1. Effective late April 2012, a new access system is deployed in Mont Saint Michel, consisting of a mandatory remote parking area plus free shuttles to the Mont. There are some caveats, however, which might annoy an unprepared traveller and spoil his impression of the otherwise magnificent monument – so, here are some tips from my hands-on experience:
- There are two types of shuttles, both of which are free, but which serve different purposes.
- First type of shuttles go from the dam to the Mont, but stop a good 200 m from the ramparts next to a wooden platform (not obvious); and on the way back, the boarding platform is even further up the road. Platforms are not sign-posted as shuttle stops. These shuttles are large bi-directional buses for everybody to use.
- Second type of shuttles go from the parking lot (next to the visitor’s centre) to the Mont, but stop next to the ramparts. These are electric mini-buses reserved only for those, staying in a hotel inside the Mont. They can be recognized by the ‘Navette privee’ (private coach) label. When boarding, you’ll be asked to specify which hotel you stay in. These are a bit less frequent than the general purpose shuttles, but more convenient – as there is a good 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the dam.
- Shuttles operate from 8 AM to 1 AM; outside these time frame, a shuttle can be ordered by phone.
2. The parking lot is divided into two areas: first is for all visitors and second is reserved for buses and guests of hotels inside the Mont. Both parking are paid and the prices are the same (8.50 EUR per day for a car till the end of 2012) – however, staying in the Mont means you have a dedicated parking lace. If you are staying inside the Mont:
- Do not enter the parking as signposted, but continue (making a large circle) to the bus parking
- Parking area P3 is reserved for guests of the hotels
- The hotel will provide you with access code for the parking (usually via email). What your hotel won’t tell you is that the parking code is for a single entry – if you plan to take the car out of the parking and bring it back, ask your hotel beforehand for a new code; as a last resort, call the operator from the parking booth, name your hotel and ask him to issue you a ticket (as otherwise in France, English is not the best spoken language – be prepared).
- Also worth noticing is the fact that the ‘daily’ price is for 24 hours starting at 2 PM until 2 PM on the next day. If you bring your car out and then return back before 2 PM on the same day, or if you take it out after 2 PM and then bring it back before 2 PM on the next day, you’ll effectively be double-charged (two daily fees days instead of one).
3. Late dining around the Mont can be a challenge; despite the sun setting well after 10 PM in May-July, it’s very difficult to find a restaurant that will accept new guests after 9 PM; even then you can be restricted to only some parts of the menu, so it is advised to plan a start of the supper for no late than 8 PM. Around 11 PM everything shuts down; there are no late-night bars or eating options inside and around the Mont.
4. Most restaurants offer pre-set menus which in general consist of the same dishes that are available a la carte. However, when asked as a menu, they come up to 30% cheaper.
5. The much-celebrated local omelette is different form the one most of us are familiar with: first in that eggs are beaten into foam before frying and second in that it is cooked very lightly, keeping the inside of the omelette near-raw (imagine an omelette a l’anglaise). This is not to the taste of everybody, especially when priced at 20 EUR.
6. Those on tight budget may still get a close look at the inside of the Abbey without entering it (without buying a ticket): go up the entrance staircase, then right into the souvenir shop (access to it is explicitly listed as ‘free’). In the end of the shop is an exit door, labelled ‘Sortie‘. It leads to a room which is now used as a an exhibition hall for modern art; from it you can access the gardens and enjoy the Merveille from outside; the exit is at the bottom of the gardens.
7. A nice dining place worth a visit is La Ferme, located by the road between the parking lot and the dam. It’s cuisine stands above most places inside and around the Mont and, probably even exceeds the one of Mere Poulard.