At the age of 19, I decided to embark on my own journey overseas, after having graduated from high school that same year.
See, having lived in five different countries over my lifetime so far, and spending most of my life on the road, travelling, this trip wasn't just a one-off, end of high school celebration trip, but an embarkation to a new journey in my life with travelling.
Le Mont Saint Michel was amongst the list of places we had chosen to visit while visiting France in November/December.
With a monastery that is built on top of a tidal rock-based island, that is located 1km off the coast of Normandy. The presence of the monastery looming like a castle, over the village houses down below, has had an appeal on tourists to visit the island for its history, landmark, geological features, it medieval and gothic style of architecture, and most importantly the monastery, which has served as a sacred ground for pilgrimage practises.
Le Mont Saint Michel is a tidal island that is located on the East Coast, in a region called Normandy.
Travel time to Le Mont Saint Michel from Paris is approximately 4 hours and 17 minutes, depending on the train you take. We booked a return ticket to Le Mont Saint Michel, two days before our trip, with OUI.sncf, for 54 euros per person (this includes both the train and bus ride from Pontorson Mont Saint Michel Station to Le Mont Saint Michel).
The best time to visit Le Mont Saint Michel is from March to October.
July-August: During this time Le Mont Saint Michel can be packed with tourist, as the warmer weather attracts more visitors to come and visit the island. For those looking to avoid the crowds, it is best to steer clear of taking a trip during this time, as it is peak season.
November-February: From here the weather begins to get a lot cooler, as France enters into the winter season, and Le Mont Saint Michel, prepares for its low season of tourists. Having visited Le Mont Saint Michel during this time, we were faced with cooler weather and a lot more rain. But we also missed out on being able to do a guided, coastal tour, from Le Mont Saint Michel to Tombelaine due to high tides. But the one great thing about coming in winter is there are much fewer tourists; making it seem, at the time, as if we had the whole island to ourselves!
Having not had to pay for our accommodation in Paris, due to staying at my aunt's place, we decided to spent a bit more on accommodation for this trip. Booking our accommodation at Le Mont Saint Michel through booking.com, we booked our hotel at ‘Le Mouton Blanc' for 305.4 euros, for the two of us, for two nights; this included a buffet breakfast.
The room we had at Le Mouton Blanc was located 100 metres from the city centre, but on a quiet, yet scenic side path, that was away from the hustle and bustle that engulfs the main street during peak season.
The hotel, although small, was the perfect size for the two of us, with a modern bathroom, two beds, and a window that opened up to the main street, down below.
Although I cannot give much of a review on the hotel itself, since it was under renovation during the time we visited. We were still able to stay at our hotel room, as our room was located in the modern quarter, and away from the main hotel building itself.
Ah yes, like most trips, Le Mont Saint Michel is not just a stroll down the road, but takes approximately 4 hours and 17 minutes to get there, one way, by public transport. Sitting inside the comfort of our train, we spent the first half of our day watching the change of scenery flash before our eyes, as the prominent white French apartment suites that you would normally find in Paris, were replaced with countryside cottages.
Having accidentally missed the following bus up to the island from the mainland; which ironically we found out later comes like every five minutes, we ended up walking up to the tidal island, from the bus bay we were dropped off at.
The walk-up is a fantastic opportunity for photography lovers, who are obsessed with getting that perfect shot of the island (don't worry, I myself am one too). But it is also a great opportunity for those that are looking to experience the atmosphere of the area, as walking up towards the castle island, makes you feel as if you have been transported into a fairy-tale.
The main big attraction about visiting a small tidal island is not so much about the type of attractions that are contained there, but the place itself. With its narrow passageways that lure you to wander up and beyond from the village's main square, the villages medieval gothic architecture that was built from the 11th-16th century, the tower ramparts that allow you to walk around the brim of the castle walls; feeling the fresh breeze of sea air gushing into you face.
Although do be warned the breeze can be quite fierce at times!
There are also a lot of cafes and restaurants, on the main street, that are located along the side of the road upon entering through the villages gates. Although most restaurants and cafes were closed during the time we came, due to renovations, make sure to try out La Mere Poulard's world-wide famous soufflé omelette, in which Annette Poulard herself, used to make omelettes for pilgrims who were waiting to get back to shore when the tide was too high.
(Without a guided tour it took us around 2 hours to see the whole Monastery, at a very slow pace. But I would recommend getting a tour, as there wasn't much information available)
Ah yes, the monastery! Covering more than half of the island, it is a must-see, when visiting Le Mont Saint Michel.
With its vast structure casting down on the village that lies below its feet the monastery was and is still used as a pilgrimage for the monks and nuns who lived there; although it was also used as a prison, especially after the French Revolution.
Walking through and inside the stone-paved grounds of the monastery is like stepping back in time. Having not known much about the history of this place before visiting, our perspective of the whole island had changed after our visit to the monastery.
See this place isn't just a hot-spot tourist destination, but is like sacred ground; with nuns and monks walking past us, with piles of books stacked in their hands and long cloaks of blue and white flowing from their collars.
Long halls and cathedrals that have been built in the style of Romanesque and Gothic architecture with long stained glass windows that rise way above our heads; shining a glimmer of light onto the front of the abbey church.
And the many different passageways and chambers, that due to the brittle texture along the walls and ceilings, looked like they were about to crumble down on us. But nonetheless, although the place was made and designed thousands of years ago, nothing about the place had seemed to change, as the place was thriving just as ever before with culture and above all, a deep love and a commitment for their religion.
(We attended the mass at 12pm, but there may be more than one mass available to attend during the day; this information should be available at the office de tourism at Le Mont Saint Michel)
Now you don't have to be religious to attend a mass, although it would probably be more practical if you were. As during our visit to the monastery we attended a mass despite not being religious or having a great understanding of the language, as we were interested in learning more about the life of the nuns and monks that live at Le Mont Saint Michel.
Sitting down at the front of the chapel, 10 minutes before the mass began, is a sight worth seeing. As although the mass didn't start until 12, you could clearly hear and see the striking of church bells that echo along the abbey walls and down the passageways to the village. With the monk in charge of pulling the rope (that was attached to the church bells), standing in the middle of the hall.
Now our experience with the mass was quite exhilarating, as the mass didn't take place in the church hall itself but in an underground chapel (that was probably about the size of my room back home). Entering the room through a side door (from the left, front of the church hall), we descended via a narrow passageway, and into a dimly lit room. Even though the room had been re-furnished, the sandy cream tone from the bricks, made the room appear to look like it had been tunnelled out thousands of years ago. Although the mass takes around an hour, the ceremony from an outsider is absolutely spectacular and worth a visit any day.
Wandering our way around the perimeter of the island by walking on top of the castle battlements, in which we had not fully seen yesterday, we watched the pink night sky; light up across the sky behind the monastery, as we stood at the very top section of the castle wall.
For photography lovers, this is a beautiful spot to capture the landscape of the tidal island, the ocean, the castle walls that are looming over the sea, and the gothic style of architecture from the houses along the sides. What a bonus!
At the break of light, we headed to a restaurant called ‘La Ferme Saint Michel', which was situated off the island. With the limited amount of restaurants and menu choice that were available at the time we went, we decided to head to the mainland for supper.
Situated past the bus station; closer to the outskirts of the town square, is a large barn house, made out of maroon coloured bricks and bright red painted doors. But what made this place stand out for us was the delicate, rich creaminess that evoked our mouths when eating the food. It was like a celebration of the fresh local produce, on a plate.
Walking back through the dim night sky, with nothing but the shining light coming from the island of Le Mont Saint Michel to guide us, we walked across the ocean, and through the front gates, to the island of Le Mont Saint Michel.
It is one thing, seeing the castle in pure daylight, and another, when seeing it amongst the obscurity of the dim night sky, as the castles luminous features shine like the brightest star in the sky. So if you ever get the chance, I would recommend heading out into the open air, for a quick stroll in the evening (but do check up on the tide times before going!).
From our experience, booking a third day at Le Mont Saint Michel is not necessary in my opinion, as other than catching the bus up to the island back and forth (five times to be exact), there was not much else to do there. I would recommend either booking a return ticket back on the 2nd day, but in the evening, or on the 3rd day, but in the morning (rather than in the evening like we had done).
The information centre is filled with information about the area, the tidal island, and the monastery. So if you are looking for a place to learn a little bit more about the area, this is just the place to go!
Now that you have made it all the way to the end of my post, I hope that I have somehow convinced you to take a trip to Le Mont Saint Michel, or have given you some insight as to what you could see there.
If you decide to go, or have been to Le Mont Saint Michel, please do share and let me know what your trip was like, and what you would recommend to seeing.
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