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.
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.
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.
A sign just outside the gates politely informs visitors that they are under video surveillance (for our own protection, of course).
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.
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.
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.
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.
This town has a LOT of stairs. No idea how the two people I saw in wheelchairs managed to see anything.
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).
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?
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. 😉
…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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.