(Almost not) getting to Mont St. Michel

A friend asked about some photos of Mont St. Michel I posted ages ago. Had I stayed on the island? Was one night enough? There was so much I wanted to tell him that I promised him his own post — and then wrote three! So here’s the first installment, peppered with excerpts from my travel journal.

Although I had seen Mont St. Michel in dozens of tourism brochures and magazines, its existence still seemed improbable. And yet here I was — along with Esteban and our dear friend Des — en route to the legendary island.

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Tourism bureau photo at a bus stop in Rennes

The train ride from Paris flew by, but soon we hit our first snag: The 12:35 bus from Rennes to the island had been cancelled. Alas … if we waited for the next bus at 4:40, we’d miss touring the abbey.

Rennes to Mont St. Michel 1390830 BLOG

We considered taking a train to Pontorson, but that wouldn’t leave until 4 — and then we’d still have to take a shuttle. What to do? We had only one shot at this, because our trip back to Paris started at 9 the next morning.

I left my bags with the guys and (literally) ran to the taxi stand. A bit of sweet-talking and 100 euros would get us to Mont St Michel. Bingo! Just one hour later we were glimpsing it through the car’s windows.

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The driver took us as far as he could, to the shuttle stop. We piled onto the bus and craned our necks in unison with tourists from 10 other nations as we approached the island.

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For once, my imagination was no match for reality. I couldn’t believe the beauty of this magnificent monument as I stepped off the shuttle and onto the causeway.

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The air smelled briny, and beneath me the sand was littered with 800-year-old rubble and day-old shells. A sign warned tourists of the legendary tides.

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Little rivulets revealed which way the tide had gone, and a lost umbrella sat among the tufts of vegetation that jutted from the sand.

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My sense of wonder waned once I stepped inside the gate, though: Throngs of sightseers choked the main road, and garish signs hung over the streets. It was flippin’ Disneyland!

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We wove through the crowd with our luggage and found the hotel easily on the single main road. Except it wasn’t the hotel. “Your rooms are in a different building,” chirped the receptionist. “I’ll show you the way.”

We followed her up the road, then up a flight of stairs, and then another flight of stairs, and then a third, and then another still … and up one more, before she said “Here’s the first room.” Lucky Des!

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Mont St Michel doorway 1490249 BLOG

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Esteban and I followed her up another four or five sets of stone steps. Why had I booked this, again? I was dismayed when we opened the door. The room was tiny!

Mont St Michel hotel room 1480474 BLOG(The fish-eye lens makes it look larger than it was.)

But then I saw the sliding glass doors, and the view beyond: Our terrace overlooked the cemetery’s bell tower and the bay. Little pink flowers in the planters swayed in the wind, as if to greet us. Birdsong from a half-dozen species blended with the chimes of the bells, which rang at random intervals.

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Mont St Michel view 1480481 BLOG

“Why are we staying just one night?” Esteban asked me.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2, in which we tour the abbey and spend just one night.


• Our hiccup notwithstanding, it’s easy to get to Mont St. Michel. European Traveler and Insidr offer excellent guides to your transit options.

• Unless you’re walking onto the island, it’s mandatory to take the free shuttle bus. It runs often but give yourself extra time to avoid disappointment.

• We stayed at La Vielle Auberge, in a “Twin Room with Sea View.” It was a splurge for the size and amenities, but worth it for the panoramic vistas.

• Although it’s possible to visit Mont St. Michel as a day-trip, I recommend staying overnight. I’ll be back soon to show you why.

Text and images © Heather Munro.