Places like Mont Saint-Michel (actually, France in general) – have always charmed me. France is the third biggest country in Europe and it is full of history and culture – offering a lot to see, discover and experience. I recently took a road trip through France which allowed me to enjoy many different facets and contrasts of the country. Everything from the countryside to the sea, from the little towns to the historical cities, were on the itinerary.
While driving you can see the landscapes slowly changing. Our trip lasted six days and by the end of it we had driven nearly 2000km. We went from the Swiss border to Bourgogne-Franche-Comte and then to Normandy, Champagne and Lorraine. Normandy was the region where we spent most of our time (four days). We explored the other regions while driving.
Since we traveled from east to west, it was important to find good “resting points” where we could relax and at the same time soak in the country’s vibes. We stayed for a night in Dijon (Bourgogne-Franche-Comte) before going to Etretat, Caen, Mont Saint-Michel and Giverny (all located in Normandy). Afterwards we decided to cruise through the Champagne region, quickly visited Reims and finally Nancy was our last overnight stay.
Each place was unique. Dijon is a historical city full of life. Here you can try its famous wines and mustard. While in Etretat, we found this calm farming landscape in front of the English Channel known for its astonishing chalk cliffs. Mont Saint-Michel, on the other hand, comes directly out of a fairytale book. Time appears to have stopped here. Giverny was like entering a Monet painting and Nancy oozes the richness and luxury of the past.
The contrasts were so great that sometimes we had the impression we drove to a new country, instead of just a different region. This is something that makes France an exciting place to travel through, especially when you go road trippin’ because the landscapes slowly unfold and change in front of your eyes. There is always a new surprise around the next corner.
My Experience at Mont Saint-Michel
I have always known about Mont Saint-Michel. My family even visited it in the past. I remember seeing the old pictures at home in albums and the photos didn’t seem real. This fairytale destination only seems real until you get there. And when I say “there”, I mean exactly at its feet. When it’s far you continue to believe that you are dreaming, caught in some other world.
We ended up spending half a day in Mont Saint-Michel. We left in the morning from Caen and before entering the town we stopped at the Equestrian Center La Taniere in Pontorson. We couldn’t arrive at a magical spot like Saint-Michel by car, could we? Therefore, we rode horses along the Couesnon River and marveled at the beautiful image in front of us, which slowly became closer and closer. This horse riding trip lasted for two hours.
During the ride, our guide explained that this flourishing land was once undersea and that the river divides Normandy from Brittany. Then we walked on the Pont Passerelle – the only way to arrive at the Mont. We could’ve taken the bus but we were still full of energy and the view that we had was priceless. It was low tide and so we could see the wide stretch of sand surrounding the Mont. We thought: “is it more special with the sea”?
Perhaps but for us it was more than enough. Moreover, going by foot meant we could take our time and enjoy all the details along the way becoming clearer. Everything got more defined step by step. For instance, at the beginning we couldn’t see the golden angel on top of the abbey, and then all of a sudden it started to shine and we saw its shape clearly.
It was dinner by the time we entered Mont Saint-Michel and the town was empty. We couldn’t believe our luck. All the other tourists were eating or they left already. We had the entire Mont for ourselves and so we walked around the old narrow streets reaching panoramic points. It really felt as if time had stopped. The absence of people helped to create this sensation.
Everything was quiet. The only sounds were from our steps and the seagulls. Meanwhile, our eyes looked at the horizon and we were in complete awe. We continued until there was nothing left to see. Saint-Michel is a very little place, smaller than it seems. From afar it looks grand and glorious but when you enter it’s quite small (still glorious though).
There wasn’t one particular part of the abbey that stood out because the entire structure is the highlight. For this reason, my favorite part of Mont Saint-Michel was Mont Saint-Michel in its entirety! What I can say though is that my favorite perspective was from afar. That sounds kind of awkward, I know. How could I prefer this epic place from a distance? That’s because it’s like an impressionist painting. If you get too close you lose the image.
Is Mont Saint-Michel Part of Normandy or Brittany?
There is a funny story about the geography of Mont Saint-Michel which I picked up. Many people actually think the commune is situated in Brittany when as a matter of fact it’s in Normandy. This confusion exists because the Mont is right on the border between the two regions and because of its complex history. Now, I will explain that history in more detail.
Mont Saint-Michel began to be constructed in 709. In 851 it was part of the Kingdom of Bretagne (Brittany). Later on it was included among the territories of Normandy by Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and King Richard I – the King of England. The abbey changed between the two regions several times, hence the confusion today. Although it never moved geographically, it did experience different rulers and was included in different territories.
Where to Stay at Mont Saint-Michel
There are hotels inside and outside the abbey, but they are expensive and full of tourists. Moreover, the town is so small that you cannot spend days here. One afternoon is enough. We stayed in Caen which is a beautiful city full of history not far from the Mont. It’s also a strategic point to visit other places in Normandy. They have the best boulangerie here: Tartine et Gourmandises. I suggest staying in Caen when visiting Mont Saint-Michel.
Travel Tips for Mont Saint-Michel
1. Decide on the Type of Tide you Want to See
You can find the calendar on the official website of Mont Saint-Michel where it outlines the different tides and at which times they occur. In fact, there are two types of tides and it becomes an island when the coefficient of the tide is larger than 110. If you want to see the abbey with the sea around you, then reading and sticking to this calendar is a must.
2. Visit Mont Saint-Michel in the Low Season
Obviously, this destination is one of the most touristic places in France so I think it’s better to go during the low season. We went in May and it was just perfect. The weather was sunny until 9pm and it was warm without being too hot. Maybe we were super lucky but at around dinner time we had the entire place to ourselves. There is nothing more special than that.
3. Pass the Pont Passerelle by Foot, Bus or Horse
On foot it takes 40 minutes (longer if you stop to enjoy the views and take photos). It took us an hour and a half! The bus is a good option if you are in a rush – you don’t have to pay and it’s fast. The only downside is that you don’t get to fully enjoy the view of the Mont. We took the bus on the way back and knew then that walking there was the best decision.
Taking a horse carriage along the Pont Passerelle certainly looks like a fun experience. We didn’t take the horse because we had our horse riding adventure beforehand. Other people were riding bicycles so that could be a smart idea also. However, you have to rent the bikes in another city as there is nowhere offering bike rentals just outside the Mont or even nearby.
4. Enjoy the Delicious Cuisine of Normandy
France is famous for its boulangeries, escargot pastries (sweet bread with chocolate drops, not the snails), croissants and eclairs. Avoid eating in Mont Saint-Michel and nearby because the restaurants are expensive and not worth the price. It’s better to search for bistros with typical food from the region. Lastly, you will be traveling through a fishing place so enjoy all the fresh fish that you can and enjoy the wine – this is France after all!