In our regular column, Places of Pinterest, we serve up the low down on those iconic travel images that pinners love – how to get there, where to stay, what else to see nearby… all the details that you need to turn your virtual daydream into reality.
This Time: Mont Saint-Michel, France
Where: Mont Saint-Michel is an island off of the coast of Lower Normandy, France, about a four-hour drive away from Paris. Surrounded by a bay that stretches from Normandy to Brittany, the island is connected to the mainland by a causeway and is most easily accessed by car. Free shuttles take visitors to the island from car parks on the mainland.
What: The rocky island of Mont Saint-Michel is topped by the gothic-style Benedictine Abbey of Saint Michel that rises from the island like a glowing sand castle. The abbey was built between the 11th and 16th centuries, but religious life on the island dates back to the 6th century and before when pilgrims began crossing the surrounding quicksand. The striking abbey is surrounded by a Medieval town heavy with tourist shops and restaurants that’s easily explored by foot. The entire site is UNESCO protected.
How: Mont Saint-Michel is easily explored without a guide. The Grande Rue is full of shops catering to tourists, and a walk up a steep staircase leads up to the abbey. Mont Saint-Michel is so focused on tourism, in fact, that less than 50 residents live on the island full-time, and they all live off the industry. At the abbey, explore the church, cloisters and refectory. An audio-guide or guided tour adds more depth – the rooms, while well preserved, are a bit bare. Back in town, try local delicacies like omelettes and saltmarsh lamb – sheep that’s grazed the salty tidal mudflats. Le Mere Poulard restaurant is famous for its omelettes and infamous for its high prices and brusque service.
It’s tempting to walk across the mudflats that result from low tide when waters recede from around the island’s base, but tidal floods come in quickly and attempting the walk without a local guide is unsafe. In fact, this bay has Europe’s largest tidal variations – the difference between low and high tides can be as much as 15 metres. Guided walks across the bay are available from tour companies like Decouverte de la Baie and Chemins de la Baie, based on the mainland in Genets.
What Else: Mont Saint-Michel itself could be covered in a few hours, but there’s much more to see in the surrounding French countryside. Nearby, the 75 miles of coast from Ste. Marie du Mont to Ouistreham are known for the D-Day beaches where troops landed during the famous World War II battle. Memorials, museums and graveyards are numerous. The beach at Etretat wasn’t a D-Day beach but hosts beautiful white cliffs that are worth a look themselves. Also nearby, the towns of Saint Malo, Dinan, Granville and Dol de Bretague are all beautiful places for a wander by foot, especially for history buffs. The coastal town of Cancale is known for its oyster production and tasting opportunities abound.
Stay: Given the area’s touristy crowds (the Mont attracts over three million visitors per year), it’s a safe bet that many lodgings on the island itself risk being overpriced and low quality. The Auberge du Terroir, just ten kilometres away from the island in Servon, has six rooms in a quaint country home and makes for a delightful base for exploring the surrounding region.