Planning Our Trip to Mont Saint-Michel
When planning for our trip to the stunning Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France in September, we made sure to do some planning in order to increase the odds of being able to take the type of photos that we wanted. Specifically, we wanted to plan it around the tides because we wanted to see the island when it was surrounded by water. I also wanted to take pictures of the abbey and island with sheep grazing in the foreground, so I did some research on possible photo spots for that also. While we are happy with the photos that we captured, there are still some things that we wished we knew in advance. If you are planning a trip to Mont Saint-Michel for photography, I hope this article will be useful for you!
High Tide at Mont Saint-Michel and Tide Tables
Mont Saint-Michel looks the most dramatic during high tide days when the abbey appears to be perched on a small island surrounded by water. The tides are governed by the interactions between the sun, moon and earth. High tides occur when the three are in line with each other. The highest tides take place 36 to 48 hours after the full and new moons. High and low tides occur twice a day. Useful tide tables for trip planning can be found here:
The Mont Saint-Michel Tourism Website – there is a downloadable table from this website. High tides are highlighted in yellow and the days in red are the big flood days when the tides are so high that Mont Saint Michel may become a true island, being surrounded by water, with the causeway possibly submerged also.
The Meteo Consult website – this website is in English and has a simplified table showing when the high and low tide times are.
If you want to see the high tide, look for the days with a tidal coefficient over 90. On the days that we were there, the coefficient ranged from 85 to 104.
Please note that it is very dangerous to walk around the island during high tide times. Per the tourism website: “It is extremely dangerous to stay alone in the Bay or in the area around the Mont Saint-Michel. The walk across the Bay is only allowed in company of certified guides, who you can find on our page Crossing the Bay.”
Mont Saint-Michel Photography Locations
To photograph the abbey from a distance, it is best to park your car in the parking lot across the street from the dam, which is labeled “Barrage du Mont Saint Michel” on Google Maps, and walk the surrounding areas for the best photo opportunities that day. Fortunately, you do not have to go far for a great view of the abbey and island since the dam overlooking the river provides a great viewpoint. It was from this location that we captured the evening photo with the spotlight from the abbey and the photo with the surfer paddling towards the island in the morning (point #1 on the map). From this location, it is best to have a zoom lens since the abbey is a distance away.
Photo Opportunities Along the Causeway and From the Island
To take closer-up photos of the abbey, there are many opportunities along the 1.5 mile causeway leading to the island and abbey from the parking lot. Some of the photos on this page were taken from approximately points #3 and #4. The causeway can be walked at all times of the day, but cars are not allowed on the causeway and the island is only accessible via the free shuttle, walking or via a horse-drawn carriage. If there is some water surrounding the island, it may be possible to get photos with a reflection of the abbey in the water.
During low tide, it is possible to do a traditional crossing of the bay by walking onto the grazing land and the infamous quicksand(!). The walk is only allowed in the company of certified guides, a list of which can be found on the Mont Saint-Michel tourism website.
Searching for Grazing Sheep and Hay Bales
Based on previous pictures that I had seen on Pinterest and Instagram, I knew that the places to look for grazing sheep and hay bales would be somewhat close to the island but obviously not on the island itself. I felt that they would create an interesting foreground for photos with the abbey in the background. Some people have reported seeing them close to the paths highlighted in orange. Based on my observations, the best way to get to these areas is to simply walk from the parking lot across the dam or along the causeway. From these areas, it should be possible to spot whether there are any sheep out grazing that day. We did not see any on our first day, but we saw a lot of them from point #2 on the second day.
Please note that there is a barbed wire fence surrounding the sheep in that area. We chose to take our photos without crossing the fence, but while we were there, at least two small groups of people did jump over the low fence for photos. Others have reported being able to walk further down that field or the path highlighted in orange for closer up photos with the grazing sheep; however, we did not go that far down and cannot confirm. I believe we started taking photos from around point #2 and walked in a bit, but I’m not certain how far down we walked until we encountered the fence.
Based on photos and reports that I have seen, there are also grazing sheep and hay bales to the east of the causeway, along the path highlighted in orange. However, we did not see any sheep in that area during our stay, so it will really depend on the day that you are there.
For photos from point #2, it is good to have either a zoom lens or multiple lens in order to be able to take photos at different focal lengths. The photo below was taken with a focal length of 135 mm. The photo with me and the grazing sheep and the abbey in the background were taken with a focal length of 62 mm. Taking photos in that area during evening golden hour before sunset also increases the chances of a colorful sky with less harsh lighting. I believe we arrived in the area around 4:30 pm in September. We often use weather and photography apps such as Sun Surveyor to check sunset and golden hour times and also sun and moon positions.
Evening and Morning Photos
Evenings and mornings are wonderful photography times for this area. In the evenings, from sundown to midnight, the abbey is lit up and it is a spectacular sight on a clear night. On our first evening there, we were taking photos on a tripod from the dam (photo point #1) when a bright cloud suddenly appeared over the lit up abbey. It created such an amazing cinematic effect that we snapped away continuously until the cloud dispersed. Please note that it can get windy on the dam in the evenings, and there could be a fair amount of shakes from pedestrians on the walkway, so be prepared to weigh down your tripod to stabilize your camera and to find a stable spot. For the night shot, we used a focal length of 70 mm at 5 seconds.
Mornings are a great time to take photos with the island and abbey partially covered in fog. The mist creates an almost mystical effect that adds to the beauty and drama. For the morning picture with the paddling surfer above, we used a 135 mm focal length.
Additional Photography Tips
- Walk the areas mentioned above to scout out the photography opportunities available the day(s) that you are there. Depending on the time, weather and season, different conditions and opportunities will be available and may not be the same as the conditions that we encountered.
- In order to capture both evening and daytime photos and also have time to visit the island and abbey, I highly recommend at least an overnight stay. We stayed for two nights and were happy that we did.
- Consider staying in one of the hotels on the mainland close to the dam and parking lot if you plan to take both morning and evening photos and from different locations. This makes it convenient to go back and forth between the different locations and your hotel. We stayed at the Hôtel Mercure Mont-Saint-Michel and were very satisfied with the location, rooms and service. Their morning buffet breakfast was also very convenient.
- Please note that all restaurants in the area open around 6 pm and close at 9 pm, so if you plan to be taking photos during that time, be sure to pack food from a cafe or market ahead of time. On our first evening there, we were so caught up taking pictures that all the restaurants were closed by the time we finished! It was around 9 pm and we didn’t realize that there would be literally no dining options available at that time and that no markets would be open either. The helpful front desk staff at our hotel told us that we could drive to the next town about 15 minutes away for some restaurants and small markets that close later. We ended up buying some items at a small market there for our dinner. We also grabbed sandwiches and other food from the Brioche Dorée bakery/cafe several times during our stay. It is conveniently located next to a shuttle stop and a gift shop.
All photos on this page are taken by either myself or my husband. All rights reserved.