The abbey of Mont Saint-Michel is probably one of the most iconic buildings in France. More than 3 million visitors come to Normandy to see the bay of Mont Saint-Michel, the fortified village and the abbey on top of the hill. For me it is a very magical place. I cannot really explain it but the combination of location, stunning architecture and the sea/wind make it so interesting for me.
So far I had the opportunity to go there twice. In both cases we visited the abbey itself during the day. We also did a separate visit in the evening to just explore the village. The weather was a complete disaster during both day visits. It was very windy and raining heavily. The evening/night visits were much nicer, especially on the second trip. As a consequence most day picture shown here are not really nice. The sunlight was not really in my favor.
My picture gallery offers a large number of pictures from Mont Saint-Michel. The first photos are from 2004. Newer photos are from 2014.
Additional background information can be found in the Wikipedia page for Mont Saint-Michel.
The abbey of Mont Saint-Michel has been growing over centuries. It was then transformed into a prison. Later if fell into disrepair until it was declared a national heritage and then diligently reconstructed.
Arriving at the island
The Mont Saint-Michel is currently again a large construction site. After long planning it was decided to remove the old dam that connected the island with the mainland. Also the parking spots that were available directly in front of the hill are removed. Instead a new bridge was built and a gigantic outside parking with bus shuttles has been set up. The new bridge is basically finished. But there is still quite a lot to be done before the old dam is completely gone.
Personally I would recommend going to the island on foot. It takes about 40-60 minutes to walk from the parking to the entrance of the village. But it probably depends very much on the weather.
You then arrive at the old city walls at the foot of the hill. You can either walk around the city wall (assuming you have rubber boots and it is low tide at that moment) or enter through one of the two gates. Be careful through with the tide! The difference can be up to 14 meters!
There is an entrance on the left that was primarily used for deliveries to the monastery / prison in the past. The main entrance is on the right side.
Climbing up to the abbey
If you want to rush to the museum of the abbey, I would recommend using the main entrance on the right side. You then walk through the main street of the village, all the way up the hill. The narrow street is full of restaurants and shops. This is the very commercial part of the visit to Mont Saint-Michel.
The street winds up along the hill until you reach the fortress-like entrance of the huge abbey building itself. It sits on the top of the hill. Its foundations are deeply dug into the rock.
Terrace in front of the abbey-church
After buying a ticket you then have to climb again a few stairs. The visit starts from the very top on the terrace in front of the abbey-church.
The church is surprisingly large – given that it is on the top of the hill and required building enormous underground supporting rooms/vaults to make sure that a level floor was possible for a room of this size and height.
The cloister is right left of the church. Visitors enter it actually through the church. It is decorated with delicate stone carvings above the thin columns carrying the roof.
The refectory – or dining room of the monks – is also adjacent to the cloister and on the same level as the church. The monks had to eat there silently while one of them was reading for example the Benedictine rules from a book.
Visitors then need to climb down a few steps to get to the lower floor of the abbey. This is the so called “Merveille” floor where the monks lived and also where guests where hosted.
The “Salle des Hôtes” or “Hosts Room” was used to welcome honorable guests and offer them dinner. Therefore the room has very large fireplaces to allow proper heating. It is located directly under the monks refectory (which was not heated).
You then leave the guests hall and enter a small open courtyard between the west building and the church. Available space is limited and thus everything is a bit narrow. Next you enter the crypt under the main altar of the gothic church.
The crypt is dominated by the huge pillars that carry the weight of the church above them. Since there are only a few small windows, it is a very dark yet somehow majestic room.
Ossuary / Grand Crane
You then leave the crypt and follow a few corridors. Afterwards you enter the ossuary – which was later transformed into a storage facility and also houses the treadwheel crane that was used to transport goods up to the abbey building.
Chapel of Saint-Etienne and the Grand North/South Staircase
Adjacent to the former ossuary is the small chapel of Saint-Etienne. The other side of the chapel has a door to the grand staircase that leads again to the main northern building.
The grand staircase leads into the colonnade that was used by the monks to walk. It is a bit dark and gloomy for me. Not really sure if I would be using it for an afternoon stroll.
It should be probably noted that this room is actually under the main terrace in front of the church.
The corridor leads to one of the largest rooms of the abbey: The “Salle des Chevaliers” (or Knights Hall). Again a very impressive room with large fireplaces to host guests. Probably it was originally used as the scriptorium.
The room is directly under the cloister. This probably explains why there seems to be a bit of a water problem on a few of the columns.
Aumônerie / Alms Room
A small spiral staircase leads from the Knights Hall to the so called “Aumônerie” (which could be probably translated with Alms Rooms).
This was most certainly originally used as a sleeping rooms for monks or pilgrims. These days it is the starting and endpoint of the tour through the abbey. It is used as the ticket and souvenir shop. So probably alms room is the right description.
After leaving the abbey it is really a good idea to climb up to the city walls. From there you have have wonderful view over the surrounding area. Also you can marvel at the exterior of the abbey and get a glimpse into the village streets below you.
It is possible to walk almost around the entire island. Only the northern section of the wall is not accessible. So an option can be to walk from the entrance of the abbey all along the city wall down to the main gate of the island.
Little village church
The abbey was in the past primarily reserved for the monks and the pilgrims. Later it was used as a prison and thus not really accessible at all. All normal citizens of the village used the small church in the middle of the city. It is a bit south of the abbey, above the main road used by visitors.
Mont Saint-Michel at night
After sunset lights in different colors illuminate the abbey above the city. This makes it really special to visit the island during or after sunset.