Mont Saint Michel is the most visited monument in France (excluding the Ile de France region), with over 2 million visitors every year. The Mont and its bay are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and form a breathtaking and majestic site not to be missed.
Before arriving in Belle Isle sur Risle, or after staying there, we invite you to spend a day at the Mont St Michel….you’ll have an unforgettable experience there, and here’s why:
*its fantastic history
In the year 708, the Archangel Michael appeared three times in a dream to Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, and asked him to build a sanctuary in his name. The bishop chose the island known as Mont Tombe. An oratory was built there, and despite the island’s location and the shifting sands, pilgrims soon flocked to this new spiritual site. The surrounding population then took refuge there to escape the Vikings, and as time went by, a village grew up on the rock and the church grew in size.
In 966, Duke Richard I of Normandy decided to place Benedictine monks on the Mont, monks who obeyed the rule of Saint Benedict. This is the date recognised as the foundation of the Abbey of Mont Saint Michel.
Over the following centuries, the abbey, which had become too small, underwent a number of transformations with the addition of new buildings, including a church and crypts. The Mont had to face an English siege from 1423 and emerged victorious in 1434, becoming a symbol of victory for the kingdom of France.
By the 17th century, pilgrimages were running out of steam. Nevertheless, the monks soon had to deal with the influx of prisoners detained under lettres de cachet in an abbey that was gradually being transformed into a prison.
When the prison closed for good in 1863, the abbey was completely dilapidated. Fortunately, the concept of heritage was born and the abbey was listed as a Monument Historique in 1874. It was then that major restoration work began.
*for its abbey
A veritable architectural feat, the abbey is both dizzying and disorientating. What is striking is its verticality. Its location at the top of the hill and on the side of the rock is formed of a complex organisation of superimposed and winding structures.
A strategic point in the heart of the bay, the abbey was also a fortress of the Duchy of Normandy during the Middle Ages. During the Hundred Years’ War, despite the many conflicts that took place in the region, Mont-Saint-Michel held out. This was thanks in particular to the construction of powerful ramparts, which made it an impregnable city, but no doubt also to the incessant coming and going of the tides. The abbey is also astonishing for the multiplicity of its architectural forms!
Following the classification of the abbey as a historic monument and the celebration of the monastic millennium in 1965-1966, a small community of Benedictine monks moved into the abbey in 1969. In 2001, it was replaced by the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem. Today, a dozen monks and nuns live in this national monument. The cloister, the statue of the archangel and, more recently, the buildings of the Merveille have all been restored.
When you visit the abbey, you can see the cloister on the north side of the rock, between sky and sea, as if suspended, with a breathtaking view over the bay of Le Mont. Take the lacy staircase to the top. The abbey church towers 80 metres above the epicentre of a maze of staircases.
*For the quarrel between Bretons and Normans
Bretons and Normans regularly argue over who owns the Mont St Michel. In the beginning, the question did not arise because Normandy did not exist when the first church was built and Brittany was made up of several kingdoms that did not extend as far as Mont St Michel. Until the beginning of the 11th century, the mountain was neither Breton nor Norman, but primarily Benedictine.
In 708, Mont-Saint-Michel was part of Franc territory, and in 867, the king entrusted the territories of Avranchin and Cotentin to the Duke, King of Brittany. However, in 931, the Duke of Normandy recovered Avranchin and Cotentin, and the Mont became Norman once again. In 1204, Normandy became part of the Kingdom of France, and Mont-Saint-Michel has remained Norman ever since. In short, Mont-Saint-Michel has been Breton for only 64 years of its history.”
Historical differences aside, Mont Saint-Michel remains a shared tourist and cultural challenge that both regions know how to promote and preserve. The major work to remove sand from the mount, financed by each bank of the Couesnon, is a perfect example of the collaboration.
And in any case, it is a unesco World Heritage Site, and belongs to every human being on the planet
*for its tides and breathtaking scenery
To observe the phenomenon of the rising tide and the arrival of the tidal bore, it is best to arrive 2 hours before the time of high tide.
Influenced by the position of the stars (the Sun and the Moon), there are two types of tide: neap tides, which cause small movements of water, and spring tides, which cause large flows.
During high tides, the sea completely surrounds the rock. The most spectacular tides occur twice a year: during the spring and autumn equinoxes. During these tides, the sea can recede by up to 15km, but you have to be very careful: the sea rises like a galloping horse!
You can observe the phenomenon from the Mont, the ramparts, the West Terrace (in front of the abbey, access to which is included in the visit), or the new footbridge.
But the bay is also a great sightseeing point: the Roche Torin at Courtils, the Grouin du Sud at Vains-Saint-Léonard and the Gué de l’Epine at Val-Saint-Père.
Whether you’re visiting Mont Saint Michel for the first time or have been there before, the view is breathtaking and always new. The marvel can be seen from afar, and the closer you get, the more you are overwhelmed by the beauty and immensity of the place. You’re left speechless, swept away by the magic of the place and the grandeur of the site. An unforgettable experience.