While Mont-Saint-Michel is a bit too far away to make a good day trip from Paris, nevertheless if you visit northern France you should try to make time to see it. No doubt you’ve seen pictures of the high turrets and towers of the abbey rising from the small island off the coast of Normandy. Seeing the Mont-Saint-Michel in person is every bit as spectacular as you would expect.
This tidal island is about one kilometre from the northern coast of Basse-Normandie, at the mouth of the Couesnon River. In 2006, Mont-Saint-Michel had a population of 41. Construction of the first monastery on the island began in the 8th century and was annexed as part of Normandy by William I, Duke of Normandy in the year 933. It was Norman patronage that financed the amazing Norman architecture of the abbey’s later incarnations.
In 1067 the monastery was rewarded with properties on the English side of the English Channel due to the monastery’s support of the Duke of Normandy’s claim to the English throne. Those properties included a small island west of Cornwall modeled after Mont-Saint-Michel called St. Michael’s Mount of Penzance. Over the course of the Hundred Years’ War, the English tried repeatedly, but were unable to seize Mont-Saint-Michel.
With the Protestant Reformation the popularity of Mont-Saint-Michel as a pilgrimage destination dropped, and by the time of the French Revolution, it was nearly deserted of monks. The abbey was turned into a prison, but by popular demand the prison was closed in 1863 and Mont-Saint-Michel became a historical monument in 1874.
The bay around the Mont-Saint-Michel is famous for its tides, which can change rapidly and strand (or drown) pedestrians who stray from the causeway linking the island to the mainland. While most people choose to stay in hotels on the mainland, there are a few expensive hotels within the walls of Mont-Saint-Michel itself. Staying on the mainland in Beauvoir or Pontorson is much less expensive, and access to Mont-Saint-Michel from either place is simple.
Located about 240 km from Paris, there is no direct public transport directly between the two. Nonetheless, the place is packed most of the time. You’ll find it less so if you wait until late afternoon to visit. To get from Paris to Mont-Saint-Michel by train, take the TGV train from Paris’ Gare Montparnasse to Rennes. There you can catch buses that make the 15-minute trip to Mont-Saint-Michel several times per day.
Alternatively, you could take the TGV train from Paris to the Pontorson-Mont-Saint-Michel train station. The Pontorson station is about 15 minutes from Mont-Saint-Michel, and buses run several times per day.
If you want to drive to Mont-Saint-Michel from Paris, take the A11 Autoroute in the direction of Chartres-Le Mans. You’ll take the Fougeres exit toward Mont-Saint-Michel on the A84. Continue to Pontorson, then on to Avranches. There you’ll merge onto the D43, and there will be signs to Mont-Saint-Michel, where the D43 ends. It costs €4 for parking at Mont-Saint-Michel and is about a 4 ½ hour drive from Paris.