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A magical island topped by a gravity-defying medieval monastery, the Mont-Saint-Michel counts among France’s most stunning sights. For centuries one of Europe’s major pilgrimage destinations, this holy island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is its breathtaking bay.
AN UNFORGETTABLE SIGHT
The Mont-Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most unforgettable sights. Set in a mesmerising bay shared by Normandy and Brittany, the mount draws the eye from a great distance.
This staggeringly beautiful location has long captured the imagination. The story of how the mount came to be a great Christian pilgrimage site dates back to the early 8th century, when Aubert, bishop of the nearby hilltop town of Avranches, claimed that the Archangel Michael himself had pressured him into having a church built atop the island just out to sea.
From 966 onwards, the dukes of Normandy, followed by the French kings, supported the development of a major Benedictine abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel. Magnificent monastic buildings were added throughout the Middle Ages, one vertiginous wing in particular being nicknamed the Marvel. The Abbey of the Mont-Saint-Michel became a renowned centre of learning, attracting some of the greatest minds and manuscript illuminators in Europe. Vast numbers of pilgrims visited, despite endless cross-Channel conflict; in fact, the ramparts at the base of the island were built to keep the English forces out. Other fine buildings line the steep village street, now converted into museums, restaurants, hotels and shops for today’s tourists.
RESTORING THE MONT-SAINT-MICHEL BAY TO ITS FORMER GLORY
The Bay of the Mont-Saint-Michel has been prone to silting up over the last couple of centuries. Man-made activities, including farming and building a causeway to the mount, have added to this problem. However, a major conservation project back in 2015 has helped restore island status to the Mont-Saint-Michel. The main river into the bay, the Couesnon, has now been left to flow more freely so that sediments are washed out to sea, and a bridge has replaced the former causeway, enabling the sea to once more fully surround the mount at particularly high tides.
HOW TO GET TO the MONT-SAINT-MICHEL
The visitor car parks have recently been relocated further inland to preserve Mont-Saint-Michel’s exceptional landscape. The new car parks are around 1.5 miles from the mount. Once you have parked, head for the Place des Navettes, where specially devised shuttle buses called passeurs will take you to the mount. The shuttle bus stop is 800m (half a mile) from the car parks and the passeurs stop 450m away from the mount itself. The passeurs operate every day at regular intervals between 7:30am and midnight.
Alternatively, you can book a special horse-drawn carriage (maringote) or walk all the way from the car parks to the mount, taking in the magnificence of the Mont-Saint-Michel as you approach.