During a trip to France over the summer, I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting Mont Saint-Michel, a tidal island and abbey in the region of Normandy that is one of France’s most recognizable landmarks. Located at the mouth of the Couesnon River, Mont Saint-Michel was considered a strategic fortification. Tides can vary greatly, as much as 46 feet, making the island nearly inaccessible to raiders during high tides. While Mont Saint-Michel is visited by an estimated 3 million people a year, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was a bit of a mystery how best to visit. Can you access the island during high tide, or only during low tide? Can you drive into the village, or if not, where do you park the car? How much of our day should we plan to spend on the island? Fortunately, we found our visit surprisingly easy.
Hubby and I set out from the nearby town of St. Mâlo (an hour west of Mont Saint-Michel, but in the region of Brittany), inputting our destination into the GPS of our rental car. Exiting from Route Nationale 176, a majestic view of Mont Saint-Michel appeared in the distance. Tourists cannot drive onto the Mont unless you have booked a hotel within the walls, but there are ample signs that lead you to large parking areas where for a fee you can park for up to 24 hours.
A bridge leads from the parking lot to the island year-round. You can walk, take a horse-drawn buggy, or an electric shuttle over the bay. Some reports will state that it is a short walk, but all is relative. We are pretty active, and it took us about an hour to walk one way (while taking a ton of photos).
Apparently there are a few hours each year when the tide is so high that it covers the bridge, cutting the island off from the mainland as it had done for centuries, showcasing the strategic position for which it is known. With the exception of these few hours, you are pretty much guaranteed safe passage.
Once on the Mont, we zigzagged through the throngs of tourists up the narrow streets to pay the 10 Euros for access to the abbey itself. The only time it felt crowded was walking through the village, but long as you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, the tour of the abbey is well worth your time.
The Mont is also famous for the restaurant, La Mère Poulard, located at the entrance to the village and celebrated for the soufflée omelettes. As you keep winding your way towards the abbey, you will find more casual offshoots serving omelettes, some with superb views. Also in abundance are crèperies, serving crèpes and galettes for which nearby Brittany is credited with being the birthplace. The area is also well known for its apple orchards, so don’t forget to wash your meal down with a glass of cider paired with a tarte tatin, an upside down apple tart.
Our trip was planned by the New York based travel agency, Indagare, who crafted an itinerary for us based in Brittany that included two days in St. Mâlo and two days further south in Billiers at the Relais and Chateaux Domaine de la Rochevilaine. We got a glimpse of Mont Saint-Michel and Brittany that left us determined to return with the kids. The charm of the area lies in its rugged coastline, which is reminiscent of Maine, mixed with a rich history, exquisite cuisine and the incredible hospitality of the Norman and Breton people. Alors, jusqu’à la prochaine fois! xo M
All photos by Marci Symington for texAZtaste.com.