Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France (with Map & Photos)

Mont Saint-Michel is a fortress island rising above the vast sands in Normandy, northwest France. The attraction is loved by tourists - it is visited by about 3 million people a year (more interest is shown only in Paris). In Mont Saint-Michel, you can see with your own eyes the powerful ebb and flow, walk along the ancient streets and admire the amazing views.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

Basic Moments

At high tide, this place becomes an island, which is almost completely cut off from the mainland. Only the dam, built at the end of the 19th century, retains a connection with the abbey. At low tide, the water leaves and the territory of Mont Saint-Michel becomes a normal part of the mainland. The walls, cliff and buildings of the abbey create a holistic impression. The height from the mean sea level to the top of the church spire is 170 m.

The castle of Mont Saint-Michel will seem familiar to many: it became the prototype of the fortress in the movie "Lord of the Rings". The object appeared not for defensive purposes and not for the entertainment of the nobility - it was founded as a monastery. The ancient castle saw both monarchs, and military cannonade, and the discontent of the people during the revolution. Mont Saint-Michel is considered impregnable - he survived three English blockades and did not submit even during a 30-year siege. From ancient times to this day, it has been a place of world pilgrimage.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

Building a Fortress

The history of Mont Saint-Michel dates back to 708. The Benedictine monks were fascinated by the granite island of Mont Tomb, so they decided to build a chapel on the cliff. The name is associated with a medieval legend: the bishop was ordered to build a church by the Archangel Michael. He came three times, but the clergyman doubted the correctness of the sign. Then the Archangel tapped the bishop on the head with his finger, and only then did construction begin.

Guillaume de Volpiano, a very famous person, was appointed architect. He was raised by Benedictine monks, built more than one monastery. But the building was a unique structure: it cannot be expanded horizontally, so the emphasis was on vertical erection. Some rooms even hang over the rock on special platforms. It was not easy to deliver granite for construction from neighboring islands. Interfered with the lack of roads, quicksand, ebbs and flows.

In 966, a Benedictine monastery in honor of Saint-Michel. A settlement of fishermen arose at the foot, because the pilgrims had to be received and fed, and the local monks also needed domestic services. But the construction of the fortress continued until the 17th century: walls and towers appeared. The abbey turned into a powerful structure, combining religious and military architecture. The island-fortress was of great strategic importance. During the Hundred Years War, Mont Saint-Michel was considered a reliable French outpost - it did not succumb to the enemy.

In 1790, during the French Revolution, the monastery ceased to exist - the monks were expelled, and the island was called the "Mountain of Liberty". The castle became a prison where inveterate criminals were sent. The people nicknamed Mont Saint-Michel "the provincial Bastille". The prisoners were kept in stone cells, where it was impossible to rise to their full height. The chain of slaves rang with every step. But the pilgrims still came - a chapel was created especially for them.

Since 1863, a new stage in the history of Mont-Saint-Michel began. The castle opened its doors, but now for tourists. In 1874 the Benedictines returned and founded a new abbey. At the end of the 19th century, the restoration of the complex began, which continues to this day. You can visit half of the premises of the abbey, access to the rest is closed. Rooms that are of no interest to visitors were taken over by monks.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

Tricks of the Sea

An interesting feature of the area is the ebbs and flows. The change takes place once a lunar day - after 24 hours and 50 minutes. The tides are considered the strongest in Europe and the second on the planet. In terms of speed, they are even compared with a horse that gallops. But this is erroneous: the tide “accelerates” as much as possible to 6 km / h, and the average speed of a horse is from 21 to 60 km / h. Due to the shallow depths and even day, the sea "runs away" for 15-20 km from the castle, and then returns.

The "games" of water allowed the castle of Mont Saint-Michel to remain impregnable. Enemy ships could get close to the island, but when the sea left, they ran aground. An inhospitable reception also awaited the infantry. First you had to move on quicksand, and then the tide came - and the enemies drowned. Fog also served as a natural protection for the fortress - a frequent occurrence in these parts. Local fishermen were guided by the sound of the bell, which they rang especially for the lost. Enemies were simply lost in the impenetrable darkness.

In the 19th century, Mont Saint-Michel lost its impregnability. To connect the object with the mainland, a dam was built. But it disrupted the circulation of water in the bay, and the unfavorable environmental situation in the bay forced us to look for an alternative option. Soon the dam will be liquidated, and a bridge will be built in its place. In March 2015, due to an eclipse of the sun, the tide was so strong that it flooded the dam. The height of the water reached 14 meters - this is almost a 5-storey building. This phenomenon occurs about once every 20 years - on the days of the spring or summer equinox.

Mont Saint-Michel welcomes guests

The complex enchants from afar. It proudly occupies the top of the rock, and the golden figure of the archangel crowns the end of the spire. The walls are enormously thick. Travelers get inside through the protruding gates of the fortress wall - the Royal. As artillery developed, their design changed its shape. Indeed, until the beginning of the 16th century, cannons were fired with cannonballs, and only then - shells.

This place unites two towns. The first is the settlement of Mont Saint-Michel. On the territory there is a city hall, shops, a parish church and a cemetery. The path goes along the main street of Grand Rue. It is occupied by old houses of the 15th-16th centuries, which tightly huddle together. The premises were allocated for souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and cafes. The inhabitants of this town (about 30 people) not only work in the service sector, but also devote time to agriculture. There are several museums in the town that will add to the knowledge of tourists about the fortress. You can watch informative films, see ancient objects and "sketches" on a medieval theme with the help of wax figures, look at models of ships from different eras.

The second town is more “spiritual”, monastic. From the settlement to the abbey there is an ascent along the southern slope of the mountain. There is also a harder road that does not cover the main street and museums. You need to turn left after the post office. A steep path will lead straight to the gardens. This is the only place on the island where you can have a picnic in the shade. Another path goes through the stairs, which is on the right - near the Royal Gate. Tourists climb the steps to take a look at the magnificent view. The stairs make it easy to get to the walls of the fortress and the tower. The third path leads through the bustling town - the main road with souvenir shops and restaurants. This road is suitable for those who have time.

Abbey walks

The life of Mont Saint-Michel revolves around the abbey. It was built in the XI-XVI centuries. The complex is a fortified monastery and occupies approximately 55 thousand square meters. m. In order not to get lost, tourists take a brochure with information about the attraction at the entrance. To move from the lower level of the monastery to the upper level, you need to climb the Grand Staircase between the rock and the monks' dwelling. So guests go to the Western terrace in front of the church. This temple is located on the top of the mountain. It was built in the Romanesque style at the beginning of the 11th century. True, there was not enough space on the rock, and therefore the temple rests on the first church. Over the years of its existence, the building was repeatedly destroyed, suffered from fires, lightning struck the main tower. The building was supplemented with elements of classicism, Gothic, neo-Romanesque style. The church is crowned with the spire of the Archangel Michael,

To the left of the church, if you are facing the facade, is La Mervey - "Miracle". The three-storey complex is an architectural masterpiece of medieval Gothic. La Merveil fits on a narrow rock and therefore, unlike local buildings, it has a vertical structure.

In the eastern part of the "Miracle" there was a refectory for monks, a room for living and eating the poorest pilgrims, a place for receiving high-ranking guests. The western wing was assigned to the pantry and the Knights' Hall. The monks spent a lot of time there - they worked and studied. Books and manuscripts were copied here. The northern part of the "Miracle" had to be reinforced with buttresses, but this did not spoil the building in the least - on the contrary, it turned out to be a delightful artistic effect. And Victor Hugo, admiring the "Miracle" from the sea, noted: "this is a view of the most beautiful wall in Europe."

A walk along the top floor of La Mervey will be unforgettable. Here is a covered gallery overlooking the ocean. The observation deck has earned the fame of "a garden between heaven and earth." Complementing the impression are the limestone sculptures that adorn the gallery.

There is an older church here - Notre-Dame-sous-Terre. This building dates back to the 10th century. At first, the building was located in the open air. Later it was decided to supplement the church with vaults, and then it was turned into a tomb.

Around all the structures of the island there are powerful walls of the fortress and watchtowers. These fortifications were erected in the 15th century. The towers do not rise above the walls - they are protected by them. In the loopholes, bombards were once located - huge cannons of the Middle Ages.

Picturesque nature of the bay

Many tourists tend to Mont Saint-Michel to enjoy a magnificent view of the water surface from the medieval walls. The bay, with its vast expanse without vegetation, resembles a desert. The calm here is illusory and dangerous. Powerful tides, fogs, thunderstorms and many dangerous zones are hidden behind the natural beauty.

At high tide, waves make a path of several kilometers. At the same time, the bay is considered a natural reserve - about 200 species of inhabitants live here. The fertile silt attracts ducks and other birds that feed on it. About 100 species of fish are born in the waters of the bay. The place is also attractive for fur seals that breed here. About 10,000 mussels are grown here every year. Although plants cover about 1% of the area, thousands of sheep graze here.

Lunch in the walls of the Fortress

If you plan to stay overnight, bring a small lunch. Dine in the daytime is not difficult: there are snack bars, burgers and pancakes at the service of travelers. Breton restaurants open. The menu includes meat dishes, seafood, salads. Restaurants are closed in the evening. Be sure to try the local omelet. It would seem a simple dish, but the fame of it thunders all over the world. Previously, they were regaled with pilgrims who always appeared unexpectedly. Today they are serving tourists. The recipe for the omelette is still a secret.

Checking the Schedule

It is better not to plan a trip to Mont Saint-Michel for the summer - at this time there are too many tourists, which means it will be difficult to enjoy the extraordinary view from the fortress walls of the abbey. The weather in this part of France is influenced by the harsh winds of the Atlantic. It's cool here - you need warmer things than sundresses and sandals.

Be sure to check the tide schedule. Then you will be able to choose a good time for photography. The low tide begins unexpectedly: a few minutes ago the sea splashed around, as the sand began to show through. He seems to be harmless. But when you step on the surface, it turns out that the sand is treacherously unsteady. It has a special structure: when mixed with sea water, it becomes viscous; when it dries up, it becomes dense, so rare tourists are ready to take the risk of strolling along the bay without checking the "schedule" of the sea.

People, having created a dam with a length of 2 km, "stole" an unusual appearance from Mont Saint-Michel. Now it is a real island only a few times a year. Then especially strong tides flood even the surface of the dam. But usually the raging elements do not interfere with cars, so the number of tourists only increases. However, only a third of visitors get to the very top of the cliff, where the ancient church and monastery are located.

Many decide to stay in a sacred place for a few days. The abbey has small hotels where travelers stay. In the evening, the corners of the castle are spared from noisy tourists. You can breathe in plenty of the salty intoxicating air of Mont Saint-Michel, catch the magical moment of the onset of the tide. The abbey is beautifully illuminated, but the walls are illuminated only by the reflections of the lanterns. Guests are offered night tours of the fortress. At this time, the halls of the monastery are empty, the main street becomes less busy - you can slowly get acquainted with the architectural features of the abbey.

The fortress of Mont Saint-Michel also has opening hours. In May and summer, the abbey opens from 9 am. The last tourists are allowed into the territory until 6 pm. In the rest of the period, the time shifts: from 9:30 to 17:00. But if the tide interferes with access to the facility, the opening times change. During the holidays, Mont Saint-Michel "rests": January 1, May 1 and December 25.

In the jutting gate pavilion, check out the Tourist Information Center. It will provide information about attractions, as well as a tide schedule. The cost of visiting is 8.50 euros. You can use the audio guide, but then the entrance will cost 12.50 euros. Tours are conducted for visitors: twice an hour - in French, twice a day.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

How to get there

From the capital to the island-fortress - 285 km. Tourists rush here on trains, buses and their cars. The journey to Rennes by rail costs 55.8 EUR. Then you need to transfer to a bus that leaves directly from the railway station and get to your destination. The ticket costs 11.4 EUR. The journey will take a little over three hours. In the direction of the abbey, tickets are purchased from the cashier, and when traveling back, from the driver. Brown Point of Interest signs are a great help to tourists.

The location of the island-rock does not allow buses and cars to drive directly to the object. Transport is put in a parking lot, a few kilometers from the sights. A narrow path leads to the abbey, so tourists make the rest of the way on foot or use special buses that run here. Previously, the features of the road did not allow them to even turn around. Because of this, the vehicle had two entrances, like subway cars - on the sides. The trail has now been slightly widened.

Mont Saint-Michel Map