Olive Us: Pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel

By Gabrielle. Images by Ben Blair.

Oh man. This episode is an epic one. Here’s a little back story. When people visit the region of Normandy (which is where we lived in France, and where our little cottage is), the number one thing they want to see is Mont St. Michel. And while we were there, we visited this legendary island at least a dozen times.

Every time we approached, there was this moment where we all of a sudden notice the castle-looking structure off in the distance — across fields of sheep — and our breath catches. And then, as we get closer and closer, there is this feeling of wonder.

We loved visiting Mont St. Michel, wandering it’s tiny street and stairways, walking along the beach and exploring the boulders that surround the whole island, sitting quietly in the Abbey garden at the very top, taking in the views on the approach, and the views from high up on the mount. It’s a special place.


So we weren’t too surprised when we learned it was one of the key pilgrimage sites for Christians. Makes sense! When we found out our local friend (and knowledgeable historian), Mark, had made the week long pilgrimage several times — going by foot from our town of Argentan to Mont St. Michel, and staying in gites (which are homes in the countryside that rent out a room for the night) along the way, we were intrigued! The idea of making a pilgrimage, a walking one, with a slow approach, was so appealing to both me and Ben Blair, and we talked about it a lot, and I wrote a post about it here.

Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us

So getting to film this episode was simply a treasure. Mark acted as our guide, finding the prettiest routes and giving history lessons as we went. As you’ll notice in the episode, we learned that King Arthur legends have a place in Normandy as well as England, and that some people believe Arthur is buried along the pilgrimage trail — visiting his possible burial site was such an experience!

I feel like there’s so much I could share about this video, but for now, I just hope you watch it and enjoy it.

And if you’ve ever visited Mont St. Michel, I’d love to hear about it. I’d also love to know if anyone out there has made a religious pilgrimage before. Pilgrimages aren’t really a part of my religious upbringing, but they hold such an appeal for me. I hope to make one some day!

Pilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive UsPilgrimage to Mont St. MIchel  |  Olive Us

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

– Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
– Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us — including every episode — here.
– We’ve made 44 episodes so far and collaborated with ulive on 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

70 thoughts on “Olive Us: Pilgrimage to Mont St. Michel”

  1. Polly Hitchcock Sage

    How lovely! I took a class on pilgrimage for my undergrad and wrote about Mont St Michel for my research paper. So neat to see it through your eyes. The seashells were important, as far as I remember, and became a symbol of your pilgrimage. Isn’t it also a place that gets separated when the tide comes in? There is a great Scarlet Pimpernel film that has a dramatic scene there, I think. Thank you for the episode!

    1. That’s right! It becomes an island when the tide comes in. They are actually redoing the causeway (the road to the island) right now because it has affected the waterway and beaches negatively. They are turning it into a bridge so that the water and run freely and isn’t blocked by the cause way.

  2. Lovely scenery and stories! I visited Mont St. Michel when I was 17 and an exchange student in France; my host family had rented an 18th century farmhouse in Normandy, and we made the day trip. They wanted me to see it before the tide comes in and after and also to experience the restaurant where the omelet is said to originate; we got there when the tide was out, and had an omelet at La Mere Poulard while we waited. Then we all rushed out to see as the water rose in the streets…it was magical. We also climbed through the city to the church at the top. While I was homesick, and not as appreciative of the trip while I was actually there, 23 years later it still stands out in my mind as one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever been. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love this place. The first time visiting, there was a special art installation – laser beams and creepy music. I went at 9 pm while everyone was at dinner so I had the upper half – the paths, abbey etc. to myself. I was terrified, but went on. I came to a narrow tunnel lined with small barred cells, once a prison. At the end a single red laser shone straight down into bowl and a light made it appear like a drop of blood was falling. When it hit the bowl a loud gong went off. I screamed, like really screamed. The guards came running. I was happy to get out on the terrace to see the view and gather my wits to scurry back down. What a place. Also, that night, a car was left on the beach and the fire brigade had to pull it out of the water when the tides came in a cut off the island.….seemed like they were well practiced at this. Would go back in a heart beat.

  4. Hello Gabrielle
    This video is really touching. Did you ever heard about the Tro Breizh ? It’s a pilgrimage that takes place during a week in Brittany every Summer. All kind of people walk together : families, kids and grown ups, young people and older people. Every day they walk around 30 kilometers, singing and praying and every night they stop in a different village and sleep under tents. I have a friend who does it which her kids every year and she tells me that it helps her going through the year. It gives her a sense of harmony, peace and connection to religion sometimes difficult to have all year long.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. How beautiful! There are so many intriguing places to visit in the world – and the scary thing is I’m only finding out about them now that I read blogs. I also watched part of “Saying goodbye to france” (until my daughter begged me to watch Snow White with her). That video, too, is lovely. What incredible scenery. And your daughter is a delight to watch as she runs and swings and waves goodbye.

  6. Oh my goodness, how beautifully this was done! What a treat to watch! It must have been a truly magical journey, how incredible for you and your children to experience! This made me want to take my daughter and son out of school for a year, and just travel around with them making short films to remember our trips by. Thanks for the inspiration!

  7. Beautiful, beautiful job. I love this. I was interested to hear you say pilgrimages aren’t a part of your religious upbringing. As a UK member of the Church,I think European members consider going to Salt Lake as though it were a pilgrimage, albeit not one in the traditional sense of the word, especially if they have ancestors who left their homes here in Europe and made the original trail. Just another perspective…..

    1. I think you’re right, Louise. And I know some Mormons feel like it’s a pilgrimage of sorts to visit the Joseph Smith’s birthplace or Nauvoo. And others feel like doing a 3-day pioneer trek feels like a pilgrimage.

      But I guess I mean that Mormons don’t have set or official pilgrimages like other religions do. We don’t walk to Cumorah on the same spring weekend every year — that sort of thing. And we don’t really talk about pilgrimages.

  8. Beautiful! I’ve not been on a pilgrimage, but there is something very intriguing about them. That sense of duty, obligation, awe, and wonder. The video makes what might seem to be a rather abstract, old-fashioned concept accessible and even fun.

  9. I really LOVED the Pilgrimage! I assume Mont St. Michell is a Catholic
    cathedral. We learned about pilgrimages by sincere and devout modern pilgrims
    to sacred places in Lithuania. They would often sing as they walked and had interesting and beautiful rituals. I am grateful to be reminded of this lovely way of worshiping and receiving forgiveness. Millions of thanks for this reminder. It’s a treasure!

  10. Have you heard of the movie The Way? It is about a pilgrimage route in Spain. It is a beautiful story.

    I love the idea of a pilgrimage and hearing about those who for centuries have made them. It makes me feel connected with all the Christians going centuries back. I love that you embraced that with your family and did one. What an experience!

        1. So glad you mentioned it. I haven’t seen it, but want to! There’s another pilgrimage movie I watched about a muslim father and son. It’s in French and I can’t remember the name. It’s so good.

  11. Dear Gabrielle, I’ve just watched all the series of “Olive us”. They are so cheerful and moving at the same time. “Saying goodbye to France” almost brought me to tears, others made me laugh out loud! You have a fantastic family and great ideas. Big, big hugs from Poland for all of you!

  12. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    My husband and I were there the summer while we were licking our wounds from losing our baby and waiting for an adoption to come through. We traveled though England and France and everything seemed so vivid. We had been stuck in a cycle of fertility doom and gloom and rarely left town. So we enjoyed every sight and site we saw. MSM was so captivating! I could have stayed for a full day. Oddly one of my memories from there was the big warning to people parking their cars not to leave them there for high tide. Sure enough as we were leaving the tide was coming in and a bunch of cars were very close to being under water. Loved it and would go back in a second. Isn’t it crazy that people built it to begin with?

  13. I loved this. I don’t think that I’ve done any religious pilgrimages. I’ve certainly done literary ones, where I walked in the paths of characters in a book. On a different note, I do insist that, if physically able, friends must walk up the steps to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then walk up the main stairs into the galleries; we have to do the same at the NYPL. And at Philadelphia Museum, now that I think of it. It makes a difference to experience a place the way it was meant to be approached!

    1. “It makes a difference to experience a place the way it was meant to be approached!”

      I love that thought! In the oldest Mormon temples (like in Salt Lake City and St. George) they have grand front doorways, but they aren’t used, and instead people go in through quiet side doors.

      As a child, I always wished to see those front entrances thrown wide open and to see people coming and going through those big doors.

  14. The filmmakers absolutely captured the moment you described, when you first see Mont St. Michel–it gave me wonderful chills. Truly amazing. And what a treasure to have these moments with your young family captured on film!

    (One of the books I’m reading right now is Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann Mah, and I’ve thought of you and your family often as she describes her adventures in France. I think the closest Ann gets to where you lived is when she visits Brittany to learn about crepes.)

  15. Thanks for sharing. I have never been to Mont Saint Michel, but my daughter went when she was an exchange student in France. Her adventure always makes me giggle though, because she and her host family got all the way to the top and she realized they had to go to the toilet so she and her friend climbed all the way down to the bottom to use the facilities. When they got there they found they had to pay for the toilet, but had no money so had to run all the way up for some money. I think in the end they found a toilet up at the top (can’t quite remember that part). The thought of them all sweaty from running up and down the stairs always makes me laugh.

  16. Very beautiful – the music was just right! It made me feel shivery as historical & magical places always do. I love how the kids are solicitious to each other through their journey. It just occurred to me how your kids and their adventures remind me of the children in the Chronicles of Narnia.

  17. I have done a pilgrimage! A few months after graduating from college, I walked the Camino de Santiago. I started in Western France and walked 500 miles to western Spain. It is a Catholic pilgrimage that finishes in Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of St. James. I’m not Catholic (or even religious) but most pilgrims were. I met so many interesting people along the way–the thing we had in common was that we were all in a big moment of transition in our lives (which also explains why we had 2 months to dedicate). Five weeks of walking gives you an opportunity to reflect and think. I remember that time with such fondness. Traveling on foot is a perfect pace to see a place.

    Thank you for another lovely video.

  18. This was such a beautiful episode. I didn’t anticipate liking it, but I teared up several times and when the kids were framed in the hole in the crumbling wall I got chills. And that stone tunnel….it really was epic.

  19. We loved our visit to Mont St Michel. My husband is a photographer so we have some amazing photos. While in Paris I would visit Notre Dame each afternoon and light a candle for Joan of Arc. It was really an amazing holiday.

  20. A perfect way to start my day. I was transported to France and refreshed as I watched the children walking through the beautiful scenery. What a fabulous opportunity for them to be part of all your wonderful Olive Us episodes.

  21. This place is on my bucket list! Beautiful video, you lucky lucky ducks.

    Pilgrimages also weren’t a part of my religious experience growing up, but I’d really like to change that. I think everything about them is so appealing.

  22. I have been to Mont St Michel twice. It is truly a breathtaking place with an amazing history. It was also the place where I first tried an oyster at one of the bistros along the road that winds to the top! :)

    I’ve also been on pilgrimage twice, from Notre Dame in Paris to Notre Dame in Chartres. It is a 3 day walking pilgrimage that is done every year around Pentecost, a total of about 100 miles. It is arduous but there is something truly spiritual and refreshing about making your way from one place to another at such a distance on foot. It gives you much time to reflect. And you see some beautiful sights along the way that you would never see by car or train!

    1. Oh wow! That’s wonderful. Another pilgrimage I hadn’t heard of. But I love both those cathedrals and can imagine how wonderful that trek must be. So glad you shared!

  23. While living in Switzerland years ago I tried on a few occasions to visit Mont St Michel when visiting France however it just never worked out. My husband visited before I arrived in Europe and he absolutely loved it. Each time we tried to go together we got caught up in train strikes (the French national past time, right?) and were left “stranded” in St Malo. Of course, there are much worse places than St Malo to be stuck for a few days! The strikes always seemed to start the day that we had planned to visit Mont St Michel and always ended the day that we were booked to catch the ferry across the channel to the UK. The strikes always seemed to be held at short notice (as soon as they found out I was in the area, perhaps!) so no other public transport options were available. I seem to recall there being a bus but the timing was so bad that we’d only have time to look at the Mont from the beach and then jump back on the bus.
    One day we’ll make it there – and we’ll plan ahead and rent a car!

  24. I visited MSM with my daughter in April 2006. I don’t remember hearing anything about a pilgrimage from our tour guide (maybe he did say something, but I don’t remember it), and the tour bus parked us at the base of MSM. So we saw/knew nothing of the beautiful pilgrimage trail. Thanks for sharing a beautiful experience to add to my memories of that place. Besides the beauty of the abbey, and quaintness of the town, I remember two things: 1. It was bitterly cold and windy. I bought 2 long sleeved shirts in town to add layers to what I was wearing. 2. I was impressed that each brick of the “flooring” at the top of the mont has the name of the brick maker. We could see who the hardest workers were – by how often his name appeared!
    Thank you and your family again for this beautiful and touching Olive Us video.

    1. I know that cold wind well! We made visits to MSM in every season and the weather there really does vary dramatically. But in 2012, we visited on the very coldest day of the year. Our friends were in town and wanted to see it. It was basically our tiny group and a bus of tourists from Japan. And then the locals who actually live on the island. We basically had the whole place to ourselves!

  25. So lovely. My husband loved MSM when he lived in Europe as a child and says it was one of his favorite destinations.

    Pilgrimages are edifying for many reasons and I know many people who’ve done them around the world — both for spiritual reasons as well as for self-growth and adventure. You can make a pilgrimage to any sacred or special place, really; it’s all about the spirit in which you travel. The Camino is on my life list and since I now have family from Spain, I may just be able to make it happen one of these days!

  26. Pilgrimages were part of our upbringing, but we’d do really simple ones, like choosing a church or shrines in a nearby town or province. We’d pray on the drive to and from, and also at the church, of course :) I’ve been blessed enough to go to Rome a few times, and as a Catholic, I’ve felt a sense of being at home standing in St. Peter’s Square.

    Now with my own family, we’ve been on a grand total of one pilgrimage. This is a nice reminder to plan, and Mont St. Michel is now on my bucket list! Thank you for sharing the lovely video.

  27. Maude looks so much like you!

    I went to Rome with my Mom, and Vatican City. I have a Catholic Upbringing. I think my Mom invited me on the trip to dissuade me from continuing to attend the LDS church- that didn’t work, but it doesn’t diminish the fact that it was an amazing look at history and faith! And my mom and I had some Good memories (gelato! Pizza!), which turned out to be good timing since soon after I was engaged and married.

    I also went to Israel/Palestine for one week after studying abroad with BYU (incidentally, where my faith journey and introduction to the LDS church began, on the study abroad) – it was so wonderful to SEE the places Jesus walked, and to understand a place that is important to so many faiths. So I kinda like pilgrimages, although I think they aren’t necessary for a strong faith- you can feel the Holy Spirit wherever you are!

    1. I agree, Julie. I don’t think they are necessary for developing a strong faith. But I do love the idea of embarking on a physical journey with the whole intention being spiritual growth and aligning with God. What an experience it must be!

  28. It’s taken me a few days to respond to this post because it touched me so and I couldn’t immediately craft the right words to relay my sentiments. My husband and I took a trip to France after 2 1/2 very trying years where we struggled with infertility and conceiving our first child. The trip was meant to distract, heal and bring us together in a romantic, caring way after all of the clinical, invasive and technical stuff that had been going on. We had a beautiful few days in Paris and then my husband surprised me with a sidetrip he had planned to Normandy. Part of that side trip was a late afternoon drive to Mont St. Michel, which was beautiful. He had secretly planned for us to arrive just before the road closed due to the tide rushing in and as the crush of tourists were exiting. We had the most amazing evening on Mont St. Michel – watching the sun set, walking around the narrow streets, having dinner in a small cafe, and visiting the Abbey. Later at night, it felt like we were the only ones on Mont St. Michel and it was so restorative, in a way that I cannot even describe. After 22 years of marriage, it is one of the most special things we have experienced together in our travels. Thank you for sharing this Olive Us video. It transported me back!

  29. I did a lot of the pilgrimage across Spain from St. Jean-pied-de-Port (can’t remember if I’m spelling that correctly) to Santiago de Compostela. It is something I will never forget. It was crazy and I have stories. It was also almost 500 miles. At the end I got to see what was thought to be Finnestere (the end of the world). That was a religious experience in itself.

  30. I’ve been several times to the Mont Saint Michel growing up. The last time I visited was with my husband, we booked a room inside the Mont, it was really a magical experience to sleep inside the fortification. It felt like we were inhabitants of Minas Tirith.
    I’ve also been on a couple of other pilgrimages with my family( Lourdes, Lisieux, Chartres, etc.) and El Camino has been in my dream book for a while.

  31. Oh, wow! I’ve always wanted to go there, but now I want to WALK there. This is beautiful and inspiring. Give those sweet little actors big kisses from an adoring fan. xoxJess.

  32. What a wonderful film ! We have been living in he Mortainais area for the past 5 years, about 35 km from the Mont. I love visiting it and we often go for a drive along the coast just to see it from a distance. Some of my favourite photo’s are from the Mont-Saint-Michel ( http://www.geavisserphotography.com/)

    I recognized quite a few areas in the film and would love to know which route you took.

    1. There is a tiny map at the beginning of the movie that shows the route (but not in detail). It’s basically the route from Paris directly west to MSM. But we picked up the trail near our town, Argentan — which is maybe half way.

  33. I’ve been to Mont-St-Michel twice and every time is so magical. I want to do Camino de Santiago Compostela in Galicia Spain, it can be a 60 day walking trip depending where you begin your journey (Paris, south of France etc). Santiago (St. Jacques) is a very important saint for us catholics, so it makes sence to walk so long distances and do the Pilgrimage.
    It has been my dream since i’m 15, so hopefully for my 40th birthday I will do it!!

  34. The biggest thing I learned from visiting Mont St Michel: America did not invent the tourist trap.

    Nevertheless, it’s great. I’m a nut for Romanesque and Gothic architecture – it’s part of what inspired me to go into engineering.

    The little churches along the pilgrimage trail in Spain are among the world’s most beautiful works of art. The chapel at Fromista is a gem; the most peaceful place I have ever been.

  35. My husband and I are making a pilgrimage to France and Mont St Michel is one of our stops. Seeing this made me even more excited for our journey to this beautiful place! While we’re at Mont St Michel we will attend Mass, spend the afternoon at leisure and say evening prayer with the monks.

    I’m actually currently writing about planning our trip/pilgrimage to Europe on my blog. My current post – asking seasoned Rome/Paris travelers for advice. Would love if you stopped by and shared some insights! :) Again, thanks for posting this beautiful video. I wanted to embed it into my wordpress to share, but didn’t see it in vimeo or youtube.

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