Visiting France beyond Paris – Mont Saint Michel

Mont Saint Michel

Paris can be so all-consuming for visitors that they often don’t take the opportunity or make the time to discover the many wonderful cities and towns that are within easy reach of the French capital. But visiting France beyond Paris is key to really being able to say you love France, its culture, and its history. To make the most out of your trip to France there are a few key places that need to make your bucket list and one such soul-fulfilling trip to take is a trip to Mont Saint Michel! While this can be done in a day, staying overnight might be a better, less rushed option. If you’re looking for something to do within 24 hours, be sure to check out our day trip ideas to take you beyond Paris.

A bit further afield than most of our last blog’s suggestions for a day trip beyond Paris, I have heard of people with tight schedules making a day trip out of a visit to Mont Saint Michel. Mont Saint Michel is a truly enchanting place to visit when in France! It’s one of the lesser-known day trips from Paris but you’ll need the whole day. It’s a little over 4 hours by car but the best way to get there is to take a direct train to Rennes from the Montparnasse station in Paris. You can buy tickets on the SNCF website, the train to Rennes is 2 hours, after which you can take a shuttle coach bus from the station to Mont Saint Michel for 15€. The shuttle bus departure times are made with consideration to the train’s arrival from Paris so you won’t have to wait long to change. You can check the timetable here and purchase tickets on the SNCF website as well.

Mont Saint Michel is a stunning tidal island off the coast of Normandy, France, with a rich history and a breathtaking medieval monastery dedicated to the archangel St. Michael. As you can see, this area is a treasure trove of amazing photo opportunities with the monastery perched atop a rocky outcropping and when timed right, the tide makes for a gorgeous mirror effect.

This monastery (which when seen from afar has magical Disney palace vibes) is surrounded by a network of narrow, winding streets, ancient stone buildings, and charming shops and restaurants.

As you wander through the island, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. There are charming shops and restaurants to explore, and the views of the surrounding sea and countryside are simply spectacular.

To understand what gives this place its mystical structure you’ve got to know the history!

mont saint michel

History of the Island

The island has a rich and varied history, dating back to the 8th century when it was used as a stronghold by the Bretons against Viking raids. Later on, in the 10th century, the monastery was founded by the Bishop of Avranches and became a major pilgrimage site for Christians from all over Europe.

Over the centuries, the island was also used as a strategic fortress, serving as a stronghold during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. In the 19th century, the monastery was turned into a prison, and the island served as a penitentiary until 1863!

Today, Mont Saint Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting millions of visitors every year. Its unique location on the tidal flats of the English Channel creates a mesmerizing effect as the tide rises and falls.

Dining on the Island

When visiting Mont Saint Michel you’ll find that there aren’t just feasts for the eyes, after all, you know we’re all about food! 

You can’t miss out on visiting “Mère Poulard”, BP 18 Grande Rue, 50170 Le Mont-Saint-Michel, the famous restaurant known for its delicious omelets cooked over an open fire. It’s a true culinary experience that you won’t forget.

The restaurant is named after Anne Boutiaut, known as “La Mère Poulard,” who established the restaurant in 1888. Throughout the years, Mere Poulard has become a monumental part of Mont Saint Michel and a tribute to French culture in its purest form.

The restaurant is famous for its specialty dish, the “omelette de la Mère Poulard,” which is made simply with eggs, butter, and sea salt. Basic ingredients but a spectacular soufflé type of texture that really makes it special. But it didn’t start with making omelets out of eggs!

omelette soufflee
Image: France Today

Anne’s Beginnings

Anne Boutiaut was not always an omelet aficionado, she started out as a live-in maid for the household of Eduard Corroyer, a student of Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc who worked as an architect for the renovations of Mont Saint Michel during the 1830’s. As this student brought his household to Mont Saint Michel to become restaurant manager he brought Anne along with him.

Eventually, Anne married Victor Poulard and took his name hence “Mere Poulard”. She then left her maid job and joined her husband as joint manager of Tête d’Or hostel. During this period, pilgrims who had come to visit the monastery had to wait for the tides to recede before making their way home. While waiting, Anne served their children ‘galettes’ a type of flat crunchy (but decadently buttery) biscuits along with her soon-to-be-famous soufflé omelets.

This married team evolved their business by buying the Lion d’Or Hotel and creating the hotel “Mere Poulard’s Famous Omelette” .

anne poulard

Today’s Restaurant

The omelets that are still served today in her memory are renowned for their unique texture and flavor, being runny in the center with a light and airy texture. Though elegant, they are simple and quick enough to make for hoards of hungry pilgrims!

These omelets have now been enjoyed by celebrities and food enthusiasts from around the world.

In addition to the omelet, the restaurant offers a variety of other traditional French (Normandy region) dishes, such as seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes, as well as desserts and pastries.

The original kitchen and dining room have been preserved and provide a glimpse into the restaurant’s long and thriving past.

Mère Poulard is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Mont Saint Michel from Paris, whether it’s for the omelet, the other delicious dishes, or the historic ambiance.

If this story has got you craving a delicious French omelet, try the recipe for a classic French ham omelet.

Hope this blog has inspired you to take your France travels beyond Paris. If you’ve already visited various cities beyond Paris or have a few on your bucket list, share the destinations in the comments.

mere poulard
Image: encoreungateau.com

Who would have thought eggs could be such a big star? French cuisine is full of simple elegance, if you’re not sure where to start to join on your French culinary adventure, I suggest diving straight in and getting your hands dirty in a French Bistro Class with Cook’n with Class where you’ll learn some of the traditional dishes often mentioned in French cuisine.

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