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The magical island of Mont St Michel

Why this is the most visited tourist attraction in France

Instantly recognisable, it’s an island just off the coast, nestled between Normandy and Brittany.

It’s cocooned within a bay, and the first sight is incredible to behold. Nestled on top of the island is one of the finest examples of a medieval walled city, with the jewel in the crown being a beautiful Gothic abbey rising high above the estuary.

Mont St Michel tower
Mont St Michel tower

It was one of the first monuments to be given UNESCO World Heritage Status, back in 1979.

The island housed a Christian place of worship as early as 708 AD, dedicated to St Michael, patron saint of sailors. Because of its close proximity to Britain, you can imagine that it has played huge historical significance throughout the years, and was a battle ground between the French and the English. It has been in both English and French possession, much as the nearby Channel Islands have been. Whilst they have remained under British rule, however, the island has been French since the 13th Century. It has at one time been a jail, but now is now looked after by monks and nuns from the Fraternity of Jerusalem.

Not only is its history fascinating and reason enough to entice over a million tourists every year, its geography has contributed to what it is today. So, for example, the island is now several square miles smaller than it was back in medieval times.

Mont St Michel by night
Mont St Michel by night

Then, it really was an island out in the bay and access was mainly by boat, but was surrounded by sand at low tide, and could sometimes be walked across. However, over the years, the silt has been mounting up in the bay, threatening to attach the island to the mainland. In the 19th century, a causeway was built between the island and the mainland, to allow better access and cars to reach the island, but that, in the end, only contributed to the problem. The water was trapped, and so could no longer flow freely, and the silt built up even further.

However, a massive project was undertaken to restore Mont St Michel as its rightful status as an island, and now there is a new wonderful causeway, which still allows water to flow freely underneath. Other measures too, such as a new barrage, which helps to flush the silt away have been implemented, and the island has been returned to its former glory.

So what can visitors see? Visitors come to the island for two main reasons. One is to see the beautiful buildings and visit the monument for sightseeing reasons. Holidaymakers and school children, for example. The other reason people visit the island is for its spirituality roots, it’s an important pilgrim monument.

Of course, the abbey is the building to see, its medieval cloisters are simply breath taking. And the view from the top is indeed spiritual, the view across the bay outstanding.

Mont St Michel by day
Mont St Michel by day

Aside from the abbey, the houses and narrow streets make the island a wonderfully quaint place to visit, with plenty of shops and restaurants and hotels to encourage you to prolong your stay here.

At Belle France, we’ve recently launched a new walking tour which takes in a stop to Mont St Michel, and we’re really delighted with the itinerary. Beginning in Normandy, the tour takes you along the coast, through the seaside resorts of Granville and St Jean le Thomas, and your trip to the Mont is inclusive of a guide, giving you in-depth information and facts to enhance your trip here.

For more information, check out the tour here, or get in touch with our team, who will be delighted to help


Main article images:

Le Mont St. Michel by night, seen from across the water - By William Warby from London, England - Le Mont St. Michel Uploaded by Tomer T, CC BY 2.0
The outer walls of the Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy - By Patrick Drackley - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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