Last Updated on 29th September 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
Gothic, imposing, and often said to be the most photographed of all French destinations, Mont Saint Michel is one of the most breathtaking places you’ll ever lay your eyes on, should you be lucky enough to see the conical tidal island and abbey for yourself. But despite attracting some 2.5 million visitors on an annual basis, there are still several hidden gems left to uncover. Here’s your guide to the best of secret spots in Mont Saint Michel…
Discovering the culture and history of Mont Saint Michel
Perhaps what is most controversial about Mont Saint Michel is in which French region the island is geographically and culturally to be found. While the Mount is technically in Normandy (when it comes to administration), a debate ravages as the mount lies on the border between Brittany and Normandy and many in Brittany (Bretagne in French) believe that Mont Saint Michel is culturally part of Brittany.
When it comes to the history of Mont Saint Michel, it’s worth noting that though the area where the Mont is now located has been inhabited since time immemorial, the site first became a place of pilgrimage during the 6th or 7th century when an Irish hermit started gathering a following from the local community on the Mount.
In terms of exploring and visiting the abbey and its surrounding buildings today, Mont St Michel is pretty tiny and so can easily be seen over the course of a few hours (though visiting earlier in the day as opposed to later will ensure that you miss out on the heavier crowds that tend to flock to the island later in the day).
Most of the restaurants in town serve pretty mediocre fare at high prices and so I would highly advise bringing along a picnic, even if there are few places to sit and eat one! Both times I’ve visited the tidal island there has been no rain forecasted and yet we still experienced brief showers. The island is almost always windy. As such, be sure to bring a good windproof jacket, comfy walking shoes (for all the steps), and a warm scarf and gloves.
Église Saint-Pierre, Le Mont-Saint-Michel
Located along the main thoroughfare which snakes its way up the tidal island, the parish Church of Saint Peter is free to visit and is a true feast for the eyes. Sumptuously decorated, you’ll know you’re in the right place when you spy the short tower and a statue of Joan of Arc guarding the main doorway to the ecclesiastical building.
The church itself predominantly dates all the way back to the 14th, 15th, and 17th centuries, and since the 19th-century has served the purpose of both parish church for the commune of Mont Saint Michel (there are around 50 full time residents on the island) and as a sanctuary for pilgrims.
Funerary slabs outside Église Saint-Pierre
If you step outside the back entrance to Église Saint Pierre, then you’ll spy some ancient and historic tombstones mounted vertically on the steps which lead from the church to the island’s cemetery (to the west side of the church). There are five funerary slabs in total.
These are thought to be the remains of tombstone markers from the first quarter of the 17th-century. Rathe interestingly, repair work carried out in 2017 also revealed that, during medieval times, Mont Saint Michel cemetery, once extended to a radius of 30 metres surrounding the Church of Saint Peter of Saint Michel.
Cimetière du Mont Saint-Michel
One of the lesser-frequented hidden gems of Saint Malo is the tiny walled cemetery which can be found around a third of the way up the tidal island and directly outside of the church of Saint Peter. The site has been classed as a historical monument since 1934.
Due to its precarious position on the hillside, the cemetery is set over two terraces, though one of the two is so steep and thin that it can only accommodate five graves. At the most southerly point of the cemetery, a memorial garden has been incorporated into the graveyard. While you’re visiting this peaceful spot, be sure to look up; it’s from here where you’ll be rewarded with one of the most striking and breathtaking viewpoints of the abbey.
La Tour Gabriel
Upon entering the main gate to the citadel, take the path that goes to the left. Though it may seem like you’re headed away from the shops and many of the throngs of tourists who seem to congregate at the base of the mount, you’ll be headed towards a solitary and less frequented spot, making La Tour Gabriel one of the best secret spots in Mont Saint Michel.
Constructed in the 16th century at the behest of Gabriel du Puy, the tower was constructed so as to serve as a defensive base for the western side of the tidal island. Once upon a time, the building would have housed canons set over three floors, which could fire in multiple directions. Though you can’t visit the interior today as a member of the public, La Tour Gabriel remains fascinating itself to enjoy from the outside.
Chapelle Saint Aubert
Located on the edge of the island closest to the sea, Chapelle Saint Aubert is at the very last point where the crashing waves meet the rocky land and is a true sight to behold. Situated on the most North Westerly tip of the tidal island, the chapel of Saint Aubert finds its roots as far back as the 12th-century and is built in the Romanesque style.
Last but not least, it’s well worth noting the subject of ley lines, along which Mont Saint Michel (as well as the younger sibling, Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall England, which was built by the same order of monks as the French version) is alleged to lie.
One ‘ley line’ theory suggests that, throughout the world, there are hidden energy lines circumventing the globe and directing their power into the earth. Some people go so far as to suggest that they are the earth and the driving force behind it.
Ley lines, song lines, dream paths and energy lines; cultures thought the world have a plethora of names for variations of the ‘ley line’ description. What is truly interesting is that it would seem that almost every culture has a concept of this ‘energy line’.
Mont Saint Michel is alleged to be along the ‘Saint Michael’s Line,’ which is a ley line connecting monasteries dedicated to the Archangel Michael in Europe and the Middle East. Though not a ‘hidden gem’ so much as a theory, ley lines are yet another mystery surrounding Mont Saint Michel nonetheless.