Fairytales may not exist in the real world, but Mont Saint Michel in La Manche, France comes pretty close. Here’s why it makes the perfect weekend break destination…
The island of Mont Saint-Michel is situated in La Manche, a region in the west of Normandy that spans a peninsula running from Mont Saint-Michel right up to the tip of the Cotentin. Characterised by it’s dramatic coastline of jagged cliffs and broad sandy beaches lined by wild grasses and flowers, there is as much to see off shore as there is on the mainland.
While rolling green countryside and French chateaus that still remain largely unchanged by time since they were first built make up the landscape inland, out to sea the beautiful and historically rich islands of Chausey (the largest archipelago in Europe), Tatihou, and of course Mont Saint-Michel draw visitors on their own accord.
For more information on the La Manche region of France, visit their website.
The bay of Mont Saint-Michel is a listed UNESCO ‘World Heritage’ site, making it a huge draw for visitors all around the world – and rightly so.
Towering above the sun-lit sea gently lapping the coast of France, this 6th Century islet and abbey has been bewitching visitors for centuries.
Cobbles streets, brightly coloured houses, secret passageways and winding staircases make up the tiny village that surrounds the abbey on the island. Navigate your way through the bustling streets, past intriguing wooden doors leading to hidden houses and the obligatory gift shops nestled within the old historic walls, and you will find yourself faced with the climb to the abbey’s imposing entrance archways.
Once inside the abbey, you can either explore the many rooms, corridors and banquet halls for yourself, or take a guided tour. Given that the abbey is steeped in history and full of interesting details and hidden chambers (during the French Revolution the abbey was a prison, and the proof of this dark past can still be seen in the form of secret cells and rusting chains which hang from their walls) we would recommend getting those in-the-know to show you around.
Reaching new heights
For a truly special experience, book in advance to take a tour which will give you the unique opportunity to climb up one of the turrets onto the roof of Mont Saint-Michel. Not for those who may have a fear of heights, or the faint hearted, the breathtaking view from rooftop stone walkways surrounded by the abbey’s dramatically carved spires and towers is truly awesome. Admire the bay of Mont Saint-Michel from a unique perspective, as you see the salt meadows below, leading to the grassy mainland and beyond, or look out to sea towards the Normandy beaches.
For more information, visit the official Mont Saint-Michel website, where you can find a reliable list of all available guides for the area.
If you prefer to have your feet firmly on the ground, take a stroll around the ramparts of Mont Saint-Michel to watch the sea swirl around the Couesnon estuary. You can also get a fantastic view of the abbey on the footbridge as you approach the island.
Take a moment on the magnificent man-built causeway to appreciate Mont Saint-Michel in situ – a mile out to sea. This is an especially good spot for a magical picture after the tide has come in, when Mont Saint-Michel becomes an island once more.
When the tide goes out, you can also take a guided tour of the magnificent wide open sandy space of the bay. Discover both historical and natural treasures, while looking up at the abbey for a completely different perspective.
When To Go
Visitors flock to the abbey all year round, but the island is unsurprisingly at its busiest during the summer months. While warm sunny days provide the perfect backdrop for which to see the abbey in all its splendour, the crowds milling around the island will make it difficult to find a secluded spot of peace and quiet to really take it all in (or get a great crowd-free photo!)
If you don’t mind the cold, visiting Mont Saint Michel in the early months of the year, before the Easter Holidays, can be most rewarding. You’ll only have to contend with a fraction of the normal number of visitors when you get there, meaning you will really have the space (and patience) to explore the magically history of the island.
Plus, with shorter days on your side you’re more likely to catch the spectacular sunsets or sunrises (if you’re an early riser) that act as a breathtaking backdrop to the view of the islet from the mainland twice a day.
Where To Stay
While there are an array of hotels, hostels and B&Bs on offer within talking distance of the Mont Saint-Michel shuttle, make your stay even more memorable by booking a room in a quintessential, sumptuous French Château.
There are many Châteaus in the region that have chosen to open their doors to visitors to share their incredible history, with guests getting the chance to stay within the walls of an authentic historical building while the Château’s get some additional income to help with the eye-watering maintenance costs of running a French Château.
For an unparalleled authentic experience, supreme comfort and unmatched insight into the history of the family who owned the property and the surrounding area, we cannot more highly recommend Château Bouceel. Located just a 30 minute drive from Mont Saint-Michel, the magic of this place surrounds you the minute you turn off the main road and make your way down the drive to the imposing, majestic estate.
The château is a registered historical building that dates back to1763, and the owners – the Roquefeuil family – have been welcoming guests to stay in one of five splendid and luxuriously furnished rooms since 1999.
Having been in the family for generations, there are many aspects of the château that have gone unchanged for decades but in the most charming and fascinating way. Portraits painted over 100 years ago of family members hang on the walls, the panelling in the great drawing room dates back to the French Revolution, and some of the furniture is French baroque.
Over breakfast, served in the light and airy dining room, the master of the house may take the time to share with you some of his family’s history. Discover what happened to the château and its inhabitants during the French Revolution, or how the family coped when their home was seized by Nazis and used as a base in the summer of 1940.
The Count may also take the time to share with you one of his family’s priceless treasures – a comic book, drawn by his late father Arnaud de Roquefeuil. The book acts as a beautifully drawn diary, detailing the lives of the family and the dramatic events which took place in and around their home in World War II.
Although antiques fill every room and staying in living history is all part of the magic and charm of staying at Château Bouceel, there are also plenty of modern touches to help you feel at home. Cosy bathrobes hang in your ensuite equipped with both a bath and shower, Wifi is available throughout the house, as are charging points for phones, cameras etc.
The La Manche region of France where Mont Saint-Michel is located is incredibly well situated for those wishing to visit from the UK. As well as flying to Western Normandy (Rennes airport or Dinard Pieurtuit International Airport in Saint-Malo are the closest airports), there are also ferries you can take from Poole or Portsmouth to Cherbourg in the northern part of the region. The A13 from Paris connects the area with the country’s capital. If you take the Eurostar, not the Euro Tunnel, there are also trains connecting Paris with Cherbourg and Granville.
Whichever mode of transport you take to travel to the La Manche region of France, it is endlessly helpful to have a car when you get there. Renting a car can sometimes be an unnecessary extra expense on some trips, but here it will give you the freedom to travel to and from the coastline if you wish, and will allow you to stay in the gorgeous Chateaus, such as Château Bouceel, which lie inland from Mont Saint-Michel. It is also worth noting that taxis are incredibly expensive in the area, so having your own wheels is a great way of avoiding the extra extortionate costs.