Fontevraud l’Abbaye and its Extraordinary Kitchen

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It’s the second day of our spring cycling weekend near Saumur. We wake up in time for 9 am breakfast at our B&B, Le Balcon Bleu, having slept very soundly in a comfortable bed after all our hills and dales of the day before.

The main bedroom from which you can see the cot. The bathroom is next to it.
Our suite consisted of four separate rooms – a single bedroom, a double bedroom, a baby’s room and bathroom.

We pass through the inner courtyard with its stunning Clematitis armandii and into the breakfast room. Well, you’ve already seen the photos – a cross between a brocante and an art gallery. Certainly a lovely room in which to start the day.

Our bedroom consisted of four separate rooms - single bed, a double bed, a cot and a bathroom but this room had the most typical decoration
The single bedroom with the most typical decoration

Breakfast is standard French fare, but of good quality: orange juice, fresh baguette, butter, several home-made jams and home-made yoghurt. Certainly not what Bread is Pain likes to see on the breakfast table though. We soon start chatting to our hostess who is a mine of information and since the other guests have not yet arrived, we invite her to sit down with us.

The view from Château de Villeneuve winery
The view from Château de Villeneuve winery in Souzay-Champigny

After breakfast, we pick up some local saumur-champigny vieilles vignes from Château de Villeneuve and drive to Fontevraud l’Abbey which is why we chose to stay in Turquant, as it is only a short distance away. The sky is deep blue but it’s still a little chilly to cycle.

The first view of Fontevraud when you enter the abbey, with the church on the right
The first view of Fontevraud when you enter the abbey, with the church on the right 

We’re just in time for a guided tour suggested by our hostess, which turns out to be really excellent. They even have very light folding seats you can take around with you.

The cloisters
The cloisters

The monastery, which was actually a group of four monasteries, was founded in 1101 by a wandering preacher called Robert d’Arbrissel who had such a following that he was ordered to settle somewhere. There was a monastery for women, one for men, another for repented women and another for lepers.

The room in which the nuns had to confess to their misdemeanours
The room in which the nuns had to confess to their misdemeanours

Thirty-six abbesses ruled the abbey during seven centuries of monastic life, many of royal birth. The women’s lives entailed mostly hardship from what I gather as very few were there by choice. One of the nuns tried to poison another three times before being sent to solitary confinement (forever, I might add).

The abbesses usually managed to wend their way into the paintings in the confession room
The abbesses usually managed to wend their way into the paintings in the confession room

The French Revolution closed the abbey in 1792 until it was turned into one of France’s most severe prisons from 1804 to 1963. The thousand or so inmates provided the manpower to convert the abbey into a fortress, learning all the trades needed to do so.

Restauration began after the prison was closed and the abbey was open to the public in 1985.

Inside the abbey church
Inside the abbey church

We visit various rooms, starting with the church which contains the recumbent statues of Aliénor d’Aquitaine, one of the countries most illustrious figures in the twelfth century, along with the smaller statues of her husband, the future Henry II Plantagenet of England, their son Richard the Lionheart, and his sister-in-law, Isabelle d’Angoulême who was married to Richard’s brother John Lackland.

The recumbent statues of Aliénor dAquitaine and Henry II
The recumbent statues of Aliénor dAquitaine and Henry II

Next comes the cloister followed by the confession room in which the nuns had to own up to their misdemeanours including the aforementioned poisoning!

The refectory where the nuns survived on a very frugal diet of smoked fish and little else
The refectory where the nuns survived on a very frugal diet of smoked fish and little else

After visiting the enormous refectory to which a floor was added to create prison cells and most of the doors blocked up, we come out into the open.

The famous kitchen at Fontevraud l'Abbaye
The famous kitchen at Fontevraud l’Abbaye

Here it is at last – the most recognisable part of Fontevraud l’Abbaye – its strange octagonal kitchen 25 metres high with its many pointed roofs made of stone from Charente and not the local tufa which is much softer.

Inside one of the 12 chimneys
Inside one of the 21 chimneys

Its Byzantine style brought back from the crucades is very different from the other buildings. The 21 chimneys covered with fish-scales were used to evacuate the smoke from the smoked fish below, the monastery’s staple diet.

Terrace at La Croix Blanche
Terrace at La Croix Blanche

Although there are two restaurants within the Abbey, we decide to see what’s offering on the main square and are delighted to find there are plenty of outside tables free at La Croix Blanche.  Nothing extraordinary but we like the setting.

Parish Church at Fontevraud
Parish Church at Fontevraud

Before going back to the car, we wander around and find the little parish church of Saint Michel in Fontevraud-l’Abbaye with its “chat room” built in the 12th century for the large contingent of labourers employed to build the abbey and was financed by Henri II Plantagenet and Alienor d’Aquitaine. It was extended in the 15th and 17th centuries.

Thinking of the hills that no doubt await us when we get back on our bikes in Saumur, I somewhat regret the entrecôte, French fries and wine!

Château de Villeneuve vineyard, 3 rue Jean-Brevet, 49400 Souzay-Champigny. Tel: 02 41 51 14 04.  Open from 9 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 6 pm. Closed Sundays and public holidays.
Le Balcon Bleu B&B, 2 rue de Martyrs, 49730 Turquant. Tel 02 41 38 10 31.

All_About_France_blog_linky_xmasI’m including this post in Lou Messugo’s ALL ABOUT FRANCE blog link.

For other contributions, click here.

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17 thoughts on “Fontevraud l’Abbaye and its Extraordinary Kitchen”

  1. hehe…thanks for the shout-out! And what a charming looking B&B…although, what am I saying? You are always in the most charming places! I love all that stone work. SIGH – I think MB and I need to take about 3 mos and just road trip France.

  2. Hi Rosemary, have just spent a very enjoyable time reading this and past posts.. Think I may have turned a pale shade of green in envy. I can only imagine how incredible it must be to live in Paris (my favourite city) and in the country. Love to read about it here.. Keep writing 🙂

    1. Hi Gracie, I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog. It is incredible to live in Paris, which is also my favourite city, and in the country. If only life didn’t keep getting in the way of 100% enjoyment!

    1. The Loire Valley has just so much to offer – you need to spend at least two weeks here if not more.

  3. Wow, What a wonderful place!! I really want to go there, haha.
    I’m interested in old&traditional kitchen. How about kitchen inside? Is it empty?

  4. I love Fontevraud. The beauty of the buildings, the fascinating kitchen, and the centuries of history. It’s a place I recommend to visitors, and where I take friends who are interested in French history.

  5. I love the idea of those folding chairs Rosemary! Looks like such a beautiful and interesting place the kitchen is most unusual. I also love the look of the B&B you stayed in. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance, I’m off to have a look at recent posts now, hoping to read AllAboutIndia instead!!!

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