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Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

This posting represents my fourth entry in the series entitled Le Havre as a Port Stop and covers Mont-Saint-Michel

When your cruise ship docks at Le Havre, you will not be short of things to do or places to go and see. Therefore, I will have to cover this port stop in a number of blog postings as there are simply too many options. I have broken the primary choices into the following six categories:

Normandy - The Landing Beaches

Normandy - Other WWII Related Sites

Normandy – The Cities/Villages to Visit (Carentan, Rouen and Bayeux).


Paris – The City of Lights in a Lightening Fast Day Tour

Le Havre and Honfleur

I confess to not having heard of Mont-Saint-Michel until twenty years ago, when a friend, whose research on historical places I absolutely respect, told me this was a "must-see" place in Normandy. It is indeed a great place to visit when on a trip to France but also possible to visit as a port stop either on a private tour or through a cruise ship organized excursion. It is a bit of a distance from the port of Le Havre (around 445 km roundtrip via A84), so if you decide to go see this UNESCO World Heritage site, it would be a single destination trip from the port. By single destination, I specifically mean you have sufficient time to travel to Mont Saint-Michel, tour the island and get back to port in time for your ship’s departure but you would be pressed for time to stop and tour other locations. If you are just visiting Normandy and not on a port stop, don’t forget to visit this marvellous place and allow yourself sufficient time as there is a lot to see.

Located on an island just off the coast of Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel is now permanently joined to the mainland by a causeway. People started calling the island Mont Saint-Michel informally early in the 8th century but the name became permanent around 966 when a Benedictine abbey, dedicated to Saint Michel, was built there. Prior to that, it was called Mont-Tombe and in old documents you can see references to the Abbey of Saint Michel on Mont-Tombe.

We rented a vehicle and drove to Mont Saint-Michel. The drive was not that difficult since we took the well signed main highways to get there. We returned at leisure by the coastal road which takes a bit more time and is a greater distance to drive. It is very picturesque, but you will find yourself slowing due to higher traffic congestion. I do not think it is practical (time wise), for people on shore excursions to get to Mont Saint-Michel via the use of the coastal roads coming and going from the port, so I suggest you take the highway to go and then if you have time on the return, take the coastal roads.

We drove to the designated parking area (which is massive). There was plenty of signage and directions from people working there as to which designated parking lot was open so it was not difficult to navigate but do remember where you parked because it is a large area. You cannot drive to the island nor can you park near the causeway for that matter. You have a choice to drive to the parking area OR to a drop-off point. If you are travelling with people with mobility issues, choose the drop-off point as even the walk from the parking lots can be an issue.

The view as we exited the parking lot and walked towards the causeway and Mont Saint-Michel was impressive. A rocky island, with ancient walls, a medieval village topped by an outstanding Gothic, Benedictine abbey is a fabulous, impressive and awe-inspiring sight. Rather than take one of the people mover vehicles, we opted to walk from the parking area which was about two and a half kilometres. We found the walk fine but if you are not up for a little trek, take the people movers and you will be seated and driven right to the entrance of the city.

If you are walking, you will find that the causeway is wide and has little benches for those wanting to rest, people watch, or view the tide come in or out. It is also lovely to sit there at dusk and watch the sunset over the island. The water around the island is tidal so when the tide is out, there is miles of sand and people will go down and walk around the tidal pools and on the sandy areas. I have included a couple of photos of the view from the top of Mont Saint-Michel when the tide is out.

Once you arrive at the island and pass through the entrance to the walled retreat, it is all up hill (or at least it seemed that way to me). Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, Mont Saint-Michel is a step back in time with the enchanting stone buildings and uneven footing. Dominating the upward view is the abbey which draws the tourist up the steep hill with a promise of the marvels within.

There are many quaint little stores in which to shop but prices are high and you can buy the same things elsewhere in Normandy for half the price. We did of course try the cookies called Sablés which are a staple of the area. These are a type of butter cookies which I found tasted a bit like short bread.

Once you walk uphill to the foot of the Abbey, you will encounter 350 stairs that have their own name. According to the guidebook I read, climbing up the “Grand Degre” stairs is fun and enjoyable. That is not how I would describe it. To me it was just stairs to be climbed and I was already hot from the uphill walk to get to them. With a lack of enthusiasm, I climbed but kept telling myself that it was all going to be downhill when we left so that, and the promise of a fabulous view, would be my reward for suffering all those stairs. By the time we had walked from the parking lot, across the causeway, up the street and climbed the stairs, my goal of 10,000 steps had been surpassed. I ended the day at over 30,000 steps and feet that reminded me that I was no longer 25.

The entrance to the Abbey was 10 Euros and there was a line up to get in. We are glad we opted to pay and do the tour as it is really the crowning glory of Mont Saint-Michel. It was massive and very interesting. Additionally, the view is fantastic. Some artist has put mythical figures around the cathedral as well which makes it a bit quirky. I think it detracts a bit from the religious/historical ambience, but I did not hate it so I leave it up to those who view the art to make their own determination.

Overall, I loved this place and when talking to people about visiting Normandy, I tout Mont Saint-Michel as one of the "must see" places in France but warn about the uphill climb. The one bright side is that it IS all downhill as you leave and that made it enjoyable and a lot faster. My return to the rental car was achieved with a great deal more enthusiasm and speed.

Since I have spoken about visiting Mont Saint-Michel, I have received questions regarding whether any English is spoken so I will pass on the information I have given regarding the language spoken. Obviously French is prevalent but almost all the shops had people who spoke English. We speak both English and French but we heard English spoken in most of the shops so no worries on that front. In one shop the person who spoke English was on a break, so we ended up as impromptu translators but that was the only store where there was an issue for the tourists and clearly a temporary one at that.

A clear sunset at Mont Saint-Michel will garner great photos. As always, if you have any questions, comments or observations, please feel free to contact me at


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