It may be high up on many tourists’ lists, but it is definitely not to be missed. Getting to Le Mont Saint Michel by train is easy from Paris, so don’t hesitate to add this as an extension to your visit to the capital.
Le Mont St. Michel is, quite simply, a tour de force. A magnificent Benedictine abbey which is dedicated to St. Michel, and located out at sea on sandbanks on the cusp of both Normandy and Brittany, it almost feels like a mirage when you first catch sight of it. Not surprisingly, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, dating back as far as the 11th century, it used to be completely shut off from the mainland during high tides.
Up until recently, the island was accessible via a causeway which was covered at high tide, bestowing what must have been a somewhat ethereal quality. Today, it has a modern bridge across the bay, catering for pedestrians, cyclists and official shuttle buses or navettes, which means you don’t have to time a visit with the tides anymore. Although during high spring tides, there are still a couple of hours in the day when you can’t access the Mount. Thank goodness not all the magic has been upstaged by technology.
Getting to Mont Saint Michel by train
It’s easy to get the train from Paris to Mont St. Michel, which is where many tourists to France start their journey. The closest train station to Mont St. Michel is in Pontorson, located on the Bay of Mont St. Michel, and 9km from the island. From Paris, this is about a 4 hrs journey with one change in Rennes. From Pontorson, you can take a shuttle bus to Mont Saint Michel.
Best time to go to Mont St. Michel
Many visitors head to Mont St. Michel to witness the spring tide, of which there are around twenty a year, a day or two after a full or new moon. They are at their most dramatic at the spring and autumn equinoxes. These create a phenomenal natural event when the tide comes in with great speed, and is best witnessed from the western wall, where people in the know gather in throngs.
There is plenty of accommodation on Mont St. Michel and, once the day trippers have gone home, the village takes on its tranquil traditional air once again. It is also important to remember that Mont St. Michel is still a place of pilgrimage and that the abbey is considered by many to be a very sacred place. Of course the busiest time of year for tourists is July and August and so the best time to go to Mont St. Michel is outside peak season. It also gets busy on religious holidays when pilgrims go to the abbey for Mass. For more details see the abbey website.
Taking your bicycle to Mont St. Michel
If you are travelling with your bike, and have organised to bring it on the train with you, you can cross the bridge with it but there are very strict rules about where to park it when you get there. Cycling to Mont St. Michel is very popular as it is the end point of the Veloscenic (aka La Véloscénie in French) long-distance cycling trail, a superb 450km waymarked route along cycle tracks, greenways and rural lanes between Paris and Mont St. Michel. Read about other excellent long-distance cycling trails in France.
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