One of the great architectural and natural wonders of Europe, Mont St-Michel has attracted travellers and pilgrims to its watery gates for centuries. Situated in the French region of Normandy, the site is nothing short of astonishing. A 10th-century Benedictine Abbey and fortified “city” lies on a granitic island in the English channel, surrounded by a dramatic tidal system whose waters and sands interplay to cast magnificent– and ever-changing– light. Incredibly rich in history, architecture and natural beauty, the site leaves few indifferent to its sublime power. It’s little wonder that it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Intrigued? Keep reading for our perspectives on why luxury travellers should consider a visit to Mont Saint-Michel as part of a high-end getaway to France– and learn how our bespoke private tours can greatly enhance your appreciation of the myth-filled site.
4 Reasons to Include Mont St-Michel on a Luxury French Holiday
..History, Natural Beauty & Romantic Stays
Bask in Centuries of History & Architectural Achievement
A literally towering achievement of human ingenuity, the Abbaye de Saint-Michel is a living testament to over a millenium of French architecture and history. Within its walls lie the key to understanding much about how medieval French society was held together at its core by Christian religious institutions, which built enormous structures like the Abbey for both defensive purposes and to convey their power and importance.
A Short History of Mont Saint-Michel & the Abbey
Constructed over the course of an astounding 1,300 years, the site emerged as a place of religious important in around 708, when the Bishop Aubert built a debut sanctuary on the natural structure then known as Mont Tombe, in honour of the Archangel. It was only in 966 that it was established as a monastery, under the orders of the Duke of Normandy, Richard I. The Benedictine monks that settled at the growing site were instrumental in transforming the once-humble sanctuary into one of the Western world’s most important pilgrimage sites.
Read related: Our Unique French History and Culture Tours
It also became a beacon of intellectual and scholarly achievement, producing and holding some of the Middle Ages’ most precious illuminated manuscripts. It eventually earned the honorific title “City of Books” due to the important number of valued books and manuscripts harboured there. Monarchs of France and England frequently visited the site as pilgrims.
Anyone interested in architecture will be marveled by the Abbey’s complex structure– and the history of its construction. The monument’s unusually diverse architectural styles reflects the fact that it was built, restored and remodelled over the course of many centuries, from the 10th through the 21st. Fires, restorations, violent revolutions and other events necessitated some of these changes, while others had more to do with changing styles and aesthetic preferences. Features such as the Monks’ Ambulatory (gorgeous cloisters) and ornate spiral staircases plunge visitors straight back into the heart of medieval France.
From Sanctuary to Powerful Fortress
Some of the 11th to 13th century structures remain in place to this day: The Abbey church, sitting at the top of the Mount at 80 metres in altitude, itself rests on a platform built into the spur of the rock. The platform consists in four crypts. Meanwhile, the Merveille building is widely considered to represent the height of Norman Gothic artistic achievement, and the Abbey’s great masterpiece. Consisting in three varied levels, the elaborate building is supported by 16 enormous buttresses and rising to 35m in height.
Read related: The Most Beautiful Castles in France
It was during the 14th century that the Abbey added fortified walls around the structure. Because the Mont Saint-Michel stood at the border between the regions of Normandy and Brittany, it held strategic importance both as a defensive site and a passage between the two regions. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France also spurred the construction of fortifications. A powerful wall surrounded by defensive towers served to fend off attacks from the English for over three decades during the 14th century.
Decline and Restoration
From the 18th century onward, the site saw a significant decline and fell into near-ruin. The French Revolution of 1789 made the Abbey state property; the resident monks were expelled and the site became a prison for refractory priests. In the 19th century, the former Abbey was turned into a reformatory house for prisoners and political prisoners.
It was only in the late 19th century and through the 20th that efforts have been made to restore the magnificent site to its former glory, and preserve its precious legacy. The Abbey and the surrounding Bay became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and the Mont has been added to the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route between France and Spain. Today, in addition to being a popular tourist destination, it again houses an order of monks.
See One of France’s Great Natural and Geographic Marvels
No trip to Normandy would be complete without an exploration of the magnificent Mont-Saint-Michel Bay, which as mentioned earlier is itself a UNESCO site and a genuine geographic marvel. Stretching over some 500 km2, the Bay is subject to some truly dramatic tidal movements, yielding high and low tide conditions that respectively fill the bay with water and then see it draw back. These are Europe’s highest tides, a phenomenon for all nature lovers to experience at least once.
The Abbey and the granite island it stands on are thus appreciated in vastly different conditions and perspectives, depending on the time of day. The recent construction of a bridge connecting the entrance to the site and the Abbey has made it more accessible– and safer– for visitors wishing to experience it during both high and low tide.
Read Related: The Most Beautiful Places for Hiking in France
In addition to harbouring a complex ecosystem that supports wild fauna from seals to avocets, ospreys and frogs, the vast salt marshes and mud-flats are also home to numerous, unusual plant species that tolerate the constantly changing tidal conditions. In total, more than 130 wild species of birds can be found in the bay– making it an ideal spot for birdwatching amateurs to observe the wonders of France’s natural diversity.
Dolphins, seals, and over 100 species of fish also thrive in the bay. Nature enthusiasts can embark on privately guided walks, hikes, boating trips and even lightweight aircraft rides around the Bay to better appreciate the site’s stunning treasures. Your private guide will open your eyes and other senses to Saint-Michel’s remarkable natural phenomena.
And for the most ambitious walkers and dedicated wildlife seekers, walks and hikes may span several days, taking you through lush green hillsides and cliffs overlooking the bay, into the salt marshes and mud banks during low tide, and through quiet, charming villages situated along the bay. You can experience the routes that pilgrims have taken for centuries, and witness the ever-changing light and landscapes under the influence of the dramatic tides.
Stage a Romantic Honeymoon, Wedding or Other Event
If you’re looking for an original and inspiring setting for a French honeymoon, wedding reception, anniversary or other special event, Mont St-Michel certainly fits the bill. Few places are more authentically romantic, and for couples looking to add a dose of history and wild nature to their special day or getaway, the site packs plenty of both.
Imagine a lavish ceremony, reception or anniversary party held at the foot of the medieval abbey, as a sublime sunset settles over the Saint-Michel bay and casts warm light on the sand, water and the imposing fortress just beyond. You may also choose to have an elegant reception at the nearby Chateau les Hauts, situated right on the bay and offering an opulent interior or outdoor setting for ann unforgettable, original event.
If you’re interested in spending part or all of your honeymoon in the area or even propose to your sweetheart in a completely romantic and luxurious way, we can help you chart the itinerary of your dreams. Romantic helicopter rides or hot air balloon flights over the stunning Bay make the ultimate romantic gesture– and if you and your beloved are thrill-seeking types, why not embark on a tandem paragliding flight over the Bay?
Read related: The Most Romantic Places in France to Propose Marriage
Nature lovers, meanwhile, can enjoy activities such as hiking and boating around Normandy and even extend their exploration into Brittany. Both are famous for their dramatic seaside walks and maritime adventures.
Book an Obligation-Free Consultation With Our Weddings & Occasions Team
Whether you’re tying the knot, planning to get on one knee or planning a wedding anniversary, we’ll ensure your luxury wedding or other occasion in France is nothing short of unforgettable. Contact us for an obligation-free quote.
Stay in Luxury and Style
If you wish to stay overnight at or nearby Mont St-Michel, you have several options for a luxurious and relaxing sojourn following an active day of walking and touring. Here are just a couple of our recommendations– we have many more for our discerning clients.
L’Ermitage Mont St-Michel
Located just four kilometres from the mythical Abbey, L’Ermitage Mont Saint-Michel is a five-star inn and hotel that opened in 2011, much to the delight of luxury travellers looking for superb accommodations in the area. Set in a renovated 19th-century building, the hotel boasts six sumptuously appointed suites, which include private terraces, bathtubs, elegant French-style decor and easy access to the natural wonders of the Bay of Saint-Michel.
The onsite restaurant helmed by Chef Aurélie Rohdmann focuses on regional staples such as freshly caught oysters, Calvados and blue lobster, with an emphasis on the finest local ingredients and innovative flavours.
Meanwhile, VIP guests can benefit from services such as a private helicopter transfer directly to the hotel from the local airport, a ride that offers sublime and intimate perspectives over the remarkable site and the interplay of sea, sand and light.
Chateau de Boucéel
For those seeking a touch of history and rustic charm in close reach of Mont St-Michel and at the border of Brittany, consider booking a luxurious room or suite at the Chateau de Boucéel. Built on grounds dating to the 12th century, the authentic country chateau and B&B itself dates to the 17th. History buffs will enjoy the chateau’s ties to French military and revolutionary history: once surrounded by four towers, it was a last stop on a pilgrimage route to Mont St-Michel. During the French Revolution of the 1790s, it was burned and pillaged by revolutionary “blue soldiers”, while at the outset of World War II in 1940, it was briefly occupied by German soldiers.
The chateau boasts an outdoor heated pool (from May to October), sumptuously decorated yet rustic rooms and suites, as well as several private, Norman-style cottages with a wide range of luxurious amenities. Meanwhile, guests can enjoy the bucolic charms of onsite ponds and gardens, where you might spy wild birds, cross bridges over small, wooded streams, and enjoy the company of resident donkeys, cats and dogs.
Book a Bespoke Getaway to Mont St-Michel With Us
Have we managed to convince you that a visit to the mythical site might be a perfect addition to your luxury stay in France, or broader exploration of Normandy? If so, get in touch with us. We’ll craft a private tour, special event or bespoke getaway that’s both entirely unique and exclusive.