Mont Saint Michel (usually written Mont St Michel) is situated on an island off the coast of the area of Lower Normandy in the north of France. This place is the country’s most picturesque UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mont Saint Michel is not just a castle; it is categorized as a medieval island village that has been elegantly sitting on a rock for centuries to the admiration of locals and visitors.
If you are looking to spice up your holiday experience in France, Mont St Michel offers something different from the rest of the cities in Normandy. For example, the Benedictine Abbey rises hundreds of feet high on a small rocky island in the middle of extensive sandbanks exposed to strong tides; this is one of the highlights here. And as you will see, Mont St Michel surrounds the Abbey, which is the island’s most famous monument.
>>Also Read: Interesting Facts About Mont Saint Michel
Here are Interesting Facts About Mont St Michel:
Mont St Michel was Conceived in a Dream
One night in 780 A.D, the Bishop Aubert of Avranches conceived a vision. In the vision, he saw Archangel Michael, who instructed him to build a place of worship on Mount Tomb at the mouth of the Couesnon River. The bishop ignored the instruction at first, then the Archangel made a hole in his head to remind him, speaking softly, ‘build it and they will come’.
Rightly, pilgrims come in their droves from different parts of Christendom since then to worship here. When you visit, you will see Aubert’s skull on display at the Saint-Gervais d’Avranches basilica with the Archangel’s scar.
It is a Structural Hierarchy of Feudal Society
At the top are God, the Abbey, and the monastery. Below are the Great halls, houses and stores, and farther beneath are the outside of the walls, and the farmer’s and fishermen’s housing. This perfectly illustrates the structural form of Mont St Michel.
Mont St Michel Used to Be Among The Most Important Pilgrimage Destinations
Trailing Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, the village was a major faith pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. So was the complexity of the journey that it became a challenge of sacrifice and commitment to God to arrive at the Benedictine Abbey.
Selected by the Duke of Normandy, Richard II, the Italian architect, William of Volpiano, built the Romanesque sanctuary of the Abbey, audaciously putting the transept crossing atop the mount. A lot of underground chapels and crypts had to be constructed to make up for its weight, molding the pedestal for the auxiliary upward structure that is there today.
Separately standing and not connecting the Abbey buildings, the cloister is a spot to think, with the sweet smell of herbs, flowers, and the sea filtering the air. And set at the Abbey’s foot in the major street, the Church of St Peter is a small gem that usually looks over visitors. In the 1800s, when the Abbey was secularized, it caught the attention of the pilgrimages to the village.
The English Failed to Conquer Mont St Michel
In the course of the Hundred Years’ War, England made incessant attacks on Mont St Michel but could not seize it owing to the Abbey’s reliable fortifications. Besieging the island in 1423-1424 and 1433-1434, the English troops under Thomas de Scales left two cannons when they gave up the siege. Referred to as ‘les Michelettes’, visitors can still find them on-site to commemorate the invincible fortress, which is said to be protected by God.
The Island Inspired Joan of Arc to Victory
When Joan of Arc heard of Mont St Michel’s resistance against the English, fortunes will further change against the enemy in the Hundred Years’ War. Joan was inspired by this story as she would free her nation from the grips of the English.
The Island of Mont St Michel Has a Counterpart in Cornwall, England
The monastery of Mont St Michel offered its support to William the Conqueror in 1067 in claiming the English throne. He added a little island off Cornwall’s southwestern coast as a reward for the monastery with terrains and characteristics on the English end of the Channel. It was framed like Mont St Michel, and it became a Norman priory tagged “St Michael’s Mount of Penzance”. These two mounts have some things in common- the tidal island features and conical shape even though the island is smaller.
The Island Served as a Prison
With its prestige and fame as the epicenter of pilgrimage, all the glam reduced in the Reformation period, and by the turn of the Revolution, there were few monks in the area. Shutdown in 1791, the sanctuary was transformed into a prison, formerly bearing clerical adversaries of the republican reign- up to 300 priests at a time.
Also called ‘bastille des mers’ (Bastille of the Sea). It was named after the Parisian fortress that was used as a prison in the Ancien Regime. A treadwheel crane raised supplies to the prison walls, and by walking inside it, the prisoners rotate the wheel. On medieval construction sites, this type of crane was often used in lifting heavy items.
After several high-profile prisoners were detained at Mont St Michel, famous people like Victor Hugo organized efforts to restore what was considered to be a national architectural treasure. Napoleon III instructed that the 650 inmates be transferred to other places after the prison was closed in 1863.
Getting to Mont St Michel
The village can be reached by car (almost a four-hour drive from Paris) and by bus or a tour. Many private companies afford 14-hour day trips from the French capital. Still, you can take a train from Paris and transition from a few stations to the village if you are traveling on a budget.
What to See in Mont St Michel
The Abbey is the main highlight in Mont Saint Michel. It is called the ‘gravity-defying’ religious shelter that dates back to more than 1000 years. Tickets for a self-guided tour to the refuge are affordable, and a stroll through the historic vertical refuge can be observed for less than an hour or several hours. This is determined by how close visitors are to see the views. Visitors can also walk the mountain’s vertical grounds, picnic, or rest in shops and park at the souvenirs stalls.
What to Eat in Mont St Michel
Like a few other tourist destinations, Mont St Michel is not merely marked by face-size turkey legs but by massive omelets served as you have never seen before. La Mere Poulard serves the typical omelets made here, and it is quite hard to miss the eggs’ lilting beating in copper bowls at the instant you arrive on the island.
For those who do not care much about eating in a dining room where famous personalities (Yves Saint Laurent, Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemmingway, etc.) have graced, they can continue to walk to the mountain where they will find many casual branches of the same restaurant. These offshoots serve omelets and other local dishes with fantastic views for affordable prices. The region of Normandy is also famous for its apple orchards, and you can order a cider and maybe a tarte tatin to get the best of the famed fruit.
What to Buy in Mont St Michel
On the island, cookies are specialties! The place is not exactly a dream souvenir destination. Still, if you desperately want to take home something, the butter cookies are the surest bet. La Mere Poulard boasts of some of the most delectable confectionaries around. Packaged in souvenir tins in different sizes, and sold for eating on the spot, the cookies are sweet, crisp, and nicely buttered. While you have the opportunity here to ensure that you stock up.
Where to Stay near Mont St Michel
The island has lots of small hotels situated within its township. There is also a selection of much larger accommodation options on the mainland, facing Mont St Michel and in the close-by town of Pontorson. However, many visitors opt for a day trip from Saint-Malo or Rennes because the island can be covered in less time. Whether you are traveling alone or not, you can make use of the car park because they permit motor homes to stay through the night as part of their regular parking fee.
La Chevallerie B &B is a great place to stay. It is located at Chaladrey 50540 (Nr Ducey (5 km)). Visitors can cool off in a serene rural luxury for as low as 50 euros per night for adults. Visitors under the age of 21-years-old are not allowed in.
When to visit
Summer is the high season in Mont St Michel. Crowds tend to come in their droves to visit the island as it is an ideal holiday destination. Spring and fall are often less crowded, and the weather is decent for most outdoor trips. Regardless of when you visit Mont St Michel, plan your visit around the highest tides in the continent to see the castle’s spectacular reflection in the water.
Is Mont Saint Michel a Castle an Island or a Church? – Summary
The great thing about Mont St Michel is the ease at which visitors can enjoy the place. An island, a castle, a village, or a church; however, you see this breathtaking place will play a significant role in how you explore it. And if you do not have a clue on how best to enjoy this medieval piece of a tourist paradise, employ the services of a tour company. They can help you create the exciting memories you crave in the Normandy region.
>>Also Read: Things To Do In Mont Saint Michel