Le Mont Saint Michel is a commune that is found within Normandy in France. It is a tidal island that is rocky and is located about 1 km from the north coast of France, near Avranches at the Couesnon River mouth. As of a 2009 census, the island’s population stands at 44.
In 1979, this tiny island was proclaimed a World Heritage site. The island is probably best known for the Benedictine Abbey that sits atop the island, with the convoluted architecture and winding streets of this medieval town surrounding it. The island used to be named ‘monte tombe’ before the earliest monastic establishment was constructed during the eighth century. The abbey on the island was at one stage a prison but was closed down in 1863, and in 1874 the island was acknowledged as an historic monument.
Access to Mont St Michel
Driving is the best way to visit Le Mont Saint Michel. When driving from Paris it will take about four and a half hours. The route between Le Mont Saint Michel and Paris hasn’t any direct train service, but there is a ninety minute bus transfer to Le Mont from the Rennes station. People are warned to try and not use the causeway to get to the mount as rising tides have caused drownings and being cut off. Quicksand also surrounds the mount.
Walking is the only method of getting around on Le Mont Saint Michel. There are 2 gates leading into this walled city. The Port de l’Avancee is the one gate that leads to the area called Grande Rue. This is packed with souvenir shops as well as tourists. Ramparts can be reached by stairs. These are less crowded and offer lovely views. A quieter route up is the Porte Eschaugette. All of these routes will get to the Abbey which is on the top of this island.
There are two sights worth seeing on the island:
- Abbey of Le Mont Saint Michel: This was once an unassuming little monastery, and the island with its fortifications has effectively grown around this. During the time of the French Revolution the abbey used to be a prison, and restoration had to be carried out to restore the abbey. There are still some prison- era showpieces that have been preserved. Mass is also celebrated every day except Monday.
- Notre Dame Sous Terre Chapel: This Carolingian church was built by the Benedictine monks around 966 at the same place where the oratory was erected in the VIIIth century by Saint Aubert.
Omelettes as well as saltmarsh lamb are culinary specialties of the island. There is a selection of cafes, restaurants, and fast-food outlets at the abbey’s base in the town. There are also restaurants, shops and supermarkets on the road approaching the mont. Le Mont also offers a few small hotels that are located within the township of the island. Le Mont Saint Michel is a tourist destination, and it does become very busy in high summer. The steps that lead up to as far as the abbey are quite steep, but there are numerous gardens with seats where one can rest and enjoy the view.