A day trip from Paris to the myth-ensconced Mont St-Michel is perhaps one of the most romantic and legend-filled sorts you can muster. The dramatic mount, abbey and surrounding bay, seemingly the stuff of fairy tales and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is situated at the northernmost part of Normandy and has been described as the "Wonder of the Western World."
Topped with an immense abbey rich in history and architectural beauty, the village descends into winding alleyways and medieval streets that both take you back in time and provide deep, relaxing breaths of fresh sea air.
The area also boasts some of the world's most dramatic tides, offering a constantly changing series of perspectives. But with no direct route via public transportation and its location five hours north of Paris, is it even possible to enjoy the breathtaking sight in just one day's time?
Knowing that I had neither the time nor the budget for an overnight trip, I searched for a tour company that would provide me with a safe, simple and affordable day trip to the site of the world's second-strongest tides. It wasn't long before I came across Cityrama, a tour company located across from the Louvre that offers multiple day trips both within Paris and throughout France.
I chose the "Mont Saint Michel on Your Own" package, which offers a direct trip to the site via an air-conditioned coach bus, a ticket into the abbey, a quick stop in the small Normandy village of Beuvron-en-Auge, and four hours of free time to explore the mountain on my own.
The second option for 165 euros includes lunch and a guided visit. The company's website also recommends what type of clothing to wear during each season.
On the morning of our trip, we met outside of the company's office on 2, rue des pyramides near the Opera Garnier. Upon boarding the double-decker bus, travelers are given a pamphlet that includes the timetable for the day, as well as information on the Normandy region, Beuvron-en-Auge, and Mont Saint Michel.
The pamphlets, as well as information announced over the bus' loudspeaker system, are given in four different languages, varying by the day. English, however, is always available.
Clients ride on the top half of the bus, which features a large open window in front for unobstructed country-side views, while the company's staff occupies the lower level. The bus is also equipped with a restroom.
First Stop: Beuvron-en-Auge
Approximately three hours after the bus departs, it makes a half-hour stop at this small Normandy village located in the heart of the Auge region. Here, travelers can not only stretch their legs but marvel at the old, country houses and flowered courtyards, while still having enough time to grab a pastry for breakfast at the village's sole boulangerie and coffee from the Tabac just across the street. Additional highlights include an antique shop, a fresh-produce market, and a souvenir shop offering everything from cider to hand-crafted pillows. Passengers are also welcome to use the tourist office's restroom, free of charge.
Our Main Attraction: Le Mont Saint Michel
At half-past noon, the bus made the final straightaway down the tan, sandy road before letting passengers off right at the front entrance of the mount.
After taking a few minutes to stare open-mouthed at the overwhelming sight in front of us, we were told we had four hours to ourselves to explore before we had to return to the bus at the same location. Like children entering Disneyland, we ran through the entrance and onto the village's main street. Confronted with several dining options, we chose to eat at a creperie located on the upper floor of a medieval house. After indulging in tasty cider and vegetable crepes that were just filling enough to boost our energy without weighing us down, we descended the winding staircase back onto the cobblestone streets.
We decided to go right up to the abbey and then wind our way down the mountain. With tickets already in hand from Cityrama, we skipped past the line and entered into the pre-Romanesque church that was erected in the year 1000.
The structure is composed of two buildings, a dining hall, a cloister, and various gardens. During the Hundred Years' War, successive abbots took various precautions to protect the abbey, and it was thanks to these defenses that the mount withstood a siege by the English armies for more than 30 years.
It was in the 15th century, however, that the abbey was used for an unexpected new purpose, as Louis XI decided to turn the church into a prison, which further expanded during the French Revolution. This forced the majority of the resident monks to abandon the abbey for other congregations.
After spending close to an hour taking in the abbey, we enjoyed our remaining free time descending the mountain, where we found a nice green space to rest and take in the sun, a small cemetery, and numerous eclectic shops. As our legs began to tire, we decided to grab a snack on the terrace of one of the hotel restaurants, where, over beer and French fries, we watched other visitors take walks along the side, and even onto, the water surrounding the mountain.
Back to Paris
Cityrama's timing, clear directions to travelers, and comfortable accommodations were commendable. On the drive back, we made another half-hour rest stop at a large convenience store along the highway where passengers could grab snacks or dinner. Arriving back in Paris, we were met with a sparkling Eiffel Tower as the clock ticked 9 pm. As the bus returned to its starting point, we said thank you to the entire crew and walked the two blocks to the metro to head back home. We could still smell the fresh sea salt in our hair.