Ecomusée de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel


Pets accepted
The Ecomuseum is situated in the small village of Vains Saint-Léonard, close to Avranches, and overlooks the Mont Saint-Michel Bay. The museum opened in 2001 and is managed by the Manche county council who renovated the original "longère" style farmhouse into an interpretive centre exploring the natural flora and fauna, landscapes and man’s uses of the Bay. The property is owned by the "Conservatoire du Littoral" (Coastal Protection Agency).
There are two permanent exhibitions "Life in the Bay" and "The Bay through the ages", enhanced with short films, display panels and touch screens, as well as regular temporary exhibitions associated with life in and around the Bay.
The coastal footpath (GR 233) runs along the edge of the salt-meadows in front of the museum, and a short 10-minute walk leads to the pointe du Grouin du Sud, with a stunning view across the Sée and Sélune estuaries and of course Mont Saint-Michel and the small islet of Tombelaine.
First floor: To the right at the top of the stairs, the exhibition "The Bay through the ages" explains the Bay’s geological formation and evolution over millions of years, dating from the primary era period to the present day. The granite massifs and cliffs at Saint-Broladre, Carolles and Champeaux today dominate the edge of the Bay, whilst the smaller granite protrusions of Mont Saint-Michel, Tombelaine and Mont Dol, created from the Earth’s magma, are visible in its centre.
20,000 years ago, Europe sees a major glacial period. 10,000 years later, climate warming marks the end of the glacial period. The glacial melt-down brings about a rise in sea levels. The English Channel slowly starts to form. It is the Flandrian transgression. It is a rapid rise in sea level which 10,000 years later, the sea flowing into the river estuaries, advances 100 kms inland. Man saw it thus rising by 100 metres a year. 6 500 years ago, Mont-Saint-Michel, Tombelaine and Mont Dol became islands, similar to the Tombelaine today at high tide.
Today, the fine sands and "tangues" of the Bay are the result of sedimentary evolution and action of the sea and man. White marshes and polders have been formed behind the original sea wall, and the sea no longer reaches Mont Dol. Three rivers flowing into the bay; the Sée and the Sélune which join together in the same estuary between Roche Torin and the Grouin du Sud, and the Couesnon at the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, contribute to the continually changing landscape.
The Bay is marked by very strong tides, sometimes ranging more than 14 meters between low and high tides. The slight incline and funnel shape of the Bay, together with the tidal currents have also contributed to its gradual silting up. Recent construction of a barrage over the Couesnon, and a new raised walkway are designed to help disperse the sediments and prevent Mont Saint-Michel from becoming land-locked and to revert it once again into an island at high tide.
The Aquatic, Land, and Air sections form part of the second exhibition "Life in the Bay", enhanced by a detailed fresco, with videos focusing on the key wildlife, flora and events in the Bay throughout the year - the tidal bore "le Mascaret" advancing "at the speed of a galloping horse", agriculture, mussel and oyster farming, annual pilgrimage and guided walks across the Bay. At high and low tide, the Bay is rich in microscopic plankton and plant life, at the base of the food chain, attracting fish, marine mammals, crustaceans and birdlife – the most common being the grey seal, mullet, Brent goose, and black-headed gull. The richness and tranquility of the Bay also attract thousands of migratory birds and fish looking for a resting place and nursery for their young.
The landscapes around the Bay are varied - sand dunes, black peat marshes, polders cultivated for vegetables and cereal crops, shell banks, and the largest area of salt-marshes in France. These salt-marshes have been formed by silt and sand deposited by the sea, on which pioneering plants such as salicorne and spartine grow allowing the rich puccinellie or "sheep grass" to develop and thus form the vast prairies visible today. These halophyte salt-marsh plants and prairies are especially adapted to tolerate soils containing high levels of salt, as they are covered regularly by the sea during very high tides.
A small staircase leads down to the human activity area, continuing "Life in the Bay", and setting out today’s cultural and economic uses of the Bay, mainly tourism, agriculture and mussel farming. The famous salt-marsh sheep are reared on the salt-marshes and on other marshes in the Cotentin peninsular. Classified a UNESCO world heritage site, the Bay is also a protected humid zone and an area of outstanding natural beauty, and its fragile ecosystem needs to be preserved.
The final two rooms are dedicated to two past activities - on-shore fishing and salt-making - once the two most important sources of revenue in the Bay. Various mobile fishing tools are displayed, such as the "bichette" and "tésure" for shrimping and prawning; the "bourroche" for eel trapping; the "foëne" for flat fish, the "senne" for trapping mullet, and cockle gathering. Fixed stone and wooden fisheries were also used to trap fish, and remnants of these are still visible in parts of the Bay.
The salt-maker’s house with its imposing granite fireplace has been renovated on its original site. Between the 9th and 19th centuries, salt was primarily used for preserving food. Each salt-maker worked a portion of the foreshore limited by two boundary stones, the river and the sea wall. In contrast to other salt-producing areas in southern Brittany, the technique used in the Bay involved sand-washing or filtering the salt-encrusted sand ("sablon") collected from the foreshore to create a salt brine ("saumure"). This brine was subsequently heated over wood fires to evaporate the water and allow the salt to crystallize.
The small thatched building in front of the museum is the salt-maker’s workshop with its three wood fires. Built on the original sea wall, with direct access to the foreshore, the workshop was where salt was made during the winter. During the summer months, the salty sand collected was stored in several tall heaps next to the workshop, protected by wood faggots against the rain, before being washed and filtered. Subjected to heavy taxes and regulations, as well as the additional cost of wood, the salt works around the Bay eventually lost out to the competitive salt-producing areas in southern Brittany. The last salt-works in the Bay closed in 1865.
Contact details

Ecomusée de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel

Route du Grouin du SudSaint-Léonard

50300 VAINS

Phone : 02 33 89 06 06

Fax : 02 33 89 06 07


Base rate - full rate adult From 5 €
Child rate From 2,50 €
Rate for families From 15 €
Rate for adult group From 2,70 €
Rate for adult group from 3,60 at 5,40 €
School group rate From 1,80 €
School group rate from 2,70 at 5,90 €
Means of payment

Debit cards

Postal or bank cheques

Holiday vouchers


Opening times


From 01/04/2017 to 30/04/2017
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday : 14:00-18:00
Closing : Monday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, Friday morning, Saturday morning, Sunday morning

From 02/05/2017 to 30/06/2017
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday : 14:00-18:00
Closing : Monday morning, Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, Friday morning, Saturday morning, Sunday morning

From 01/07/2017 to 30/09/2017
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday : 10:00-18:00


From 16/01/2017 to 14/12/2017


Pets accepted

Specially for families



Supervised learning activity

Learning activity

Temporary exhibitions

Specific theme activities


Guided tour

Educational visits

Coach Parking


Visite libre en permanence - yes
Visite guidées sur demande - yes
Average time60 minutes90 minutes
Minimum age - Maximum - From 3 years old


Coach parking
Groups acccepted
Minimum number of people 15
Maximum number of people 60

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