First things first.
How to get there from Paris? The easiest option is to take the train. From Montparnasse Station, take the train to Rennes. This ride takes about two hours and twenty minutes and costs Eur 60-80.
From Rennes, you can take a bus (there are only 5 trips a day to Mont Saint Michel so time your arrival from Paris accordingly) or hire a taxi (I did coz I missed the bus). Cost of taxi – Eur 170 and take about an hour.
The taxi drops you off at Mont Saint Michel and if you are staying within the area, you will need to take the shuttle to your hotel. I stayed at Mercure, a mere 5 minutes walk (first stop by shuttle bus) from the bus/taxi drop off.
MONT SAINT MICHEL
The first thing I noticed when waiting for the free shuttle was the number of cow-statues installed everywhere! Well, it did add a lot of character to the little town that comprised only of a few hotels and one supermarket but it lent itself well to the otherwise picturesque Normandy countryside.
The island and the abbey was about 2.7 km from the hotel and when the shuttle did arrive, it was full of tourists – definitely not staying within the township!
When we arrived at the destination, the tide was out and sandflats lay exposed to the cold evening air. Even from the distance the fortifications of Mont Saint Michel looked sturdy and strong.
But what was surprising was that the place was crowded. As expected, of course! Clearly winter doesn’t keep people away from this beautiful and enchanting side of France!
Mont Saint Michel sees over three million visitors every year, which is quite a lot considering that there are not many hotels or restaurants in the area. People do day trips from Paris as well, but if you really must enjoy the sights of this island, I’d suggest staying the night – that way you can stay on as late as you wish. I am glad I was staying the night.
Mont Saint-Michel stood high above the surrounding sandflats inside the walled town. We walked a short distance on the causeway where the shuttle dropped us – and to my surprise many tourists were actually rolling about in the mud!
The entrance into the walled town was free, although you have to go through security checks – and from the moment you enter, it is an upward walk!
It is quite a climb to the Abbey (there is a separate ticket to be bought for the abbey visit which closes at pm). The ticket can be bought inside the “fortress” and includes a guided tour for one hour in multiple languages.
The views from the top or even half way to the top is simply fantastic. You can see for miles when the skies are clear, less on an overcast day, but nevertheless, the views are simply gorgeous – as the walls of the fortress and everything else inside and outside it.
The Abbey is accessible through some painfully narrow streets winding upward. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the base of this fortress (still inside the walled town) and if you book ahead, you might be lucky enough to find a room to sleep in.
The abbey is quite large and fortunately there were not too many people at the time (thanks to the cold). If you are looking for peace, this is not the place – but if you are looking for the wonders of this superb hilltop creation, you are in the right place!
WONDER OF THE WEST
Mont Saint Michel is often called as the ‘Wonder of the West’, embodying the true spirit of Normandy (or Normandie). Besides the island fortress, there are many other interesting places nearby – namely the site of the famous Battle of Normandy.
I stared in wonder and amazement at everything this place represented. The overcast skies, the cold and the sandflats triggered my imagination and took me on a very different tangent than I hoped to go. That I am a dreamer is established, but in this particular scenario, there was not much else to do than to allow the mind to fly free. This place was enchanting! Mesmerizing!
There was something so secluded and impenetrable and yet something so fragile that I wanted to live here for ever – somewhere high up in the hill surrounded by howling winds and beautifully made stone columns.
The abbey was established in the 11th century and was as important in the past to the pilgrims as it is today. Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.
Wandering around the fortress, you cant help but feel that this island hideout was also a symbol of strength. It was at once treacherous and at once safe against invaders in the past and thus remained unconquered throughout the Hundred Years’ War between the French and the English.
Here, you do get the feeling that this belongs in another world and that time doesn’t matter. The sturdy walls speak volumes of the past and one couldn’t help but wonder what stories they would tell – if they could speak.
Today a causeway connects the mainland to the island commune. In the past, people had to wait for the tide to turn before venturing out to the island. Stories say that the tides are so unpredictable that people often got swept away! Today, it is still common to see visitors walk through the mudflats to stick to the “old tradition”.
ON THE ISLAND
Although not very big, but the island is rather self contained. There are ATM’s, shops, restaurants and hotels, so even in a worst case scenario, you are good!
I didn’t, of course stay on the island, but that did not stop me from returning the next morning. I arrived early – fortunately there were very few other tourists other than a handful of Chinese tourists. The tide was in, the island was surrounded by water. The moon was just disappearing and the sun was coming up on the other side – I stared at the Mont, a million thoughts flooding my thought.
– and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like living here hundreds of years ago. The answer was not very encouraging. I shivered in the morning cold while the sun continued its slow movement in the sky – the lights went off in the commune and suddenly the island was transformed into an imagination…