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Even if you’ve been to France, there’s a chance you have never heard of the small island located just off the coast of Normandy. Mont St. Michel, as the island is known, is actually one kilometer away from the mainland of France, which means that it is easy to get to.
What truly makes this landmark a must-see destination, however, is the fact that it is covered in historically significant structures. For an unusual day trip while in Normandy, there is no better destination than Mont St. Michel.
The History of Mont St. Michel
As far back as the sixth century AD, the tidal island of Mont St. Michel was used by ruling powers as a military stronghold that allowed armies to better protect the rest of the mainland.
Legend has it that in the eighth century, the Archangel Michael instructed a bishop to construct a religious building on the small island. The abbey that still stands on the island was fortified so it could serve dual purposes for the military, was briefly used as a prison and eventually went on to become a French historical monument as well as an official UNESCO designated World Heritage Site.
Major Attractions on the Island
There are three major attractions on Mont St. Michel. The first, unsurprisingly, is the abbey, known to locals as L’Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel. Visitors can have the chance to tour the abbey, admire the museum contained within it and even attend the daily mass that is open to the public and held six days per week at noon.
The second major attraction is the Notre-Dame Sous Terre Chapel. Founded in 966 AD, this smaller Benedictine chapel was virtually forgotten about as the abbey was constructed and expanded, but it was rediscovered in the 19th century and allows visitors a wonderful opportunity to see French architecture that predates the Romans.
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The third attraction is the tidal basin surrounding the island. When the tides are at their lowest, it is possible to walk from the mainland to Mont St. Michel, although that is not advised. Watching the island separate from the mainland as the water rises is a truly remarkable thing to witness.
Getting to Mont St. Michel
Although a handful of local residents familiar with the tides do walk to Mont St. Michel, that should not be your preferred means of travel. Some visitors opt to bicycle from the mainland over a causeway, but you can also make the 0.6-mile journey in a rental car, bearing in mind that parking on busy days might be limited on the small island.
Other Things to do When in Mont St. Michel
While on the tidal island, visitors should also spend time admiring the Porte de l’Avancée, which is the grand gated entrance to the island. A stroll along the Grande Rue is also a fantastic opportunity to buy a traditional French snack or pick up souvenirs of your adventure.
For a magnificent French day trip perfect for travelers spending time in Normandy, France, the tidal island and abbey of Mont St. Michel is ideal.