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I had wanted to visit this imposing fortress on its own island (but only at high tide) since the day I saw a photo of it, so there was nary a doubt that I would find my way there by hook or by crook the very next time I found myself in Paris (because the first time, I only had 36 hours in Paris on a Contiki tour). Imagine my disappointment when I got to the lookout point to find my view partially obscured by cranes and campervans. Oh well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my travels, it’s that things don’t always go your way and you shouldn’t let anything dampen your spirits.
But first things first. The Mont St Michel is an island commune situated just under 400km west of Paris and 1km off the northwestern coast of France, in the lower Normandy region. It is a world heritage site and one of the most famous landmarks in France, receiving over 300 million visitors a year, so you can expect to rub shoulders with other tourists on your visit. As such an immensely popular destination, you will also find no shortage of tour companies to take you there on a day trip, though if I had been travelling with a group of friends, I would have much preferred to drive there over a few days as this would have afforded me more time to find the best spots to take photos as well as taking in a few other castles on the way around the Loire Valley.
Alas, I was flying solo and did not fancy driving on the other side of the road all on my lonesome for 4 hours there and 4 hours back, and I only had 1 day, so tour bus it was. I can’t remember exactly which company I booked with, but the name Paris City Vision seems to ring a bell. Regardless of who you go with, the itineraries are fairly similar. With such a long journey, it will be a long roughly 14 hour day with an early start, not too many stops (if you’re going to make all that effort to go, you might as well maximise your time there) and a late finish back in Paris. But, trust me, it will be worth it!
On the day I visited, our first stop was the medieval village of Gerberoy, approximately 1/2 hour northwest from the town of Beauvais and just under 2 hours from Paris. There, we were able to get some deliciously flaky and buttery pastries for breakfast from the local bakery, which I enjoyed while strolling the twisting cobblestone paths and taking in my idyllically rustic surroundings.
From there, it was straight to our lunch stop, where we got our first view of the Mont St Michel itself. This was where I took the photo at the top of this post. By this time, I was itching to set foot there and too excited to really notice or remember where exactly we ate or what we were served.
After what seemed like an eternity, we were finally dropped at the parking lot at the door of the Mont St Michel. The rest of the afternoon was spent slowly climbing up to the top to visit the abbey, and then back down again through quaint narrow windy streets. There has been a church on the island since 709, however it wasn’t until 1421 that the current more grandiose Gothic style abbey was built.
Just under 4 hours west of Paris if you drive directly there, taking either the A13 and A84 through Brittany/upper Normandy (via Rouen and Caen, consider a side trip to Beauvais and Gerberoy), or the A11 through the Loire Valley region (via Chartres, exit at Fougeres). The car park is a long way from the Mont itself, but don’t worry, there’s a free shuttle service.
The abbey is open everyday except Jan 1, May 1 and Dec 25
From May 2-August 31 – 9am-7pm, last admission at 6pm
From Sept 1-April 30 – 9.30am-6pm, last admission at 5pm
Dec 24 and 31 – 9.30am-5pm, last admission at 4pm
You can also attend mass there:
Weekdays except Monday – 7am and 6.30pm
Weekends – 8am
Be at the entrance of the abbey 10 minutes beforehand
€9, €5.50 for 18-25yo, free for under 18s, €7 per person for groups of 20 or more
Tickets are available at the entrance of the abbey
Self guided and one hour guided tours available
This is definitely one of the must-see destinations in France. In fact, I would really love to return one day, but by car next time so that I can take my time exploring. However you get there though, I’m sure you’ll be pleased you made the effort!
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