Perched atop a rocky outcropping in the bay separating Brittany from Normandy, the Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most breathtaking landmarks in France. The bay witnesses daily high tides that, as Victor Hugo described them, come racing in at “the speed of a galloping horse,” spectacularly transforming the abbey into an island. Nicknamed the Marvel of the West, the abbey was erected in the 10th century over a sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel Michael and expanded several times over the course of the Middle Ages as it grew into one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe.
On this full-day excursion, we’ll take the train from Paris to Rennes/Dol de Bretagne, where we’ll meet our expert guide and driver. Together, we’ll drive to the commune of Mont Saint-Michel, where our local expert will walk us through the turbulent history of the abbey, its strategic location, its architecture, and its religious significance.
At the same time that construction on the abbey began, a village started growing up at the base of the rock. During the Hundred Years War in the 14th century, a series of defensive walls and towers were added to the outside of the village to protect its inhabitants from a relentless thirty-year siege. We will begin our visit to the Mont Saint-Michel by passing through these imposing walls and entering into the maze of narrow, winding streets and steep stone steps of the medieval village. As we begin our climb toward the abbey, we will explore the architectural complexity of the village, built over the course of several centuries, and learn about the site’s links to its Norman origins.
We’ll then make our way from the village below up toward the apex of the rock where we will visit the gravity-defying structures of the abbey. At the summit, we’ll learn about medieval building techniques and styles as we explore the series of soaring Gothic spaces that grew up around the original Romanesque core of the building between the 13th and 15th centuries. (Interested in architecture? Check out our Paris Gothic Architecture
and Making Modern Paris
tours.) We might also discuss how art, religion, and politics worked together to shape the space, how the abbey was transformed into a prison during the French Revolution, or how it was restored in the 19th century.
Finally, after touring the village and monastery, we’ll spend some time along the coastline–the best place to take in the majesty of this magical landmark. Being sure to steer clear of the “galloping” tides, we’ll investigate how the unique geography of the site, coupled with the pull of the sun and moon, create the greatest tidal variations in the world. We’ll also learn why this location, so often cut off from the outside world by water, was ideal for the Benedictine monks who made the island their home.
We’ll head back to Paris having learned how this 1000-year-old site, originally intended to separate monks from the outside world, became an important center of pilgrimage and a strategically-important location for the kings of France.
Where do we meet? Where does it end? Your guide and driver will meet you in the city of Rennes, in Brittany, 1.5 hours drive from and to the Mont Saint-Michel. You will take the train independently from Paris to Rennes. At the end of the tour, you will be dropped off at Rennes Train Station, where you will take the train back to Paris. We can pre-purchase train tickets for you; simply leave them in your shopping cart during check out. We'll then email you the tickets before your trip.
How long is the train ride from Paris to Rennes? About 2 hours each way.
Will we be taking the TGV (high speed train)? Can I upgrade to first class train tickets? Yes. We normally purchase 2nd class train tickets for the TGV, but we could purchase 1st class tickets instead for an additional cost. Please let us know and we will contact you to discuss pricing options.
Can we arrange a car from Paris instead of taking the train? Yes. Please contact us about pricing options. The drive from Paris to Mont Saint Michel is about 4 hours each way.
I'm not staying in Paris! What should I do? If you're staying in Normandy or Brittany not far from the Mont Saint Michel, we can have the car pick you up. There might be a slight additional fee depending on where you're staying in Normandy; contact us to discuss. If you're staying outside of Normandy, we can advise where to meet your guide in Normandy.
Is this tour wheelchair accessible?
Please contact us to discuss in more detail your mobility concerns so that we can best advise. We can arrange a car service for visitors with mobility concerns. We don't recommend using public transportation to travel to and from Mont Saint Michel. Please note that there is no elevator on the Mont Saint Michel and there are multiple steps to climb to access the main sites. The main street is paved and a progressive steep solve, so moving around in a wheelchair can be very difficult.