For any Lord of the Rings Fans out there; Mont Saint Michel is probably the closest you’ll ever get to seeing a real-life Minas Tirith. This gargantuan fortress town capped by it’s chapel upon the rock is gorgeous, serene and quite other-worldly.
Named Mont Saint Michel (pronounced Mon-San-Michelle) is named after the Angel Michael who legend has it convinced St. Aubert, the local bishop, to build the church as a place of pilgrimage through a series of visions. St. Aubert resisted, as it was a great undertaking at which point St. Michael burns a whole into Aubert’s forehead with his thumb, the final straw.
The town itself, which is protected by the largest tides in Europe, invites pilgrims (in all senses of the word) to come and explore its narrow streets filled with endless nooks and crannies, past the stores selling souvenirs, past the restaurants, towards the chapel.
The abbey is much larger than first expected! The initial chapel is modest in size but the tour route then takes you down through 3 further floors of halls, chapels, crypts, storage rooms, cloisters, and even a room with a huge wooden wheel used for hoisting goods up into the abbey on a cart pulled up the hillside on old tracks. Each room opts for simplicity (I assume to take away from distractions) and as our friends Ben & Judith pointed out, unexpectedly Celtic-like window designs!
Monks and nuns inhabit the chapel from Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem (who are based in Paris) and hold several liturgical services a day which visitors are welcome to attend. The services are mostly in the abbey itself but in the crypt during winter. The crypt is not normally open to visitors so when we heard the eerie sounds of a flute coming from below we had to check it out! The nuns and monks are quite a sight to behold, dressed in full garb. The outfits, the candle lit crypt and eerie flute made for a rather magical moment.
- All in all, I’d allow 3-4 hours for your visit (including time for parking and catching the free shuttle to and from the island)
- We’d reccomend using the optional audio guide (see below for cost details)
- Bring a packed lunch because restaurant prices are crazy!
- Don’t miss the ramparts! If you make your way up to the abbey though the main shopping street make sure to use the alternative route down the ramparts on the way down (just make sure to go straight immediately after you exit the abbey instead of turning right back down the way you came). This route along the ramparts has less people and magical views of both the surrounding beaches and of daily life on the island. But if you do miss it, this path ends at a set of steps just after the first archway in to the island (with a Mary statue above it) so just look out for that.
- If you’re in the area with a car, be sure to make the extra 45minute journey to Saint Malo, which would be an ideal spot for a late lunch. Saint Malo is fully walled town that has a history famous for being a pirate hang-out. Today it houses the highest concentration of restaurants in Europe.
- Around €12 for parking (free if you’re there under 2 hours, which we don’t think is really possible for visitors given the shuttle alone takes 15 minutes either way and a 5 min walk on each end just to reach the island, let alone reach and explore the abbey)
- Abbey entrance costs €7 if you’re 25 or younger, €9 to for over 25s
- Optional audio guides cost €4.5 for one audio guide or €6 for a couple. We didn’t opt for an audio guide but ended up wishing we had on this occasion as there were very few explanatory signs and no brochure about the different areas of the abbey