Cycling in France: The Amazing Mont Saint Michel
We cycled to Mont Saint Michel as part of a three-week cycle touring trip from Normandy to the Pyrenees in August of 2021. The UNESCO World Heritage Site had been on our list of places to visit for years and we finally had the opportunity to visit. Even better we were able to arrive by bike and use our bikes to get around over the couple of days we spent there. It definitely did not disappoint and we will be back there for another visit as soon as we can. Cycling at Mont Saint Michel is something we loved and would recommend to others.
If you are considering either cycling at Mont Saint Michel or cycling to Mont Saint Michel as part of a longer trip; then this travel guide will help you get starting with your own planning. There are plenty of options when it comes to cycling at this amazing location and riding a bike here is something people of all ages can enjoy. All the advice listed out below is based on our own experience and the research we did before arriving. You will also find details on all the other things you need to know before a visit.
Facts about Mont Saint Michel
As you arrive at Mont Saint Michel it strikes an imposing landmark on the relatively flat surroundings. It has been occupied and utilized for many centuries by monks, pilgrims, prisoners, and tourists alike. Here are some facts about this famous destination we found interesting.
- Use of the island of Mont Saint Michel dates back to the 8th century. Building the abbey started in the 10th century
- The island was fortified in the 13th century which helped keep attackers at bay during the 100 year war and French Wars of Religion
- Monks occupied the island and abbey until they left in 1790 during the French Revolution
- The island was used as a state prison, housing nearly 14,000 prisoners, until it closed in 1863
- After the closure of the prison the island was opened to the public, with the causeway being built in 1879 to aid access.
- Mont Saint Michel was occupied by the Germans during World War 2 but remained undamaged.
- The island was added to UNESCO’s world heritage sites in 1979.
- Due to siltation which has built up over hundreds of years, it is now only an island at exceptionally high tides, usually in spring and autumn.
- The difference between high and low tides can be as much as 15 metres. At low tide the sea retreats up to 15km out to sea.
- The tidal flow can reach speeds up to 6km per hour.
- There are a number of hotels located on the island where you can stay
- Over 3 million people visit the island each year.
- The island is just under one square kilometer in size and reaches a height of 80meters above sea level.
- The island has an official population circa 30 people.
Visiting Mont Saint Michel – Practical Information
Before we head into the information about cycling at Mont Saint Michel we have included a section on all the practical information you might need for your visit.
Where to find Mont Saint Michel
Mont Saint Michel is located in the northwest of France on the Atlantic coast. It sits on the border of Normandy and Brittany. It is located approximately 360km from Paris, 83km from Rennes, and 177km from Cherbourg. The island itself lies approximately 350m off the coast and is connected by a causeway and bridge.
There is a small village at the start of the causeway out to the island with plenty of facilities including accommodation, tourist information, restaurants, regional products, and toilets. There is also a large parking area for bikes which is used by many visitors.
The majority of visitors arrive at Mont Saint Michel by car. It will take you around 4:15hrs to drive from Paris, 1:15hrs from Rennes, and 2hrs from the Cherbourg ferry terminal. Once you arrive at Mont Saint Michel you will need to pay to access one of the large car parks located a short distance from the island. The cost of the car park is €9.80 in the low season and €15 in the high season (April to September) for each 24hr period. There is a reduced rate if you enter after 7 pm and exit before 1 am and there are also rates for camper vans. You can see a full list of the parking prices here.
Shuttle buses run between 7:30 am and 12:00 am each day to take you out to Mont Saint Michel and are free of charge.
It is possible to access Mont Saint Michel by public transport. The closest train station is located 7km away at Pontorson, while a number of bus services provide access to Mont Saint Michel.
There is a great cycle path that links Pontorson to Mont Saint Michel. It is separated and car-free for all bar the last little section into Pontorson. The cycle path tracks along the Couesnon River. It is very popular and gets quite busy at times so be mindful when planning your trip. Earlier in the morning is generally the quietest time of the day. It provides great views of Mont Saint Michel as you get closer.
You can choose from a wide range of accommodation types at Mont Saint Michel, including staying on the island itself. We personally recommend staying in the area for one or two nights to fully experience this great location. There are hotels, campgrounds, and gites located within a short distance to choose from. You will find something to suit your style and budget on the usual booking platforms.
For our visit, we chose to stay at the campground located in the heart of the small village right at the start of the causeway. We highly recommend staying there, especially if you want to capture Mont Saint Michel at sunrise or sunset. It was also nice to be able to explore earlier in the morning before the crowds arrived and later once the bulk of day visitors had departed.
Being a highly popular tourist destination there are no shortages of restaurants and cafes to choose from for something to eat. On the island itself, you can choose to sample the famous omelet from La Mere Poulard, a restaurant that has been in existence since 1888. You will find everything from fine dining to takeaway. Prices on Mont Saint Michel are what you would expect in a popular tourist destination, although decrease a little as you move off the island.
We headed to the small village of La Grève, a 3km walk inland, on our first night for some very tasty pizza. It was not overly expensive and the quality was great. On our second night, we bought some supplies from the supermarket in Pontorson and had a great picnic on the salt flats overlooking Mont Saint Michel. We highly recommend doing something similar.
For those looking to self-cater, the closest supermarket we found is in Pontorson which is 7km from the Mont Saint Michel village. We cycled along the bike path which was nice and easy to do. If you are there on a Sunday, be mindful that the supermarket will close at 12:30 pm as do most supermarkets in France.
Visiting the island
Mont Saint Michel is open all year round and is only closed on December 25, January 1, and May 1. The village of Mont Saint Michel is free to enter and walk around for everyone. The main attraction on the island is of course the abbey. To visit it you will need to book a day and time slot in advance. We recommend doing this as early as possible as it can be difficult to secure a time at short notice in busy periods. The cost of admission is €11 for adults and it is open from 9:30 am to 6 pm September to April and 9 am to 7 pm May to August.
To get out to the island you can catch one of the free shuttles that run between 7:30 am and 12:00 am, walk or ride your bike. From the car park, the distance to the island is 3km. Shuttles can be very busy at peak times so make sure you allow enough time.
If you are planning to ride your bike out to the island be aware that there are no bike racks to lock your bikes to. A trial has been in place over the past few years to allow bike parking near the entrance to the village. Prior to the trial, cyclists had to lock bikes at the beginning of the causeway, where there are lots of bike racks, and walk out or catch the free shuttle bus. We did not see any bike racks out on the island, but there were signs suggesting that there should have been. Some people had simply locked their bikes together against the walls of the island. Our suggestion would be to have a look once you get there and see what is in place and plan accordingly.
Photography at Mont Saint Michel
We are both keen photographers and have seen plenty of iconic images of Mont Saint Michel on various social media platforms and websites. After exploring the area for a couple of days here are the best photography places we would recommend to capture that perfect image. For anyone with a drone hoping to catch some images from the air, there is a no-fly zone around the immediate area. It is possible to fly your drone a little further away to capture some video or images. You can see the French drone restrictions map here.
- Point de vue – this large viewing platform, sitting across the river leading out to Mont Saint Michel, gives you a fantastic vista out to the island. There are nice leading lines with the river itself, the causeway and of course Mont Saint Michel itself. This is a popular spot, especially at sunset so get there early to get a spot.
- The flats – there are large flats on either side of the causeway leading out to Mont Saint Michel that make for great photography locations. Unlike the first option you can get away from the crowds here. When we were there in August there were lots of round hay bails in the fields that made for interesting foreground.
- The causeway – the causeway and bridge leading out to the Mont are also great locations for photography. We found early morning at sunrise was best and had the least amount of people. The shuttle buses start operating from 7:30am and the crowds start building soon after.
- Sand flats – one of the features of this part of the coast is the large tidal variations. At low tide the sea retreats 15km exposing the vast sand flats surrounding the Mont. This location is subject to tidal times and you need to make sure you do not get caught by rapidly rising water.
When to go
Mont Saint Michel can be visited all year round with the summer months of July and August being the busiest. If you can avoid these 2 months we would recommend doing so. If you are interested in seeing the largest tidal variations then spring and autumn around full moons will be the best time to visit. While crowds will be lowest over the winter months, the weather is cold and can be wet. Many campgrounds only open between April and September, limiting your accommodation options.
Cycling at Mont Saint Michel
We included Mont Saint Michel as part of a 3-week trip we did from Normandy to the Pyrenees in the summer of 2021. After spending a few days exploring the Normandy D-Day beaches we cycled from Sainte-Mere Eglise to Mont Saint Michel, a distance of 120km. While there we explored the surrounding area by bike, cycled into Pontorson for some grocery shopping, and cycled across the causeway and bridge to the island. See the short 2min video we put together to give you an idea of what to expect.
Based on our experience we think that Mont Saint Michel is an excellent destination to either arrive or explore by bike. There are plenty of options for riders of all abilities and given the abundance of car-free cycle paths we think very family-friendly. You could easily spend a few days here, visit Mont Saint Michel and see some of the surrounding areas by bike.
Cycling at Mont Saint Michel is also an alternative to arriving by car and saving some money on the parking fee. You can use the cycling paths leading to the village and avoid the busier roads.
Long distance cycling routes
For those who are looking to incorporate a visit to Mont Saint Michel with a longer cycling touring holiday, there is a range of options available. Mont Saint Michel sits on the Eurovelo4 cycling route and heads towards Normandy to the North and Brittany to the south giving you a choice of destinations before or after your visit.
The Véloscénic cycling route runs from Paris to Mont Saint Michel over a distance of 450km. It crosses a range of different landscapes and is a mix of quiet country roads and cycle paths. You can see the full route on the official website.
There is also a cycling route running from Saint-Malo on the coast through to Rennes partially along the beautiful Canal d’ille et Rance. We cycled along this canal for about 15km on our return journey and loved it. A beautiful tree-lined path along the winding canal made for very enjoyable riding. We have vowed to head back to this area and do some more cycling here including the full length of this path. From Rennes to Saint-Malo is just over 100km in length and is easily manageable over a few days.
If one of the designated cycle routes in this area does not suit your itinerary, there are plenty of quiet country roads to choose from. This is the method we usually employ when cycle touring and choosing the destinations we wish to visit as opposed to following a designated cycle route. We then use a number of different apps to determine our route. Quite often we find ourselves on the designated routes for periods of time.
There are car-free cycle paths in and around Mont Saint Michel giving you plenty of options for short excursions around the site. These are well sign-posted and give you access to a range of locations close to Mont Saint Michel.
Accessing the island by bike
A trial has been in place over the past few years allowing bikes to cycle across the causeway and bridge and park next to the entrance to the island village. Prior to this bikes had to be left at the beginning of the causeway in the bike racks and the journey out made on foot or shuttle bus. When we visited in 2021 we cycled out to the island a number of times and observed plenty of others doing this as well. The wooden walkway is the official bike path or voie verte but during the day this is very busy with people walking to and from the island. Instead, we cycled on the road, as did many others. The only traffic on the road are the shuttle buses that did not seem to mind sitting behind bikes as necessary.
If you are planning a trip to France our website has lots more information to help you get ready.
- Our Practical pages include general travel related information for France including visa requirements, mobile phones, money, accommodation options, car hire and lots more.
- Our Destination pages spotlight different cycling destinations in France with all the information you need to plan your stay.
- Head to our Articles page and find lots of advice based on our own experience of cycling in France.
- Our YouTube Channel features a couple of videos of our time at Mont Saint Michel. Head over there to check it out.