel here.

Hotel Le Mouton Blanc
Hotel Le Mouton Blanc

We stayed at the Hôtel Le Mouton Blanc on the main street, a basic budget hotel with great views. Yes, you can see Mont St Michel on a day trip from Paris, but that’s almost 7 hours in a car or bus (assuming there’s no traffic returning to Paris) and you don’t get to see the island without the huge crowds. A shame, considering hotels are easy to find under €100/night, either on the island or just across the causeway.

View
A Room with a View

The room in the attic is so small I feel like a giant, but the water is hot, the mattresses firm, and the views impressive.

Rooftops
Other Rooftops
Stairs
Stairs of Mont St Michel

This town has a LOT of stairs. No idea how the two people I saw in wheelchairs managed to see anything.

Stairway
Stairway to Nowhere
Abbey Stairs
Abbey Stairs

These lead to the entrance of the Abbey. It really is that dark! When the tourists leave and the abbey closes to the public at 6pm, you can wait at the locked wooden doors to be let in for Vespers service at 6:30pm. There are only seven of us waiting the evening I went. Six of us were there as tourists, one to pray. The service is almost entirely sung by the Benedictine monks and nuns of the Abbey, absolutely beautiful (no photos allowed).

abbey walls
Walls of the Abbey
Abbey walls
passages
Exploring the passages…
small garden
A tiny garden for a tiny house.
Mont St Michel view
Much of what is seen today was built between the 13th and 19th centuries.
Walkways
More stairs
More stairs…
Stairs, stairs, stairs..
Stairs, stairs, stairs..
Door
Most of the doors on the island look like this.
Statue St Michel
Saint Michel
Empty island
By 7pm the Mont St-Michel is practically empty of day-trippers and most of the stores start to close.
Butter dish
Restaurant Mère Poulard

The most famous restaurant/hotel on the Mont St Michel is La Mère Poulard. Part of the kitchen where they make the famous omlettes (more like soufflés, they’re huge but light and fluffy) is open to the public. How can anyone pass up a bowl of butter like that?

The Beater
Beating eggs at Mère Poulard

I’m sure there’s an official name for the guys who stand there all night beating the eggs. They make a little song out of it. I think they’re having way too much fun. 😉

Heather at Mère Poulard
Actually…

…I just wanted to warm my bottom next to the big fireplace (it gets chilly after dark). Was also hoping I could lick the butter spoon. Alas, they do actually have hygiene standards.

Mère Poulard Dining Room
Mère Poulard Dining Room

Every famous person you’ve ever heard of (except, perhaps, Lady Gaga) has eaten here. They have the signed pictures to prove it. I forgot to take a photo of my omelette, it was just too fabulous I got distracted. See the pics on their website (it’s a main dish).

copper dish
Too cute!

They sell it as a little foie gras dish, but I’m using it for butter. They sell it in the Mère Poulard boutique up next to the bar.

Mont St Michel After Dark
Mont St Michel After Dark
Island at night
Quiet

The island is practically deserted after dark, and even though there are a lot of lights, it helps to bring a flashlight if you want to walk around. It feels a bit like being on the set of Labyrinth!

Abbey entrance
The Abbey

The Abbey opens for visitors at 9:30am in April until 6pm (last entry 5pm). You need a good hour to see everything. There are free guided tours in French and English, or audio guided tours for an extra €4. I would NOT recommend just walking through without some sort of guide or detailed guidebook, because it’s so much more interesting when you know what you’re looking at.

Built into the rock
Built into the rock…
more stairs
I wish we had a counter…I’m sure I did a few thousand stairs in two days!
silhouette
I love this view of the bay with the shadow of Mont St Michel on it…
Facade
Imposing Facade
stones
You can see the marks of the stone cutters in many of the stones of Mont St Michel.
worn down stone
Timeworn

The Mont St Michel has been restored many, many times. It’s much more obvious when you see sections that have been worn down over the centuries.

Cloisters
Cloisters
stonework
Elaborate Stonework
stained glass
Cupcakes and Scallops
St Michel statue
Saint Michel of the Gift Shop

The tour of the abbey ends at the gift shop (of course), where an imposing statue of St Michel makes you think twice before leaving without a souvenir.

Villediue-les-Pôeles
Villediue-les-Pôeles

About 45 minutes from Mont St Michel is a cute little town called Villedieu-les-Pôeles (God Town of the Pots, roughly translated). It’s famous for its copper pots (also brass and pewter), and for not getting the crap bombed out of it during WWII like every other town in Normandy.

Copper Pots
Famous Copper Pots: Cuivre (copper), laiton (brass), etain (pewter).
Villedieu church
The Village Church
crepes
My Crêpe

We stopped for lunch at a crêperie (La Cuisine de Leonie, behind the church) and I felt brave so I ordered the “boudin noir et compote pomme” (blood sausage and hot apple sauce). When it came, all of my friends had a good laugh.

Empty plate
Crêpe Epilogue: But I showed them (it was actually very good).
copper Normandie
Au Revoir, Normandie

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  • Hi Clara, What you and many visitors don't realize is that Normandy is a region — and a large one! — which is a minimum of three hours' drive from Paris (IF there is no traffic). So it's not only a long way to get there and back, it can take over an hour just to get from the D-Day beaches to Mont St Michel (and now that you can't drive onto the island, you have to park on land and take the shuttle). hose who try to see it in a daytrip from Paris are not doing themselves any favors (and I don't know any reputable guides who will even do this anymore). Staying at least one night is best, and hiring a local guide is less expensive than having a Paris guide with you the whole time. Check with the Caen tourism office for a list of registered local guides.

  • Will be in Paris late November. Most tours not available. How can we 2 get a short tour of Omaha plus mt st michele – only affording one day. We got a private quote for 2 days and it was over $3000 US. Just want something good but more affordable. Thank you so much. Clara

  • A night at Mere Pollard, enjoying one of their butter/eggs/more butter/more eggs omelets, having a drink at the bar where Hemingway once sat, and walking around the Mont at night without hardly a soul about… priceless.

  • In January 2009 we stayed the night at Mont Saint-Michel, we had a magical two days with only a hand full of tourists. We love Paris in winter oh and of course spring, but we find winter is fabulous