Mont Saint Michel Abbey, Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel Abbey

The actual abbey of Mont St-Michel is the reason to visit. It’s been an important pilgrimage centre since A.D. 708, when (according to legend) the Archangel Michael told the local bishop to “build here and build high.” With uncanny foresight he reassured the bishop, “If you build it…they will come.” Saint Michael, whose gilded statue decorates the top of the abbey’s spire, was the patron saint of many French kings, making this a favoured sight for French royalty through the ages.

Today’s abbey is built on the remains of a Romanesque church, which was built on the ruins of a Carolingian church. Visiting the abbey, imagine the headaches and hassles the monks had when they built it. They ferried granite from across the bay (without the causeway back then) and hiked it uphill.

A walk in the abbey is a one-way route through fine — but barren — Gothic rooms. A rented audio-guide or English-language tour make this historic sight more meaningful. Visitors may explore the impressive church, delicate cloisters, and refectory (where the monks ate in austere silence), and then climb down into the dark, damp Romanesque foundations. A highlight is the giant tread-wheel, which six workers once powered hamster-style to haul two-ton loads of stones and supplies from the landing below. This was used until the 19th century.Rick Steves

Church of St. Peter, Mont Saint Michel, France

Church of St. Peter

Many people walk past here without noticing the parish church of St Peter, on their way up the steps of the main street to the Abbey. But is worth a few minutes of your time.

Built in the 11th century it was the first church for Montois, but has been severely remodelled in the 15th and 16th century.

Outside the main porch is a statue of Joan of Arc guarding the church as she is the patron saint of the parish. Inside you’ll find a statue of Saint Anne reading to Mary and you’ll notice because of the slope of the hill, the main altar is not centred but off to the left. There is of course a replica of Saint Michel killing the dragon created in 1877 in silver and placed in its niche in 1895.Virtual Tourist