For many visitors to France, Paris is probably the only place that they visit, but France is just not only about Paris. So on our last trip to France, we decided to spend some time visiting a couple of other noteworthy attractions. One of the more famous sites is the abbey of Mont St. Michel located off the Normandy coast of France. I have always wanted to visit this place ever since I saw a picture of it long ago. It’s an ancient fortified island and also a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. It used to be only accessible during low tide but now a causeway connects it to the mainland so tourists can visit it safely.
There is no direct connection from Paris to Mont St. Michel, but it is relatively easy to get there. First, we took the TGV from Gare Montparnasse in Paris to Rennes (2hrs). Then at Rennes station there is a bus service that goes to Mont St. Michel directly (90 min, €12.70 per person for 1 way). The bus service is timed to match the arrival times of the TGV, but we found that as the bus can get full rather quickly, you may not be able to get seats on the immediate bus and have to wait for the next bus (a long wait). After the long ride to the Normandy coast passing through countryside and villages, we finally arrived at the small town that takes it’s name from the island.
We stayed at Hotel Mercure Mont St. Michel which is right in front of the bus stop (really convenient as you can hop off the bus and into the lobby). You can choose a range of hotels on the mainland, or on the island. Hotels on the island are much more expensive, compared to staying on the mainland, however, you do have the whole island to yourself after the tourist hordes leave in the evening. But wandering around old medieval buildings in the dark isn’t exactly my cup of tea.
How did Mont St. Michel come about? According to legend, in 708AD, the archangel Michael appeared to the bishop of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky island that we see now. Later on in history, English forces laid siege to the island during the Hundred Years war but failed to capture it. The island’s remoteness and inaccessibility helped in it’s defense as it could only be accessed by foot during low tide, and invaders had to navigate through the tidal quicksands surrounding the island or get stuck and be swallowed by the rising tide.
We spent about an hour inside the abbey which is quite large by the way. The way out from the abbey rejoins the main street and past more shops.
There are several options for dinner on the island with several small restaurants and cafes to choose from. We decided to try the famous La Mere Poulard restaurant which serves really expensive omelets. They also have a hotel above the restaurant where you can stay.
Depending on your budget, other restaurants also serve similar omelet dishes at a cheaper price, or you could also return to the mainland for more choices of food at even lower prices. After the expensive dinner, there was still time to look around as the sun had not set. Quite a number of tourists were leaving and it was not as crowded as when we first entered.
To return to our hotel on the mainland, we took the free shuttle bus service. This runs at regular intervals from the island to the mainland. After all the walking in the rain, it was time to give our legs a rest.
We spent only a night for this visit. There is some nice countryside scenery around here but unless you are really into photographing or exploring Mont St. Michel and it’s surroundings totally, a night’s stay is sufficient for most travelers. I’ve also heard of people doing this in a day trip from Paris but that’s really pushing it.
For pop culture buffs, Mont St. Michel was the inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in the movie Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and also for the castle in the Disney animated movie, Tangled. So if you want to cosplay your favorite characters from those movies, this is a good place to start.
We took the bus back to Rennes from the stop outside our hotel on the second day. You have to check the schedule of the bus if you are planning to catch the TGV back to Paris. Unfortunately for us, the bus broke down halfway and we had to wait in a cornfield for 30 minutes before a replacement bus came. So do give ample time allowance for the bus ride, because if your timing is too close, you might miss your train. So that is something to take note of.