(Almost not) getting to Mont St. Michel

My blog-friend Lignum Draco asked about some photos of Mont St. Michel I posted ages ago. Had I stayed on the island? Was one night enough? There was so much I wanted to tell him that I promised him his own post — and then wrote three! So here’s the first installment, peppered with excerpts from my travel journal.

Although I had seen Mont St. Michel in dozens of tourism brochures and magazines, its existence still seemed improbable. And yet here I was — along with Esteban and our dear friend Des — en route to the legendary island.

Mont St Michel poster 1500373 BLOGTourism bureau photo at a bus stop in Rennes

The train ride from Paris flew by, but soon we hit our first snag: The 12:35 bus from Rennes to the island had been cancelled. Alas … if we waited for the next bus at 4:40, we’d miss touring the abbey.

Rennes to Mont St. Michel 1390830 BLOG

We considered taking a train to Pontorson, but that wouldn’t leave until 4 — and then we’d still have to take a shuttle. What to do? We had only one shot at this, because our trip back to Paris started at 9 the next morning.

I left my bags with the guys and (literally) ran to the taxi stand. A bit of sweet-talking and 100 euros would get us to Mont St Michel. Bingo! Just one hour later we were glimpsing it through the car’s windows.

Taxi ride 1310173 BLOG

The driver took us as far as he could, to the shuttle stop. We piled onto the bus and craned our necks in unison with tourists from 10 other nations as we approached the island.

Mont St Michel tram 1480390 BLOG

MOnt St Michel tram 1480393 BLOG

For once, my imagination was no match for reality. I couldn’t believe the beauty of this magnificent monument as I stepped off the shuttle and onto the causeway.

Mont St Mich 1490904 CR BLOG

The air smelled briny, and beneath me the sand was littered with 800-year-old rubble and day-old shells. A sign warned tourists of the legendary tides.

Mont St Michel tide 1480445 BLOG

Little rivulets revealed which way the tide had gone, and a lost umbrella sat among the tufts of vegetation that jutted from the sand.

Mont St Michel sand 1490890 BLOG

My sense of wonder waned once I stepped inside the gate, though: Throngs of sightseers choked the main road, and garish signs hung over the streets. It was flippin’ Disneyland!

Mont St Michel 1490289 CR BLOG

Mont St Michel tourism 1490299 BLOG

We wove through the crowd with our luggage and found the hotel easily on the single main road. Except it wasn’t the hotel. “Your rooms are in a different building,” chirped the receptionist. “I’ll show you the way.”

We followed her up the road, then up a flight of stairs, and then another flight of stairs, and then a third, and then another still … and up one more, before she said “Here’s the first room.” Lucky Des!

Mont St Michel 1490250 BLOG

Mont St Michel doorway 1490249 BLOG

Stairs Mont St Michel 1500046 BLOG

Stairs Mont St Michel 1500052 BLOG

Esteban and I followed her up another four or five sets of stone steps. Why had I booked this, again? I was dismayed when we opened the door. The room was tiny!

Mont St Michel hotel room 1480474 BLOG(The fish-eye lens makes it look larger than it was.)

But then I saw the sliding glass doors, and the view beyond: Our terrace overlooked the cemetery’s bell tower and the bay. Little pink flowers in the planters swayed in the wind, as if to greet us. Birdsong from a half-dozen species blended with the chimes of the bells, which rang at random intervals.

Mont St Michel 1480469 CX BLOG

Mont St Michel view 1480481 BLOG

“Why are we staying just one night?” Esteban asked me.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2, in which we tour the abbey and spend just one night.

IF YOU GO:

• Our hiccup notwithstanding, it’s easy to get to Mont St. Michel. European Traveler and Insidr offer excellent guides to your transit options.

• Unless you’re walking onto the island, it’s mandatory to take the free shuttle bus. It runs often but give yourself extra time to avoid disappointment.

• We stayed at La Vielle Auberge, in a “Twin Room with Sea View.” It was a splurge for the size and amenities, but worth it for the panoramic vistas.

• Although it’s possible to visit Mont St. Michel as a day-trip, I recommend staying overnight. I’ll be back soon to show you why.

46 comments

    • I hope that one of these times you’ll be able to skip the bypass and at least spend an afternoon here. It’s even more beautiful than my photos suggest!

    • Thank YOU for coming along, if only virtually! And if I say so myself, just wait until you see the next batch of photos. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Tom. I’m working on Part 2 already so I won’t leave you hanging for too long! 🙂

  1. Good story and wonderful pictures, Heide. I love when the imagination is surpassed by reality!!
    I’ve seen Mont St Michel in Le Tour but you brought me a little closer to the monastery, thank you for that 😊

    • I’m so glad to have brought you a little closer to the monastery, Hanna — and in the next installment we’ll actually do inside! Thank you for visiting, and especially for making my day with your kind words.

  2. Oh my goodness!! What an adventure! And a beautiful one, too. I loved how you transitioned from “why did we do this” to “why aren’t we staying longer” haha. So awesome 🙂 Can’t wait to hear all about the rest (and see more beautiful pictures)

    • I’m so glad I kept that travel journal, because otherwise I never would have remembered the transition from “why did we do this?” to “why aren’t we staying longer?”. Do you keep a running diary during your travels too?

      Either way, thank you SO MUCH for joining me and Esteban on this adventure. It’s always such a pleasure to hear from you!

      • No travel diary for me, although I think I might do that for my next trip. I also keep a journal at home and add to it every week, pictures and everything, so that one day I can look back on all of life’s adventures! 🙂

        • Good for you for keeping an ongoing journal! It’s great fun to look back and see what was on your mind at a given time, isn’t it? That’s why I keep a running log while traveling, too, even if it’s just a few sentences per day. It captures little anecdotes and observations I would otherwise forget. Because, my goodness, how quickly I forget!

  3. I visited in 1989 and remember it well. I had a youth hostel budget in those days, so I stayed off-site with a few Americans I met along the way. Your photos are far superior to mine and there are things I’d forgotten (like all the signs). You do evoke the magic of the place with your lovely stairway shots. I remember how steep they were too, and narrow as well. I’m looking forward to future installments. xo

    • How wonderful that you were there in 1989, dear Alys! I envy you your hostel experience a bit … because it seems a more “authentic” experience, to arrive there as pilgrims have over the centuries. But it’s good to know other things haven’t changed too much, and especially that my photos evoked some good memories. Thank you so much for stopping by! xoxo

  4. I was twice on Mont St Michel; and both trips it was OK, people wise…. I don’t think I’d still be able to ‘do’ all those stairs – I was literally exhausted with the finding of your room after having watched all those stairs you navigated so well!
    One additional tip might be to not ‘just’ eat crêpes or galettes, but save some appetite for the incredibly wonderful local lamb, feeding on the salty patches and with a taste second to none.

    We once stayed in a place in Bretagne where we wondered too why on earth we’d booked there. But that was wahayyyyy before internet and all you could go for was either booking via a travel agency or, what we did, rent a car and when sufficiently tired, look for a room. It was in a fort, right with its feet in the sea. The room was huge – no fish eye lens needed – but it was nearly bare, horrible beds, horrible reception (I still wonder if we might have been the only guests) but a GLORIOUS VIEW over the sea and left or right the coast with all the beauty. So, we only stayed one night, one more would have made us deep frozen meat, but the sights were unforgettable.

    As always, one can only admire your photos, they are simply wonderful 🙂

    • How I love your comments, Kiki! Don’t you wonder now how we ever managed before the internet? My husband and I have some lodging horror stories too, though none as bad as your risking ending up as frozen meat. My goodness! And thank you too for your kind comments about the photos. You’ve made my day! Merci infiniment …

        • Ooo! How did the sales tour go? I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, Kiki. (And thank you again for your other lovely comment.)

          • This takes time, much much time…. I try to stay hopeful because the house is so unique, so beautiful, has such a soul – it just hasn’t found its future owner yet. (BUT may the Gods of Selling Houses hurry up a bit!)

          • I do remember the anxiety of trying to sell my own house, Kiki … I do hope the Gods of Selling Houses will smile upon you soon and send a buyer who will love your home just as much as you have.

    • OF COURSE a cancelled bus or strike should come as no surprise! You’re wise in the ways of French travel, Mr. Draco.

  5. Great way of looking at things! I am form this area and been to the Mont I don’t know how many hundred of times. Your pictures reveals tell the story by itself. I like it very much. Thank you (and sorry about the French service reliability)

    • I am so honored and pleased that someone who has been to the Mont hundreds of times should like this post, DMCX — and merci infiniment aussi for your kind words about the photos. There’s no need to apologize for the transit reliability, though. It’s still better than Italy! Ha ha. I appreciate your stopping by and look forward to following your adventures, too.

  6. What an eminently rewarding essay of your impressions and images, for this reader. I love that first picture from the causeway, for a sense of the grandeur and unrealness of the place. The incongruousness of the trucks is fascinating and funny to me, I’m simply not used to the juxtaposition of that old and modern (particularly since I live, even by U.S. standards, in a comparatively young city like Seattle) that is no real big thing in many places, I suppose. I’m so glad your persistence paid off that you could get here, the way you did. As part of a study of ocean tides I undertook this past winter I had the opportunity to learn more about Mont St. Michel in the context of a tidal history and what great timing because it makes reading your personal account, super enjoyable! Hope this finds you doing well, Heide.
    -Jason

    • What a wonderful treat it is to think that this post coincides with something you’ve been studying so keenly, dear Jason. The tides around this island really are as epic as their reputation suggests. I hope you and the boys will have an opportunity to visit someday, because you would have a marvelous time, between the history and the vistas and the natural beauty. And also the juxtaposition of old and modern! I never get used to that either, no matter how many times I go to Europe. Well … thank you so much for brightening my day with your lovely comment, and cheers to you!

  7. OMG, all those steps. I think I will have to bump it down a few places on my list. I don’t know that my knees can deal with it. 🙂 Love your post. Glad you made it, steps and all.

    • Yes … the steps are a consideration, I’m afraid. But both of my travel companions had cardiac concerns, so we took it slow and easy (for the most part) and then it was manageable. But at the very least I recommend staying nearby and maybe doing a guided tour out in the bay. That’s on my bucket list for next time, if I’m every lucky enough to go back.

    • Hello Matti,
      I hope you will be able to visit someday! I can only imagine how beautiful YOUR photos would be. Thank you for stopping by!

  8. I realise I’d missed the new blog layout and the new posts, it’s really nice! I’ll catch up soon (very busy period). As to MSM, I must admit my feelings are mixed. It’s become so touristy that it’s hard to feel you are in a real place anymore. Last time we went was 5 years ago and even though it was in Spring it was teaming with people. I’m not so fond of crowds. Had the same feeling in Lisbon. In fact the whole world is turning into Disneyland and we are responsible for this. OK, I’ll stop moaning, I promise (can’t like, something’s broken with my log in process, WordPress is more and more quirky these days)

    • I will join you in your bemoaning the touristy state of the world, Yann! (Even as I sheepishly recognize that I am part of the problem …) Just as I will join you in bemoaning the curious state of WordPress, too: You can’t like, I can’t comment on about half the blogs I follow. What is the world coming to? Well, we’ll catch up when you come back up for air. Au boulot ! 🙂

  9. Well it looks positively magical. I’m with you on the sign thing, why must it be so? Sounds like you should pack light for an overnight. I wouldn’t want to carry heavy luggage up all those stairs. I love the idea of staying over night too. Why rush when you may not be back for years. You really did luck out on the views, how gorgeous!! Romantic and dreamy ❤

    When we were on tour in Venice, Jim and I got a corner room with two windows looking out to the canal. We couldn't believe our good fortune. We immediately swung open the shutters and hung out the windows to take it all in. The next morning at breakfast, two sisters complained that their room just looked at the brick wall of a hotel next door. It wasn't the first thing they'd complained about on the tour, so I think they'd made their own bed and had to sleep in it (if you know what I mean). Will return later to catch up some more xK

    • What a wonderful tale about your travels in Venice! (And yes, I do catch your drift about the two sisters. Sometimes we get what we deserve, eh? Good for the tour guides for giving the view to someone who would appreciate it — like you!) xoxo

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