Mont-Saint-Michel in France or St Michael's Mount in Cornwall - which is better?
Article Words : Kirtey Verma | 30 April 2019

Mont-Saint-Michel vs St Michael’s Mount: Which medieval isle should you visit?

France's Benedictine abbey and the castle of Cornwall draw many similarities. The view of both are amazing, but how do they compare on history, walking and food? We put them head to head to find out...

Mont-Saint-Michel 

Exploring the abbey's cavernous interior (Shutterstock)

Exploring the abbey's cavernous interior (Shutterstock)

Where: Normandy, France

Area: 1 sq km

Famous for: Its Benedictine abbey, coastal walks and buttery biscuits

Population: 36

St Michael’s Mount

The castle and village of Cornwall's St Michael’s Mount (Shutterstock)

The castle and village of Cornwall's St Michael’s Mount (Shutterstock)

Where: Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, UK

Area:  230,000 sq m

Famous for: Its medieval castle, the South West Coast Path and pasties

Population: About 35

History

The view of the Benedictine abbey reflected in the water (Shutterstock)

The view of the Benedictine abbey reflected in the water (Shutterstock)

With its Benedictine abbey and maze-like streets, Mont-Saint-Michel is a glimpse of medieval France. Once a busy pilgrimage site, its ramparts were added in the 1300s to keep out the English. Today you can walk its steep cobbles (pictured) – now peppered with restaurants and hotels – to the abbey for a self-guided tour of its monastic past.

A former Benedictine monastery, the castle here has actually been a family home since the 1600s. But during the Middle Ages it had close links to its Normandy cousin, until the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1443) began to sour Anglo-French relations. Relics of that era can be glimpsed in castle visits, while a community still lives in the harbour below.

Walking 

Penzance is just one pretty section of the South West Coast Path (Dreamstime)

Penzance is just one pretty section of the South West Coast Path (Dreamstime)

Skip the bus and copy the pilgrims of old by hiring a guide to cross the treacherous bay to the abbey at low tide. Or combine a visit with exploring the 446km Coastal Path (GR223) to Carentan, taking in the towers of Vaubin and Second World War landing beaches, while the GR34 takes you west to explore Brittany’s beautiful coastal towns.

Like its French twin, you can walk to St Michael’s Mount, crossing the causeway at low tide, though boat tours (pictured) have better views. A longer trail (15km) starts at Lamorna Cove, passing Penzance en route to Marazion, and is just one section of the huge 1,014km South West Coast Path, WALKING taking you around England’s western tip.

Did you know?

A ‘daughter house’ (an offshoot of a founding abbey) that depended on Mont-Saint-Michel was set up on St Michael’s Mount in 1140 AD, before Anglo-French wars cut off relations.

Eating

The famous La Mere Poulard (Shutterstock)

The famous La Mere Poulard (Shutterstock)

The seafood is heavenly here, but spare time for La Mere Poulard, a popular 19thcentury inn that has hosted everyone from pilgrims to Marilyn Monroe. Their worldfamous omelettes are a treat, and be sure to grab a tin of their buttery cookies. For cheaper (but authentic) French delicacies, stop at the creperies closer to the Abbey.

Simple pleasures abound here, from crusty pasties (try Philps in Marazion) to velvety ice cream. Take the weight off your feet with a traditional cream tea (remember: jam first; pictured) at beachfront restaurant The Godolphin Arms, which offers a view of the Mount. Perfect for contemplating your afternoon while waiting for the tide.

Day trips 

dolphins can be spotted off the coast of Penzance (Shutterstock)

dolphins can be spotted off the coast of Penzance (Shutterstock)

This summer, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings (6 Jun) sees military parades take over Normandy’s beaches. Take in the historic site at Omaha Beach (pictured) and the military museum at Arromanches before heading to the rural haven of Pays d’Auge – all country lanes, camembert and cider.

On the south-facing shores of the bay lies the port of Penzance. In summer, bonfires, and pyrotechnics mark the annual Golowan Festival (21–31 Jun), a ten-day celebration of the Feast of Saint John. But offshore is where the real fireworks are found, with trips to spot Risso’s dolphins, basking sharks and sunfish off Cornwall’s wild west coast.

Verdict

It’s a tough one to call. For coastal wonders, St Michael’s Mount lies on one of the UK’s great trails and has some incredible marine life offshore. But for sheer grandeur, its French cousin is difficult to beat – the sight of its spires rising out of the misty Normandy sands is France at its most iconic.

There’s no reason to choose, though. There’s enough myths and legends to feed the imagination of any traveller; put both at the top of your ‘mounting’ travel list.

 

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