If there’s one thing that you make sure you do in Northern France, then make it a visit to Mont Saint-Michel! Of all the UNESCO world heritage sites in France (and there are a lot!), Mont-Saint-Michel is probably the best known and easily the most impressive. The conical tidal island has a rich and varied history; making it the perfect French travel destination for culture and history lovers.
It consistently ranks as one of the top 5 attractions to see in France!
Mont-Saint-Michel is one of the most popular tourist destinations that France has to offer. All 2.5 million visitors who visit the site annually can’t be wrong! I mean, that’s more than the populations of Fiji and Cyprus put together!
The Island had been on my french bucket list for a while and so visiting for the first time was a dream come true! As soon as I stepped out of the car upon arrival, my jaw dropped even wider open than it would when I see a macaron. I couldn’t help myself. Come rain or shine, the island is breathtakingly beautiful…
It’s full of History & Culture…
For over 1000 years, the island has been home to a monastery for which the island is named. The island itself has been inhabited for much longer and is of strategic importance to the French coastline. Mont Saint-Michel even appears in the Bayeux Tapestry…
from the 9th century, dukes from Normandy supported the monks in the local area to build an abbey on the elusive island, dedicating it all the while to the glory of God. But soon, the island gained Europe-wide notoriety as a place of pilgrimage and a center for learning. During the 12th century, there was a renaissance in France. This ‘original’ renaissance period has since been forgotten in light of the more recent one. But at the time, Mont-saint-Michel was a hive of activity and one of the greatest hubs of learning in Europe.
Illustrators and manuscript creators from all over Europe converged on the mount throughout the centuries to share a love of learning. Luckily for us, the monks here preserved many works of art and pieces of literature that exist nowhere else to this day. Without the monks, scribes, and illustrators that lived on Mont-Saint-Michel, much of what has been passed onto us would otherwise have been lost.
The same order of monks who built the fortress also created the church atop of Saint Michael’s Mount in Marazion, England, meaning that this site is inextricably linked to the Westcountry in England. I spent years living in South-West England so I love this personal historical link to the island!
During the French revolution, the island was used to house prisoners of the French revolution.In 1979, the site was made a UNESCO world heritage site, officially cementing the importance of this small chunk of land, a couple of kilometers from mainland France.
If you love Geography, then this island rocks (lol, literally)!
Pun intended, the entire island is formed of a large mass of rock, jutting up from the sandbar. At low tide, the island is approachable on foot (there’s now a bridge connecting the island from mainland France so there’s full-time access to the island by foot). Also, a word of warning: crossing to Mont Saint Michel on foot, across the sandbar is incredibly dangerous and not recommended. Tidal surges can occur and have been known to happen. Also, a local waterworks regularly empties water into the area, making water surges all the more likely. Oh, and did I mention that there’s quicksand? So yeah, use the bridge: it’s safe and free to use!
The conical structure sits atop of a tidal island, meaning that a couple of times a day when the tide comes in, the island is completely cut off from mainland France- well, almost. Surprisingly, silt has built up around the island over time; both as a result of local farming on the mainland and the addition of the bridge linking the island to the mainland. As a result, there is now a constant battle to ensure that Mont-Saint-Michel remains a tidal island, and does not become just another part of the Northern French coastline!
The Architecture is near impossible…
A road spirals from the bottom of the island to the top, where the abbey itself is situated. In between, all manner of buildings are fitted into the tight space like the jigsaw pieces of an overly complicated Tetris game.
Over the centuries, the island has gone massive renovations, the current abbey having been finished in the 19th Century. The prison was closed on the island in the late 18th century and the buildings of the island were in particularly poor repair.
The infamous architect Viollet-le-Duc was brought in to oversee the reparation project (Viollet-le-Duc, who in my opinion made some poor decisions when it comes to Carcassone, Southern France). He added the now iconic gothic features to the original, and simpler structure. Making things ‘appear’ older was a key element in romanticism and is why the Houses of Parliament in the UK are also built in the gothic style.
The island is in Normandy.
If you’re from Brittany and reading this, then I’m sorry! The two French regions of Brittany and Normandy have long debated as to who owns Mont-Saint-Michel. The conical island sits on the apex between the two French regions, leading to a centuries-long debate as to who can claim the island. As of now, 2017, the island is part of the Normandy region of France, more precisely the arrondissement of Avranches.
Mont-Saint-Michel is Breathtakingly Beautiful…
If you give yourself just one reason to visit Mont-Saint-Michel, then make it this: it’s simply breathtakingly beautiful! You have to believe me when I say that pictures of Mont-Saint-Michel simply just don’t do it justice! The site is just so beautiful and you have to see it to believe it…