Mont Saint Michel, France
I don’t have much of a location-visit bucket list. Really. I have very small island with just a picnic table and a tree on it I want to see in Michigan that i don’t know if it exists (in my head, it’s foggy there always. Exact location unknown).There’s a twisted tree somewhere near a lighthouse that i want to visit (again, probably made up, but my gut tells me it’s in Maine).
I want to see all of decaying America in summertime. Note – on that trip, I’d wear heart sunglasses all day and primarily have a diet of bomb pops purchased at gas stations. I’d have to eat in a silver cafe one night, though, and this is where a woman in red lipstick bleeding into the cracks of her mouth to bring me a milkshake and tell me to have a good trip in a raspy voice.
Adding to my reasonable list of places I want to see, a magical medieval town that floats and glows orange during blue hour.And so enters Mont Saint Michel in France.
When I first saw it in an article, I didn’t know a lot about it, except for a brief description explaining that during part of the day, when the tide was out, it was a peninsula you could walk to, and when the tide came in, it became an island. That was all I needed to hear. It was magic, obviously.
Sam (who also supplied all of the photos of myself in this post) and I took a bus to the island across a bridge (a somewhat recent addition, so access to the island is a bit easier). We walked through the town and stared up at the stone structures, the seagulls flying overhead, bits of trees above us at all times from the various gardens tended by the nuns from abbey that sits at the top of the island.
It was so beautiful at night, I stared at it and cried.
- 01If you’re on a budget, don’t make reservations ahead of time, if possible.
Where to StayThere are quite a few hotels in the area, but even on the weekend, there were specials on the island for as little as a third of the price of rooms booked in advance.
On island, we stayed at Au Petit Sud-Ouest, which makes wonderful eggs in the morning, on display for you to see as you pass by on your walk. Just a note about lodging *on* island! Most of the reviews are for food service and not for the hotels themselves. The rooms are older, not luxurious, not air conditioned but completely acceptable. We didn’t spend a lot of time in our rooms anyway!
Off island, we stayed at this beautifully wallpapered, plucked out of a Wes Anderson film, quaint place, Hotel Rose. They had free parking, too! You can also rent out what are basically hobbit holes from them, too! I could honestly live there.
- 02Stay on island, get free parking. Come for the day, park in the same general lot!
Parking/TransportationEveryone takes the bus! There's no parking on the island.
If you DO book in advance and are staying within the walls of MSM at one of their 4 (or 5?) hotels, then yay! Parking is free. There’s a special lot just for you! Otherwise, it’s around 12 euros for 24 hours in the same general lot (which is way longer than you’d likely be an the island, if you didn’t have a place to stay).
If you’re coming from Paris, but don’t want to drive, you can always book a day trip! But I would be aware of tide schedules because you definitely don’t want to miss MSM at high tide!
I’m going to include this bit because I got paranoid on the drive in! To get there, set your GPS to drive, basically, to the island (or to the visitors center!).
Don’t worry — there will be lots of signs catching you early to direct you to their giant parking lots around the visitors center. It’s easy to find!
From the parking lots, there are free buses that run every 10 or 15 minutes or so! Or you can walk about a mile and a half to the island. Which I didn’t do because basically the entire island is all about walking.
And a note: the first stop on the bus is the visitor’s center. I actually didn’t go into the visitors center, but I’ve heard good things (like that they have lockers for you to store your things if you want to leave suitcases in a locker instead of in your car). They also have food/restaurants there, if you’re hungry outside of island-restaurant hours.
- 03You can see everything!! But bring comfortable shoes.
Prepare to WalkIt's a small place, but it's all uphill. Or, upstairs, rather.
Really, Mont Saint Michel is a small place and you can do everything in a day if you want! Just be prepared to take a lot lot lot lot of steps and start early in the day if you plan to see it all.
AND just a note! There are no ramps or elevators so it would be tricky to visit for anyone with difficulty walking, in a wheelchair, or with a stroller. A few people make the pilgrimage to the top carrying wheelchairs up stairs as there are no alternatives. But again, it’s a small place (mostly vertical) so if you take your time, you can likely see it all in one day.
- 04Yeah, I could eat!
What to Eat and WhenEither everything is open or nothing is
For breakfast, the hotel we stayed in has omelets made in an open kitchen, full of sparkling copper dishes, brown eggs, and beautiful tiles. The omlets are supposedly amazing, but I didn’t have them. I stood in the window like a stupefied voyeur; watching an incredibly talented frenchwoman at work.
What I DO know about food is that if you’re on the island and you want crepes, ice cream, or to eat lunch, be ready to eat between noon and 3. We ended up at a creperie, La Sirene, you can only access inside a gift shop (Trip Advisor, I’d be lost without you).
They have really lovely gluten-free galettes (which, in my dumb American view, are just buckwheat crepes, but I wouldn’t tell them that if I were you. Because I already did that and I got corrected. A lot.)
After that, you may be able to find ice cream in the waiting area at a museum, the visitor’s center (you’ll have to get back on the bus, though), or in vending machines, but for dinner, you will have to wait till a few restaurants open around 7 p.m.
We had a pretty OK dinner at Au Pelerin! I think Sam had pizza. It had better reviews than some other places, seats with a view, and, most importantly, it was open (which a lot of places were not).
- 05Beware of quicksand! Your childhood nightmares are a thing of reality.
What do during low tide(Actually, it's really not a big deal)
Legitimately, all I’ve talked about is the logistics of how to get to MSM, where to stay, and what to eat. Who knew a 10 tips article would closely follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? (Uhm, I did. I love research and psychology so it was likely).
But this place is beautiful and that’s worth mentioning. What I didn’t realize is how beautiful it was even when the water has all retreated from the rocky shores of the island.
The sand is this deep warm color that reflects back on everything and it feels so peaceful to just be away from the crowds. It’s so beautiful and crowds were going on little tours everywhere so Sam and I wanted to walk around on the sand. So, we did. And it was good and fine.
BUT! Beware of possible quicksand!
I got a few really nervous messages from folks when I posted an instagram story where I visited the sand during low tide, so I wanted to point it out! I personally didn’t experience any quicksand (just very sticky, sandy shoes) but I believe it’s because we walked along the rocks and mostly stayed really close to the island.
There are guided tours to cross the bay at low tide and they mostly would like for you to do that instead of walk around like we did. Do as I say and not as I do.
Also here’s a video of people making (and escaping) quicksand at MSM.
- 06So the water covers the road at high tide, right?
Accessing the island at high tideGet stranded and other fears
Call me paranoid, but there are a lot of out of date articles about MSM online and I was worried about showing up and not being able to get on the island. Or worse, getting stranded.
But! You can absolutely access the island at high tide! Even though MSM is known for only being accessible during low tide, the internet’s many articles haven’t caught up with the bridge construction from around 2014 that keeps the island accessible during low and high tide. You’ll just take that bus we talked about earlier!
- 07When a beach becomes an island
What to do during high tideSchedule your visit around the tide for best results.
The reason I love this place is because of what it looks like at high tide. The best view of the island is standing on the bridge. And when the water comes in, it used to cover the road that leads to the island and make it look like, well, and island (it’s still an island, but you know, now there’s a non-coverable road).
I had NO IDEA high tide would be so beautiful in person. I literally just stared at it and cried. Then I took photos. But mostly I cried. They light up the entire island at night and the lights reflect in the water and it’s indescribable.
So definitely be there for high tide. This means being aware of the tide schedule if your goal is to photograph Mont Saint Michel as an “island!” The tides are listed on the tourism website but you may want to take their advice about coming around a new moon for an especially high tide!
- 08Be a tourist. Because you are one and it's fun.
What to VisitAnd educate yourself! This place is full of history.
I really meant it when I said you could do it all in a day. There are museums, guided tours of the island and monastery, guided tours of the sand, and all sorts of opportunities for you to have people guide you through the spaces and learn more.
But I didn’t do anything in a group. Truthfully, Sam and I just wanted to take it in without waiting our turn for 10 other people to look through an old window so I could also look out an old window. And the bit I loved the most was an audio tour of was the monastery.
It is an active church so they do have services and some do require you to sit quietly and participate, unable to leave or look around until it’s out.
And the nuns were pretty serious about this. The nuns were actually pretty serious about everything. So try to time your visit with their schedule! Which I can’t find, but I recommend going earlier in the day than not! You’ll be able to keep yourself out of the sun at noon because why not?
- 09Stay on island, stay off island, and just see a bit of France
Explore Your SurroundingsYou probably need a break from crowds anyway
It felt like a shame to drive in and drive out from Paris and not soak in any of the surrounding area, so I wanted to report in advance; the town of Pontorson is really charming if you love looking at tons of stone buildings (which I completely do) and there’s little foot traffic (which I also appreciate) so it might be a perfect way for you to bridge the gap between a crushingly busy medieval island and the rush and buzz of busy Parisian streets.
We had a nice (not fancy. Even a little bit. I think there was chicken and fries!) meal at Le Relais Gascon before popping into a market to buy some cheese and wine to take back to our hotel.
- 10Put the camera down
Be MindfulAnd take a deep breath
This seems like a lot of photos maybe, but most of this trip was undocumented. We spent three days ambling about because we wanted to take our time. It was a bucket list location, after all.
It was important for us to feel present along the way and I feel like it made this trip feel that much more special. So this is the last piece of advice I want to give you if you decide to visit Mont Saint Michel…
If it’s possible, just… try to wait for a moment when in the monastery is a little empty when you’re walking about. Maybe not entirely empty, but as empty as you think it can get… and give yourself a little moment to sing a note in a giant room, let it echo, and think about how solid the ground is beneath your feet.
It’s amazing to think of how long this place has stood, what it’s stood up against (you can read about the fascinating history on Wikipedia, but the audio tour of the abbey made me feel happy).
Standing in the abbey, I wanted to close my eyes, chirp echoes in the monotone corridors, and imagine a day when the rooms were filled with furniture, brightly painted walls, and people in beautiful outfits of important people coming to visit for very important visits (my knowledge of history is limited, OK?).
And that’s it, start to finish. I recommend seeing stuff, eating stuff, and trying to be present. Thanks for reading along. <3