Visiting Mont St Michel and Normandy has been on my travel list for years. My paternal grandfather was a Colonel in the US Army. He helped lead the 101st Airborne D-Day invasion during World War II. My dad passed away when I was 10-years-old and my grandfather died a few years after that. I never had the opportunity to get to know him beyond the writings of his illustrious military career and family keepsakes, so I have struggled with the decision to make a trip to Normandy. After debating between spending our summer vacation in Germany or France, we decided on a road trip through Normandy. Mont Saint Michel and the surrounding area was the first stop on our two week trip through northern France.
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Two Week Normandy Itinerary
I know most people do not have the luxury of exploring a single region for two weeks. I’ll make recommendations for one week Normandy itinerary, too. In the mean time, I want to share the breakdown of our 2 week itinerary for Normandy.
5 nights in Mont St Michel (which includes our travel day from Paris)
4 nights in Bayeux (including a day trip to the D-Day Beaches and American Cemetery)
3 nights in Honfleur (including a day trip to Lisieux)
3 nights at a resort in the Normandy countryside (including a travel day back to Paris)
We ended our Normandy trip with a few days in Paris, as it fit our itinerary better. If you struggle with jet lag, it might make more sense to start your trip in Paris and end in Normandy.
Getting to Mont St. Michel
It is well documented on the blog that I have a strong aversion to day trips. Mont St Michel is no exception to this rule. I’m sad that more people don’t experience it beyond a day trip from Paris. First of all, Mont St Michel is not easy to get to, even with the TGV trains in France. You can take a train easily to Caen and will have to rely mostly on buses to get around the area. Most trips using public transportation take over 5 hours from Paris.
Because there are no direct trains from CDG (unlike our previous trips to the Alsace), we decided to rent a car and drive to Normandy. This provided us so much more flexibility in our France itinerary. I’m SO glad we decided to drive as our flight from the US was delayed by a couple of hours. Our arrival would have been a disaster if we had booked our train tickets in advance. I was very grateful that we decided to drive. It took us about 4.5 hours to drive from CDG to Ardevon on late Friday afternoon. The roads are very well maintained, and we find the French to be very courteous drivers.
Getting to the Island of Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel is like the Cinque Terre in Italy, it’s delightfully traffic-free. That means that you have to find a way to cross the bay. There are three ways to do this, and all of it will depend on how fit or mobile you are. We tried a little bit of everything, but ultimately. our favorite way to get to Mont St Michel was via bike.
Park and Walk or Ride the Mont St Michel Shuttle
If you have your own car, you can park in satellite lots and walk across the footbridge. It will probably take 20-30 minutes if you’re a brisk walker. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can park off-site and take one of the shuttle buses that run between the mainland and the footbridge. It’s about a 5-7 minute walk from the drop-off point to the island. The free shuttle buses run about every 10 minutes and have 3 stops. You will need to pay for parking upon your exit and can do so at the kiosks along the walk to the shuttles or at the exit gate. The cost will depend on how long you stay.
Walking to Mont St Michel
If you are staying relatively close to the mont, you can choose to walk to the Mont St Michel. Once you get to the causeway, there are several footpaths that will lead you to the bridge across the bay. Some paths are just regular walking paths along the shoreline. Others are farm paths that will lead you through the countryside with the sheep. These paths are more natural and not as smooth, but they can be very enjoyable nature walks. If you’re walking back in the evening, the footpath is your safest bet because it is well lit. We saw plenty of people taking the farm paths back after the solstice festival though
Biking to Mont St Michel
Our vacation rental provided bikes, and it quickly became our favorite way to get to and from the mont. Many of the small villages around here offer bike rentals, too. The ride was relatively flat, the roads were fairly quiet, and it was definitely faster than walking. Since the bikes were included in our rental, it also saved us money on parking. We loved biking to the mont in the morning and again in the evening. It was the perfect way to enjoy Mont St Michel without the crowds.
Most of the Europeans we encountered were riding bikes as well, and everyone was very courteous. It didn’t feel unsafe at all, especially when I consider how unfriendly Dallas is to bikers. We took the foot path and the nature path. While we enjoyed the scenery on the nature path, the well-traveled footpath was easier on us as novice bikers. There are bike racks right inside the walls of Mont St Michel. A lot of people lock their bikes up against the outside walls, too.
Just beware of the seagulls above who might leave you a surprise. (I had a near miss!)
Visiting Mont Saint Michel Abbey
Mont-St-Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and as such, you’ll find it exactly as it was in the past. After climbing the singular main street through town or the ramparts, you’ll be at the base of the abbey complex. If you buy your abbey tickets in advance, you can skip the ticket line. There are audioguides available; we just used Top 10 Normandy and the Rick Steves Normandy book to navigate. (I was very sad that there wasn’t a guided tour available when we were there.)
The Abbey has a guided pathway with a logical flow. It’s very easy to follow along in either of the books. One of the things that I was most surprised by was how austere the church is. It’s filled with beautiful light and the terraces offer sweeping views of the bay of Mont-St-Michel. However, this isn’t Sainte Chappelle or Notre Dame in Paris. Many of the more beautiful spaces were changed after the French Revolution and the church was used as a prison.
What is impressive is the engineering marvel of the entire complex. The columns in the crypts that support the church are staggering. The giant wheel that was used to move supplies and up and down the mountain is incredible to see. It’s important to go into this visit knowing that the beauty lies in the engineering and not in the art.
Travel Tip: Arrive Early or Buy Tickets for Mont St Michel in Advance
If you don’t buy your Mont St Michel tickets in advance, I recommend getting there 15 minutes before the opening. There were about 30 people in line ahead of us, but the line moved very quickly. Arriving early will allow you to take your time. By the end of our visit, the abbey was filling up with group tours that were both loud and difficult to navigate around in small spaces.
Visiting the Abbey of Mont St Michel at Night
We happened to arrive at Mont St Michel when they were celebrating 1,000 years of the abbey (Solstice du Millenaire). Sunset at Mont St Michel happens after 10:00pm during the summer. We spent a few minutes debating whether or not we should try to see it. Ultimately, if you find yourself in Europe during a festival or celebration, I recommend going. I’ve never been disappointed, and Europeans are so much more relaxed about these types of events.
We parked about 15 minutes from the causeway that connects the island to the mainland. From there, we walked to the bridge. While it was busy, it wasn’t crowded and everyone was in a great mood. At midnight, we stopped to enjoy the lights show before walking back to our car. While it did mean that we didn’t go to bed until almost 2:00am, it was worth it.
While you probably won’t replicate that same experience, you can visit Mont Saint Michel abbey after all the daytrippers have left. During the summer, the abbey stays open late and offers its own special visit experience.
Eglise Saint Pierre du Mont St Michel
The Church of St. Peter is the more beautiful church in Mont St Michel. It wasn’t in our guidebooks, but the large stained glass window caught my eye as we made our way down the main street one evening. This small church houses a beautiful silver statue of archangel Michael, as well as several stained glass panels. It won’t take you long to visit. It’s absolutely stunning and completely unexpected, given the touristy nature of the Grande Rue and the austerity of the abbey. I visited a few times because I was mesmerized by the beauty of the stained glass in this small church.
Walk the Ramparts around Mont St Michel
Every morning and every evening, we would bike to Mont St Michel from our vacation rental. It wasn’t because we expected anything to be new or different. It was really lovely to explore the city from the ramparts. There a couple of different ways to approach the ramparts, and I saw something new every time went around. While we were generally on the mont during low tide, it was interesting to see the difference in from above. (The mudflats can really look like water when you’re riding or walking into the town.)
We were quite content with walking around the ramparts. If you want to have a drink with a view, there are numerous restaurants offering a view of the bay. We went back and forth about whether we should have dinner at Mont St Michel, but many of the restaurants close early. I was a bit surprised by that at first, but it makes sense. Mère Poulard was open late, but it doesn’t offer a view. They are known for their fluffy omelet, but I personally enjoyed the pear cider more than anything else. It’s the perfect cold beverage on a warm summer day.
Other Things to Do Near Mount St Michel
One of the things that I loved about staying near Mont St Michel for a few days was having the flexibility of taking it easy. We rode bikes, picked up fresh pastries and cheese each day, and enjoyed a slower pace of life. Slowing down near Mont St Michel felt amazing, and I can’t recommend it enough. That being said, I know that most people travel to Mont St Michel and Normandy for other reasons, so I’m happy to share more things we enjoyed as part of our Normandy trip and make recommendations for day trips near Mont St Michel.
Try Cider, Pommeau, or Calvados at Le Pressoir du Mont
Normandy is known for its ciders and apple and pear liquors. One of my favorite restaurants in Paris serves apple sorbet with calvados, so I knew wanted to try the drinks in Normandy. I was a little sad that I couldn’t find a food tour in Normandy. I feel like that’s an untapped tourism opportunity.
Our vacation rental host left us a bottle of cider from Le Pressoir du Mont. We popped the bottle open on our first night in Normandy. I was so impressed with it that I looked up the producer. The tasting room was near our vacation rental near Mont Saint Michel, so we headed over there one afternoon. We were able to try some of the other products. I love the demi-sec and the poire ciders. Pommeau is the perfect blend of both, and it makes a unique souvenir from Normandy. The dry cider is very refreshing on a warm day though.
As with wine tastings in France, it’s worth trying different producers. Even though these products are produced in the same region, the flavors can be very different. It’s fun to find your favorite.
Airborne Museum and Visiting Sainte-Mere-Eglise
We drove from Mont St Michel to Bayeux for the second leg of our trip. Since we were staying in vacation rentals in both places, we had time between check out and check in. I decided that we should use that time to visit the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. My grandfather was a member of the 101st Airborne and help lead the invasion on D-Day. It was incredibly moving to learn more about his mission. The Airborne Museum is about 1.5 hours from Mont St Michel, and it is definitely worth visiting.
This museum highlights the missions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions leading up to D-Day. I recommend doing it before heading to the D-Day Beaches or the American Cemetery. It takes you through the entire experience, from the development of the mission, the training of the soldiers, and the actual experience of those who landed on the beaches. Through this museum, I learned so much that isn’t taught in the history books. I’m pretty sure I saw my grandfather in photos. (Also, I found out that Eisenhower wrote the intro to the book my grandfather edited about the invasion while I was there!)
I highly recommend taking a few moments to step inside the church at Sainte Mere Eglise. You’ll notice the paratrooper on the side of steeple, which is based on a true account of the events of D-Day. When we visited, there was an exhibition of children’s artwork. I found the church to be lovely as well.
Visit the Bayeux Cathedral
If you insist on doing day trips from Mont Saint Michel, I highly recommend visiting Bayeux. We stayed 4 nights in Bayeux and truly enjoyed exploring it. My favorite things ended up being the cathedral and a walking tour of Bayeux, and the Bayeux Tapestry.
The Bayeux Cathedral of Notre Dame is probably one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve visited in France. I think I love it more than Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Each smaller side chapel features beautiful stained glass. You can see the evolution of art (and stained glass) over time, too. Similar to our tour of Verona, you can see decades of architectural progress at the Bayeux cathedral. It’s absolutely illuminating. The cathedral is free to enter, and you can spend as much time as you want.
Bayeux is about 1.5 hours from Mont Saint Michel. I recommend staying a few nights in Bayeux. If you can only make a day trip, don’t miss the cathedral. (We did visit the D-Day beaches and the American cemetery from Bayeux, but I’ll write more about that later,)
Other day trips from Mont St Michel are Saint Malo and Dinan. Both towns were highly recommended by a friend who spent a few weeks here last spring. Saint Malo is a beach resort community known, and Dinan is a half-timbered medieval city. Both are in the Brittany region of France.
Where to Stay Near Mont St Michel
I spent quite a bit of time researching where to stay near Mont St. Michel. Originally, Tom and I both wanted to stay on the island. Most of the hotels located on the island have below average reviews though. It didn’t seem like it would be worth it. I did a lot of research on hotels in the area, but I didn’t find anywhere I ABSOLUTELY needed to book. Ultimately, the Top 10 Normandy book led me to Gites de France Normandie, which specializes in vacation rentals in Normandy.
I found a vacation rental in Ardevon, which was a short walk, bike ride, or drive from Mont St Michel. I booked Le Coin des Hirondelles, which is a two bedroom home in a tiny village. It was absolutely incredible, and within hours of arriving, I started to imagine returning again.
Our host, Thierry, was so incredibly kind. Our flight was delayed out of Dallas by 2 hours. We found ourselves in Friday rush hour traffic coming out of Paris. (Originally, we had planned to arrive around 6:00pm.) When I texted to find out if it would be okay to arrive later, he told me not to worry and to text him when we were an hour away. We arrived at 8:30pm, and he was there to greet us with a cold bottle of cider and a few other regional Normand products. More importantly, he provided us an introduction to the property in slow and deliberate French, which we appreciated. After such a long travel day, I could understand his French, but I had a lot of difficulty responding. He was very kind and patient.
Le Coin des Hirondelles
The vacation rental exceeded my expectations in every possible way. We had everything we needed: bikes, a jacuzzi, and all the amenities you would expect at a luxury hotel. It was bright and airy with plenty of room to be comfortable. The kitchen was updated and modern with all the appliances and utensils needed to cook meals at home. The was even an outdoor grill (and charcoal!). We ate all of our meals at our vacation rental because it was so easy. (We received some spectacular wine and cheese recommendations from Cave Alambic.)
There were two dining tables: one on on the ground floor and one in the backyard. The backyard also housed a covered jacuzzi that we very much enjoyed throughout our stay. The garage housed a washer and dryer (unheard of Europe!) and multiple bikes for navigating around the area. Parking is available right in front of the home, which made loading and unloading so easy!
The house offers two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The bathrooms feature walk-in showers and one of them includes a soaking tub. Towels and robes are provided, but you will need to bring your own shampoo/conditioner and body soap. Our bedroom had blackout curtains (and shutters), as well as a fan to keep cool. We slept with the windows open in the evening and closed everything tight to keep the house cool during the day. All bed linens are provided as well. (I failed to realize that this was not a given. Make sure to read listing carefully!)
This house is beautifully and impeccably designed with every modern amenity. Everything is a perfect use of space. It has a very comfortable and chic aesthetic. It exceeded all of my expectations, and I cannot recommend this property enough. In the event this home isn’t available, the other vacation rentals I strongly considered are Le Petit Gite du Mont in Beauvoir and Terrasse du Mont Saint Michel in Roz-sur-Couesnon.
When to Visit Mont St Michel
We visited Mont St Michel in mid-late June, and it was an incredible time to visit. The temperatures were in the mid-high 70s, the days were long, and the crowds were minimals. We visited in shoulder season, and we received shoulder season prices, which were beyond fair. July and August are high season. While there are some benefits to visiting later in the summer, I’m not sure the crowds would be worth it to me.
Currently, Tom and I are debating whether or not to return to Normandy in December or head to the Alsace Christmas markets again. Mont St. Michel decorates for Christmas, so it would likely be very beautiful. I don’t know if we would be able to enjoy biking in the same way. The days will be a significantly shorter, too.
It is safe to say that we will be back in the spring or the fall though. I’d love to couple another trip to Mont St Michel with Bordeaux, Carcassonne, or southwest France.
One last note about visiting Mont St Michel: If you a photographer and your goal is to get the high tide reflection photos, you need to visit in the spring and consult the tide tables. The Mont St Michel tourist information office can provide that to you. It is not a regular occurrence, so you’ll want to plan your trip around it to avoid disappointment.