Mont St Michel
It’s no secret that the historic and famous island of Mont St Michel is all stairs. There were a handful of inclines but for the most part, just stairs, stairs and more stairs, until you reached the Abbey at the very top. So before we even arrived at the site, there were a few things I needed to do in order to be properly prepared.
Preparing for Mont St Michel with Kids
The first thing I did was make sure I had a functioning system to carry the baby. She is 18 months, roughly 25 lbs (13 kg) and stubborn as her mother. The baby bijorn was mailed to my sister shortly after Munich in September, she is way too heavy to be on my chest for that long and refuses to sit so low on my back. A friend gave me her hiking toddler backpack. We used it with the munchkin on a long walk once and it was great. We threw that into the car, made sure to bring the canopy and packed a few snacks, juice pack and a diaper into the little compartment and forget they existed… they will come in handy one day.
Secondly, what were we going to wear on our feet? The weather network said it was only a 20% chance of rain but I wanted nothing to do with chances, not this far from home, not on this terrain. Everyone wore waterproof footwear with great ankle support. We also all had waterproof jackets with hoods, scarves, gloves, and hats in the diaper bag and wore pants we could actually move in – no skinny-jeans today. Today was not a fashion show, today was functionality over aesthetics.
A little history
Starting as a small church in the 11th century, Mont St Michel had been in the minds of church and state since 709 ad when they say the Archangel Michel requested its commission. During the French Revolution, the Abbey was temporarily turned into a prison; according to Walt Disney, this was the site where Mickey from “the Three musketeers” was imprisoned.
Back in 1879, the tidal causeway was converted into a dry causeway. This had the unpredictable effect of building up silt by the bay. Pasture land was also created at this time. In 2006 the French Prime Minister signed a 164 million euro project to create a hydraulic dam to remove the built up silt and make Mont St Michel an island again. Construction began in 2009; the dry causeway was removed and the parking lot was moved 2.2 km away from the island in April 2012.
We drove the whole 4 km from our hotel to the parking lot, made our way over to the bus stop and tried to find the horse and buggy line. The Horse and Buggy didn’t start until 1030 am… it was 930 am. Nope. We will try again on the way back.
The bus was packed. The parking lot is the first stop on the line, which was great, but everyone kept pushing and cramming into the bus. No one left their seats to allow my young children to sit so munchkin got to stand and I had to hold baby girl while trying not to take anyone’s eyes out with my carrier. Definitely not safe.
A few also felt the need to push my son around while they were exiting the bus on the second or third stop. There was no need for this. Eventually, the hubby found a seat and yelled at the guy trying to sit down while my son was headed for it. Not cool guys, not cool.
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Because the bus was so full, it had to stop at the other stations along the way anyways. Many tried to get on, and many were pushed right back off the bus. Like I said, a few got out along the way, I guess there was something to see and do there, but we were not interested. Word of warning; if you are going to get out here, might be best to walk back to the parking lot or just finish the journey to the mount by foot, because it looked nearly impossible to catch the bus from these locations.
As the bus was pulling up to the island, I noticed another bus pulling away and it was full of passengers. I was thinking, ‘it is only 945 am. Why are you leaving already? Surely you all didn’t stay at the hotels on the island?’
Sure enough, they were leaving because the causeway was flooded. According to the website, the tide comes up twice a day, and lowers twice a day. OK, common knowledge. What I failed to read was the height of these tides. 3 days per year the tides overtake the causeway and makes it impassable for roughly 1 hour at a time. Crowds were forming on the bridge, and on the island side as hotel guests wanted to leave or just take in the view. One brave family took off their shoes, hiked up their pants and walked across. Poor guys still got their knees wet; the waves are stronger the closer you get to the island.
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We waited 10 minutes, and made the walk ourselves. Hubby carried the munchkin, I’m already wearing the baby and we walked quickly and carefully to the other side. I took a pinch too long and got a good splash near the end but I quickly dried. A few others tried their luck but it was a long 15 minutes before the others were able to cross dryly.
I have to say though, some of the footwear I saw these people wearing made me cringe. I can’t imagine the pain and blisters they are going to care for when they get back home.
The climb up to the Abbey, the icon at the top of Mont St Michel, was definitely a hike. Pretty sure it was harder than climbing Etretat a few days before. I knew I was practicing for something. There were gift shops everywhere, which I refused to enter for a number of reasons; I am not carrying souvenirs up the hill, then back down, there was a cheaper option across from my hotel that I found the night before, and the baby carrier would be akin to bull in a china shop.
As you can see from my photos below, the streets are not super narrow but they do make for close quarters. Keeps the kiddos close and keep an eye out for hidden stair ways. We found a few, the boys went exploring and I took a rest. Those alleys are rarely wider than one person and most do not have hand railings. Hiking Boots! Always wear Hiking boots!
There were many restaurants and hotels along our walk, though several of the hotels entrances were along these smaller alleys. I spied a few of the price charts near the doors and they were definitely pricier than the one we stayed at; 250 euro per night. Maybe if it was just the two of us, but with the kids, I prefer the cheap and close-enough hotels.
The cost to get into the Abbey differs based on employment status and citizenship but for us, it was 9 euro each and the kids were free. We choose not to get the audio-guide since they cost extra and we probably wouldn’t hear half of what they were saying anyways. Thanks kids!
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Again, there was a wicked climb to get to the main lobby, but also a few wrap around walk ways with a spectacular view of the town and causeway. At the end of the walk, there are stairs leading down. We quickly turned around and made our way back to the Abbey – no sense going in the wrong direction.
So we paid, munchkin had a little freak out over snacks and potty breaks. Which in turn got the little lady all worked up. Once we climbed even more stairs – God help us walk back down – we made it to the main Abbey area where we let the both walk around and have a snack. Pretty sure no food was allowed but we did it outside (where the birds can eat any crumbs) and made sure to discourage crumb-making. The whole tour took about an hour, there was a lot of stopping, looking and sitting. Munchkin was getting tired. Baby girl walked as much as she could. I carried her in the smaller stairways, and finally put her back into the carrier when it was time for the big stairs down to the lobby again.
Lunch and home time
It didn’t take long for baby girl to fall asleep. We made our way out of the abbey, walked around a little and started the giant climb down the hill. The stairs weren’t hard to climb, per say, but my centre of gravity was all off so I took my sweet time. Munchkin, on the other hand, wanted to fly down the stairs. Not sure where he wanted to go exactly but he was in a rush to get there. Another beauty of my hiking carrier; it has independent legs so I could just take her off and place her on the floor while we ate.
Parking; 11,70 euro
Not stroller friendly at all – found a few people try to bring their umbrella stroller. Fail. Others carried the kids free in their arms – too heavy for me. No thank you.
An excellent resource for planning all of Germany can we found with the Lonely Planet Normandy Guide
For more information on the gear, we wear during cold-weather vacations, check out a recent post on the Proper Gear to wear in a European Winter.
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