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Le Mont St Michel (Normandy, France)

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It is a superb example of ancient architecture and France's premier tourist attraction.

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    4 Reviews
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      17.09.2010 01:13
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      I have just returned from a week in France and Mont St Michel is one of the places we visited. If you are in the Normandy region, I would definitely recommend a visit.

      Mont St Michel is an island on the edge of the coast that can be reached by a road- I think this is purposely built so you can drive there without the water going over it. The car park we parked in had to be vacated by 5pm to allow the tide to come in-it costs 5 euros to park there.

      On the drive there, mont st michel looks magnificent0 a church at the tip of a hill, when the sun is shining the gold on the top can be seen to twinkle.

      When inside mont st michel there are many cafes and gift shops and bars on the walk up the hill along cobbled streets to the church, these paths are quite narrow and are fairly busy with tourists. One thing to note is that prices seem to get a little cheaper the further up the hill you go but are still inflated in comparison to what it costs on the mainland.

      There are many viewing points which allow you to see back out to see or back on to the green of the mainland.

      At the top of the hill there is an abbey/church- this costs 8 euros to go inside though is free is you are between 18-25 and an eu citizen (take a driving licence). The rooms are vast but bare and don't have many religious artifacts- for me a little disappointing for the price- but the increased height added to the views to be seen.

      A word of warning- there is a lot of walking and steps so if you have difficulties I would not recommend this.

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        30.05.2008 13:05
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        It is worth seeing at least once, either early or later in the day

        Located in northern France west of St. Malo on the border between Brittany and Normandy is what can only be described as a large rocky island in the Bay of Mont St Michel. They say that in 708 the bishop of Avaranche created a shrine to Saint Michael on this isolated island. Instantly it became a pilgrimage destination for medieval Christians. Over the next few centuries the shrine became a sanctuary with an imposing abbey built on top of the hill. During the hundred years war the village below the abbey was surrounded with huge ramparts and the strong resistance to the invading English made the abbey a symbol of French nationality. The monks soon left and it became a prison, with the degradation that occurs over time the abbey fell into decline. It was given historical monument status in the 19th century and eventually it was entered onto the roll of UNESCO World Heritage sites. With the addition of a causeway the accessibility of the island was opened up until today it is an island no more. The abbey has been restored to its former glory and even now there is evidence that works are continuing to repair and maintain the structure for future generations.

        Getting to Mont St. Michel from the UK requires a ferry trip with the nearest ports being St. Malo or Cherbourg. From St. Malo it's a short drive along the coast to along the N176 to Pontorson. On a clear day Mont St. Michel will be visible with the abbey on top of the island standing proud. From Pontorson take the D976 north to the coast. As you approach, the advertisement signs for shops, restaurants and McDonalds alongside the road will increase until they end just as you reach the causeway to the island. About 200m from the island you are directed right to a car park on the tidal area. One thing to mention now is that this car park can and will flood as the tide rises so take note of the high tide time and make sure you get back to remove your vehicle. You will have to pay a fee to park, which was 5 euros in 2007 for our car. From the carpark it was a short two minute walk to the ramparts and the entrance to Mont St Michel. You don't pay anything here to get in to Mont St. Michel, but you will later on need to pay to enter the abbey.

        Once in Mont St. Michel there is seemingly only one way to the abbey and that is up the main street. It was a bit of a bun fight to start with as there were people come down the street, which is quite steep and people like us going up. Coupled with the narrow street, souvenir shops, people standing in the street and the dead weight of a 6 month old baby on my chest I wasn't having fun. The serenity I felt as I we approached the island was evaporating fast. We gave up trying to climb the hill and went up some stairs and on to the ramparts. Here at least it was level in places and there were less people. The view back to the Brittany coast was uninspiring and eventually we found a restaurant to rest and fed baby.

        After the first restaurant failed to serve us as they were too busy we headed further away from the entrance and found one that was busy, but at least had the time to serve customers. Both myself and BC2 were starting to get grumpy as it was well past 2 o'clock & we were both hungry. The restaurant was expensive for the food that we got, but then we were in a UNESCO world heritage site and I suppose that gives everyone the right to fleece us. Fully refreshed we moved on along the ramparts and up to towards the abbey area. The abbey itself being at the top of the hill has many steps to reach its entrance and it is a long hard climb even for fit people such as myself. The abbey tour though is the toughest part of the whole island. We paid another 8 euros each to get inside the abbey and found even more steps.

        I cannot remember the whole tour as later parts bored me, but to start with my interest was held by the architecture as we climbed the stairs to the abbey. I do remember becoming interested when we reached the upper part that had a terrace with views to the western part of the island and the bay. From here you do get a good sense of the scale of Mont St. Michel. There is the bay with its sands stretching out to the north and west, with a good view of the Brittany coast line. I think that I was just about able to see Cancale in the distance, though it was a slightly hazy day.

        From the terrace the tour took you back inside the abbey to one of the later higher levels with a lovely built church with pews, an altar and vaulted ceilings. The tour moved north into an area that was quoted as being the garden of the monks. It was a very nice area, but it had been amended with a large pane of glass on the western side that allowed views into the real garden below. In truth it was an area that had been made into a quite garden of contemplation for the benefit of the tourists. In truth I think that it was a part of the abbey that hadn't been finished and the owners were keen to ramp up the reverence. In either case it was a nice spot to be on a warm sunny day as the glass keeps the wind off the area and increases the light levels. It was the highlight of the tour for me as it was a good place to rest my weary legs.

        The tour from here goes downhill, literally as well as physically. Basically the tour works it way through the bowels of the abbey going through the lower older levels. Unfortunately due to the way in which the abbey was built the levels are uneven and the tourists are forced through a convoluted route up and downstairs. For me this was a killer and even for Mrs C who wasn't carrying baby it was beginning to wear her legs out. This is the point when the tour became boring and all I wanted to find was the exit, however the route became even more tortuous as it went up, down, left and right. Then when we did find the outside it was to the north-west corner right underneath the fancy abbey garden and we had to do a windy tour of the gardens to the north to get out of the exit which was in the south-east corner of the abbey complex.

        Mont St Michel is definitely a wonderful place to view from outside with its grand ramparts as you look from a distance. Unfortunately the majesty, the reverence and the serenity of the place are slowly removed as you walk inside and explore the island from within. Firstly there is the general hustle and bustle of the main street, it is really hard going if you have a little one like we did and we didn't even take the pushchair. Next the sharp inclines and numerous steps will not suit everyone, there are at least 20 to 30 steps to climb in the abbey to pay for the entrance fee and another 30 beyond that just to get to the top terrace. Then there are about three or four times as many on the way back down as you are constantly descending or climbing stairs. It is not really a place for the old or infirm, only the fittest will survive those steps. Finally my biggest complaint is the money element that starts when you pay to park your car on a tidal range that could wash it way. Once you approach the ramparts you are slowly stripped of money for the tidal parking, entrance to the abbey, restaurants, souvenirs and even money to use the toilets. If you weren't a poor and penniless peasant when you arrived, you will be by the time you leave. I suppose that is what you are meant to do if you wish to take the righteous path, but for me I won't be visiting another UNESCO world heritage site. My wallet just can't take it anymore!

        c2008 buzzard_cad
        This review may be found on other review sites under the same username and is also written by me.

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          03.02.2006 20:10
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          If you have the opportunity to visit this, you must do so!

          The first time we saw the Mont Saint Michel was from about 40kms away, from a village called Mortain, and even from this distance, there was something magical about the place, the characteristic shape appeared to be floating above a shimmering sea. You can understand the fascination it held for mediaeval pilgrims, and tourists ever since. This site is the most popular tourist attraction in France with 3 million visitors a year. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

          ~History of the Mont~
          ***********************
          Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built the first church on the site after being asked to do so in a dream by the archangel Michael (that kind of things happened a lot in those days!). That was in 709AD. Before that, this was just a lump of rock in the middle of the sea, barely an island. In 966, the Duke of Normandy requested that a Benedictine community live on the rock, and they started building, expanding, beautifying the abbey, which was already nicknamed 'the marvel' by the 13th century. During the hundred years war, the Mont was besieged many times, but proved to be impregnable. In the 16th century, monastic life was no longer a popular option, and the abbey gradually fell into disrepair. This was compounded by protestant attacks later, and only about 12 monks remained by the end of the 18th century. During the revolution, the abbey was used as a prison. The Mont Saint Michel has been the property of the French 'Monuments Historiques' who have cared for and restored it ever since. Although there is a small community of monks living on the island nowadays, they do not own the monastery.

          ~Our visit~
          ************
          We knew from experience that this kind of place gets very busy and that the best thing to do to enjoy your visit to the maximum is to arrive early. Another thing to look out for when planning the timing of a visit there is the time of the tides, as the water may well cover the car parks nearest the Mont and you may have to park as far as two kilometres away. The causeway however, is never covered by water. One of the most amazing spectacles, apparently, is to watch the rising tide from the Mont Saint Michel. We mainly experienced low tide during our visit. You can find the timetable of tides on the official Mont Saint Michel website (http://www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/horaires_gb.htm), along with a warning NOT to venture into the bay.

          So we set off suitably early for a visit we had eagerly anticipated. We had two teenagers in the back, thinking this was another of these boring visits their parents drag them to, but still in fairly good spirits. We had picked the day perfectly; the sun was shining bright after a week of less than beautiful weather (in fact I fell completely at home in Normandy, with its climate evocative of the best Scottish summers). Approaching the place was an integral part of the experience, and we felt a measure of the awe with which the mediaeval traveller would have walked towards the Mont, its silhouette dominating the landscape for many miles. We kept stopping as the Mont tempted us with its picture-postcard quality, now with sheep or cows in the foreground, now behind green or yellow fields.

          When we arrived, we had made fairly good time and the car park still had quite a lot of room left. It cost 4 € to leave the car there for the day, which we felt was reasonable. Although these car parks offer convenience for the tourists, they do spoil the look of the place somewhat. I think the plan is to do away with them when the huge project to reclaim the Mont from the land gets under way. Through the deposition of sediment, the bay is loosing its maritime character more and more, and the tides that once reached up to the Mont itself have lost much of their magnitude. In future, there will be a bridge and people will have a choice to either walk or take a shuttle bus to the Mont. But I digress away from the visit itself.

          The first thing that you will notice when you walk into the village itself is the number of tourist shops selling all the tat you normally find in such places. These follow a long tradition of commerce around the abbey, where the village was born of the need to provide pilgrims with goods. There are also a good many restaurants where you can try the local delicacy, 'mouton de pré-salé', mutton or lamb having grazed on the sometimes-flooded fields, thereby acquiring a peculiar salty taste. These are found all along the Breton coast, but the Mont Saint Michel ones are the most famous. If like us you find the prices a little prohibitive, you would be well advised to eat out with the Mont Saint Michel itself.

          Now the town surrounding the abbey is well worth a look in itself, so much so that a friend of mine who had been there never got any further, not realising there was more to see nearer the summit. One thing you have to be prepared for is the amount of steps you will have to climb. In the intensifying heat of the morning, this proved quite hard work and the teenage moaning and groaning reached new heights at that point. Make sure you have plenty water with you. As adults though, we felt all this effort was more than compensated by the architectural wonders and increasingly vast views that offered themselves all around. Plus, it's good for you, right?

          We finally arrived at the abbey and bought our tickets. This cost us 8 € per adult for the guided tour, and nothing for the children, which I felt was excellent value. Now I am not a great fan of guided tours usually, but in this case it was well worth it to understand some of the architectural complexities of the abbey. Our guide was great, her English, although spoken with an accent, was excellent, and even the children were being won over by the beauty and remarkable achievement represented by those buildings. It was rather pleasant too to wonder amongst those thick walls, when the heat outside was still building up. After the guided tour, we were allowed to make our own way back to the start, taking as much time as we liked to admire this or that.


          ~So what's so great about this place?~
          *******************************************
          As far as I am concerned, this is one of the wonders of the world. Architecturally, because it was being built over such a long time, it encompasses a variety of styles, from Norman to Gothic, sometimes within the same building, in layers as in the main church. It was also such a feat of human resourcefulness to build on this rock, to which all these huge blocks of granite had to be brought by boat. The main church is actually balancing on top of the ridged summit of the island. It has to be seen to be believed.
          It has also been visited throughout its history by so many, be they humble pilgrims or prestigious visitors. It even features in the world famous Bayeux Tapestry, where you see William and his troupes against that background.
          To cap it all, it set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and you can feast your eyes on vast expanses of scenery where the sky, the sea and the land mingle and become a single entity.
          And let's face it, any place that can get 2 grumpy teenagers' thumbs up and is not a theme park has got to be great!

          ~Any minuses?~
          *****************
          I will just mention these in the interest of a balanced review, but really they are minor.
          As I said, this place gets very busy. Get there early, and get out early to avoid the worst of it.
          You will have to pay, and queue, to use the toilets.
          Avoid buying food or drinks there if you can, as the prices are somewhat inflated.
          Oh, and a seagull s**t on my hair!!!


          First published on Ciao

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            21.02.2001 02:52
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            This was one of the first places which I ever visted in France and is still very close to my heart in saying it has to be one of the best. It has tourism but in a dignified way so that the beautiful sights and spiritual feeling of the abbey are not spoiled in any way. It's a long way up to the top of the abbey but the view is so amazing and well worth the effot. It also has small gift type shops at the bottom which are resonable and very friendly, although a piece of advice would be to check out the prices outside the abbey grounds the day before as some gifts are cheaper but others arn't. It's also worth having a look outside the abey walls in the local area. The restauraunts there are magnificant and have very resonable prices. The food is a real taste of France aswell so will help finish off your visit Tres Bein! Overall it's just amazing! It's a place which will stay in your memory forever and you will want to return again soon. It's a true taste of France!

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            It is a superb example of ancient architecture and France's premier tourist attraction.