Our road trip to Le Mont Saint Michel started from Charles de Gaulle Airport; we flew from Italy into Charles de Gaulle, rented a car, and began our journey! We came back to Paris later in the trip, so I won’t be discussing things to do in Paris in this post. This post will be all about the places we stopped along the way, as well as our experience once we got to the beautiful Le Mont Saint Michel. If you don’t know what Mont Saint-Michel is, keep reading anyway – it’s seriously one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to!
We went in December, and we were supposed to arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport on December 30th. We were going to spend the night by the Airport and wake up and being our trip. As we all know, things definitely don’t always go as planned while traveling – our flight was cancelled, and we ended up being stuck in Naples for the entire next day, which pushed our road trip to Mont Saint-Michel back a day. Therefore, we ended up arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport on December 31st, pretty late in the evening. We went and got our rental car, drove to our hotel in Rouen, and made it just in time to drink a bottle of champagne and eat a mediocre hotel snack! The next morning, our road trip began!
FIRST STOP: ROUEN
Because of our cancelled flight, we didn’t have quite as much time to spend on our road trip as we had planned. We woke up early so we could walk around Rouen and see a couple things before we headed to our next destination.
The first thing we went to see was the Rouen Cathedral, which is beautiful to look at; it’s built in a Gothic architectural style. The Rouen Cathedral is famous for containing the heart of Richard the Lionheart! The architecture alone is enough to draw people to see this cathedral.
We walked around Rouen for a little just to see what the town was like and to grab some snacks, but the only other place we actually visited in Rouen was The Church of Saint-Maclou, another church with amazing architecture that is just beautiful to look at.
OTHER NOTABLE PLACES TO VISIT IN ROUEN:
- Jardin des Plantes de Rouen: municipal botanical garden; free of charge
- Historial Jeanne d’Arc: History museum, dedicated to Joan of Arc; $12 per adult, $9 for children aged 6-18, all students of any kind, free for children under the age of 6. You can get a guided tour for the price of entry + $5
- Panorama XXL: panoramic canvas depicting natural & historic city settings – changes often; $12 per adult, $8 for children 6-18 and students, free for children under the age of 6. $18 FOR COMBINED TICKET TO SEE HISTORIAL JEANNE D’ARC AND PANORAMA XXL.
- Le Gros-Horloge: Astronomical clock; indicates the phases of the moon, as well as the day of the week, indicated by the God of the day.
- Palais de Justice: Gothic Law Courts; can only see from the outside as it’s still in use and is closed to the public.
One of our main destinations on this road trip was the Étretat Cliffs. We only had a couple hours to spend in Étretat, and we spent most of our time walking around and then checking out the cliffs and the church up on the hill! You can park at the top, pretty much right next to the cliffs and the church. I highly recommend walking down the steps to the beach so you can see it from the bottom as well.
The town of Étretat is adorable; you should definitely walk around if you have the chance. It was absolutely freezing when we went in December, but it was beautiful and we walked around for as long as we could!
I wouldn’t take a trip to France just to see the Étretat cliffs, but if you’re going to be traveling around France and in that area, it’s absolutely worth the stop.
We made a very short pit stop in Le Havre, but I wish we had more time to spend there; there’s actually a lot to do there!
NOTEABLE THINGS TO DO IN LE HAVRE:
- St Joseph’s Church: A neo-gothic church, with a sef-supporting tower that reaches 107 meters tall
- Musée d’art moderne André Malraux: Museum of Modern Art, also known as MuMa, sits right next to the marina. After the Orsay in Paris, the MuMa has the most extensive collection of impressionist paintings in France. Houses works by Boudin – the largest collection o in the world.
- Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville: public space with flowerbeds, lawns, and fountains at the foot of city hall.
- Le Havre Beach: don’t miss the colorful beach huts at the back of the beach, near the promenade.
- Natural History Museum: learn about the animal, vegetal and mineral environment inside the city’s former court house; free entry
- Le Volcan: UNESCO site, contains two theaters; known for its theater, music, and dance.
- Le Havre Cathedral: oldest building to survive the bombings of 1944.
Head over to the Normandy Bridge, and be on your way to Honfleur! The Normandy Bridge connects Le Havre to Honfleur, and is absolutely gorgeous. It is also one of the largest cable stay bridges in the world.
Don’t miss the city of Honfleur; it’s beautiful and very relaxing.
Spend some time walking around by the water – the harbour is beautiful and all of the buildings that sit by the water are also very nice. If you’re only there for a couple of hours, there are a few must see places. Make sure you don’t miss Notre-Dame de Grace chapel. It’s on the hill, so the view is great! You can park right by it, or you can walk there. Also check out Saint Catherine’s Church, the largest wooden church in France.
When we went over Christmas, they had all sorts of little shops set up outside. We walked around for a while and bought some small knick-knacks, as well as some delicious mulled wine! I highly recommend spending an evening in Honfleur if you are in the area during the Christmas season!
OTHER NOTABLE PLACES TO VISIT IN HONFLEUR:
- Les Maisons Satie: visit this house/museum where Erik Satie was born and listen to his music while you explore
- Naturospace: go see butterflies and birds fly freely among vegetation! Entrance fee $11 for ages 14 and up, $8 for children under the age of 14. Make sure you check the website before you go, as it is closed on certain dates/certain months.
- Le Jardin des Personnalités: visit this peaceful park, situated on the edge of Honfleur, overlooking the River Seine and the ocean
- Butin Beach: this is the closest beach to the downtown area. Very popular in the summer, and good for adults and children.
LAST STOP BEFORE LE MONT SAINT MICHEL:
When we arrived in Cancale, we fell in love! The town is tiny, but the water is absolutely stunning, and our hotel was great. We had a balcony overlooking the water, and there were a couple restaurants right around the corner from where we were staying. There was actually a restaurant in the hotel as well. We stayed at La Mere Champlain, and I highly recommend it. We only stayed for one night, but we would have been comfortable staying there for a longer period of time.
I actually don’t like seafood, but Cancale is known for its delicious Oysters and fresh fish.
We mostly just walked around the water and visited the town on the night that we were there. Make sure you get to La Pointe du Grouin, especially if it’s a clear day/evening! The view is phenomenal….and you can almost see Le Mont Saint Michel from there!
Cancale is another place that I wouldn’t plan a trip around, but if you’re headed to Mont Saint-Michel or are just touring around this area in France, definitely make a pit stop in Cancale and check out the views!
This place is so. freaking. cool. If you haven’t been to Mont Saint-Michel before, YOU SHOULD GO. I’ve been to a bunch of places that I really love and think everyone should visit at least once in their life, but Le Mont Saint Michel may top the list.
First of all, what is Mont Saint-Michel?!
If you’re more worldly than I am and you already know what it is, you can skip this part, but when my wife told me we were planning our entire trip around going to Mont Saint Michel, I honestly wasn’t that excited. I didn’t really understand where we were going until we got there, which in a way made it even more magical.
Mont Saint-Michel is a tidal island, meaning at low tide, you can cross to the ‘island’ by foot, but during high tide, the path is covered with water and it becomes a true island. While it didn’t become an actual island while we visited, there were parts of it that were completely dry when we arrived, and then totally submerged in water when we came back that same night!
Mont Saint-Michel is way more than just a tidal island, though. It’s an old island commune, functioning as its own little town.
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. When we first arrived and set foot on the island, it was honestly a magical experience.
Once you arrive, you can’t actually drive your car into the island. You will find parking which was fairly priced – around $14 for 24 hours. Once you park, you will have to take a bus to the Island or walk across the bridge. We went during the winter and had far too much luggage than two people could ever possibly need, so we opted for the bus.
Now, you may be wondering, why should I go to Le Mont Saint Michel?
I hate to be cliche, but words can’t possibly do it justice. When we travel, sometimes I just get feelings about certain places. A place could be beautiful, but I don’t feel the magic of it. With Mont Saint-Michel, it is beautiful, and unique, and it feels truly magical. It’s like stepping into a different world.
When you get there, I recommend just walking around for a little while. Go see the tiny little ‘street’ and check out the shops and restaurants on the way. I admit, they are certainly very touristy; almost everyone here is a tourist. BUT – it’s still a really wonderful experience and I found it pretty easy to put aside the feeling of it being touristy. Also, keep in mind that Le Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, meaning it was deemed to have special cultural or physical significance….and boy, does it!
Next, you have to take a trip through the Abbey – the main and really only major ‘attraction’ on the island. To me, the entire island is basically an attraction worth seeing, but most people probably come to see the Abbey.
Tickets to go through the Abbey on a self-guided tour are $12. You can easily spend an hour inside the Abbey, though you could also spend longer in there if you are very interested in it. If you can, try to go right before the sun starts to set – you’ll get to see everything in the daylight, and when you come back out, you will have an incredible view of the sunset from the Abbey.
Another stop you should make while on the Island of Le Mont Saint Michel is the Église Saint-Pierre, a beautiful small church toward the end of the main road. There’s a candles, beautiful stained glass, and a statue of Michael slaying the dragon. There’s even a little ‘gift shop’ in the back of the church – you can buy St. Michael charms and some others as well, and just leave money there…this gift shop runs on the honor system!
We spent the night on the island, and we stayed at Auberge Saint Pierre, and I highly recommend it. It was clean, spacious enough, and warm enough. It was very quaint, and perfect for one night on the island. The experience of walking around Le Mont Saint Michel in the evening when most of the tourists have gone home is really special. It’s quiet, and so peaceful – I strongly recommend spending the night on the island if you have the time.
NOTE: bring all of the toiletries and essentials you need with you; don’t expect to be able to buy them on the island. We had a hard time finding anything in the shops, and had to take the bus back to the store off of the island to get some toiletries we needed.