Saint Michael in peril of the sea
Directly after landing in Rennes we finally made it to Mont Saint Michel; the true reason for this weekend’s trip. Long time in the wish list, but for many reasons it has never worked out either because of flight routes and times or by high air fares. Surprisingly this time, with FlyBe from Southend Airport was really a “bargain” (although let’s better say not so bargain when considering how expensive the train from central London was to the airport, and the time it all took having to change trains). Anyway, it was well worth it.
From Rennes, our base, we rented a car. Not that you would need it since there are frequent buses and trains between both Rennes and Mont Saint Michel, but our plan was a bit wider for today in not just visiting the Mount, but also nearby Saint Malo. Also possible to do everything on public transportation, but way much more time consuming. Both places are very small, so you do not need to stress about in not being possible to visit everything, because there is plenty of time, even during winter months that the days are shorter, as our case was.
The iconic island-village with its monastery at the top is one of the most renown tourist attractions in France, and also one of the most visited. Its beauty and perfection coupled with the idyllic location by the bay is not only a major tourist draw, but an UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see it at high tide, it is something truly memorable and impressive. We only saw it at very low tide, also quite unique image to see from the top of the Abbey with the emptiness of the tidal area.
While in the past the only way that connected the island with the mainland was a causeway only possible to use at low tide as otherwise it would become completely flooded and inaccessible, nowadays there is a permanent bridge, recently revamped in 2014 and designed by architect Dietmar Feichtinger, hence round the clock accessible to the mainland, either in high or low tide. This is also the main point of access, where the free shuttle buses from the car park take you.
Bear in mind that the choice for accommodation and food is very limited, and what is there might surprise you with the prices. The few restaurants are quite pricey, and perhaps you should consider this beforehand. In our case as after Mont Saint-Michel went to Saint Malo, the choice of restaurants over there was way larger and better. Or bring your own food beforehand as the large majority of tourist do as we could see. Other than that, there is not much more to be said in this brief introduction.
For more information about Mont Saint-Michel check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency in France is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Mont Saint-Michel
Since the entire island is the sight on its own, there’s no need this time to describe multiple sights as I do for other cities, however, among the historical places, you will find:
-Bastions and towers The entire mount is surrounded by a defensive wall with towers and bastions. It is perfectly preserved in its full length.
-Porte de l’Avancée The main entrance gate at the end of the causeway, and beginning of the Grand Rue towards the Monastery.
-Grand Rue The main (and only) street inside the island, leading from the entrance gates towards the Monastery at the top.
-St Pierre Church Half way towards the Monastery along the Grand Rue.
-Monastery of Saint-Michel At the very top on the highest location of the mount, visible from everywhere in the distance. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries on top of older structures. During the French Revolution it was used as a prison, nowadays completely restored and back in use as an Abbey. Many buildings form the complex, including a very fine cloister and large gardens occupying the entire north part of the island. The admission fee is 9 Euros for people above 26 years old, free for under 26 as long you are member of any of the 27 EU countries.
The nearest airports are either Rennes and Dinard, being the later one mostly used by low cost carriers. From those cities it is little over 1 hour by bus to Mont Saint-Michel. The first option (Rennes Airport) was were we flew in from London and worked perfectly for us, giving us the chance to also visit the beautiful city of Rennes the following day.
From elsewhere within France, the fastest way would be by train to Rennes, and the last part of the trip via bus. The buses actually depart towards Mont Saint-Michele in coincidence with the arrival of the trains from Paris. By long distance buses you can also easily get here, yet once again, towards Rennes, Dinard or Saint Malo, then changing onto another local bus for the last part of the trip.
If you would prefer getting here on your own, the best will be a rental car, this will allow you not only to save a lot of time when coming from nearby cities, but will also allow you to visit extra places like St Malo and Dinard, really nearby, and all in the same day.
Once there, the only possible way to move around is by walking. The causeway is entirely pedestrian, with the car park 2 kilometres away and free shuttle buses towards the main entrance gates at the end of the causeway. If you prefer, go walking from the car park, it is a nice walk nonetheless as you will get the nicest views of the mount in front of you as you get nearer.
Although the accommodation choice is extremely limited in Mont Saint-Michel, I cannot recommend anything since we made our base in Rennes, the largest nearby city. Other cities in the area with good choice of hotels are Dinard and St Malo. The prices we saw while walking in Saint-Michel were exorbitant! Beware of this.
The choice of hotels in Rennes, while not too big, is large enough to have a good variety among luxurious and more modest places. Also it was very simple and straightforward to find a good deal especially because it was still low season, even though it was almost April, just a week before Easter. As always, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine websites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Ibis Rennes Centre Gare Sud. Modest 3* hotel, great location next door to the train station and a short walk to the old town and majority of the sights. Great staff, friendly at all moments; nice fresh room well cared with comfortable bed and very quiet at night. Perfect for a night as it was all we needed.