Europe’s largest historic monastic site
We are staying in a small village near the Loire Valley in central France this week. The picturesque towns and villages of the Loire, the longest river in France, are rich in history and have dozens of beautiful castles and abbeys. Our visit to the Abbey of Fontevraud and the historic village Montsoreau, 18 km from Saumur and 40 km from where we are staying was memorable. For anyone looking for great pictures, it’s a dream come true. You’ll need plenty of puff to make the climb but it’s well worth the hike, and there are some nice places to stop off and refuel on the way. Here is some description about the place.
One of the largest historic monastic sites in all of Europe, the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud, is situated in the Loire Valley a few kilometers from the River of the same name and the city of Saumur. This location in the heart of the Saumur-Champigny vineyards and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Natural Park, was once the center of Richard the Lionheart’s Empire.
For nearly a millennium, Fontevraud was one of the most powerful abbeys in France. Subsequent to a Revolutionary order to close all monasteries in 1792, Fontevraud took on a whole new role in French society when it was converted from religious monastery to a prison early in the 19th century. And, it remained a penal institution from 1804 until 1963. However, since inmate labor was used on the transition from penal facility to its former life as a monastery, the very last prisoners left Fontevraud as recently as 1985.
Renovations have continued since that time (and still continue today). The church is massive, and still contains reclining effigies of Eleanor, Henry, Richard the Lionheart, and Isabelle of Angoulême (Eleanor’s daughter-in-law) that once marked their burial sites. Just off the cloister is a chapel which features 16th-century frescoes. These frescoes were added to over time, as notable women of the Abbey were painted in at the edges of the paintings—usually in a harmonious fashion, but occasionally unceremoniously overlapping the prior subject matter.
After the visit, we stopped at the store to buy provisions for our lunch and we had picnic by the side of Loire River. For our lunch, we chose to have a regional specialty: Fouée. Fouée are small pocket breads that are served with lettuce, cold cuts, vegetables or whatever. You cut a hole in one end of the bread, and stuff it full of the goodies.
In the late afternoon, we headed to visit Chateau de la dame Montsoreau which is just close by. It provides a dramatic setting for pictures. The visit through the chateau-highlighted by sound and light-showed us about life on the banks of the Loire during this period of history –the boats, the windmill, the cave dwellers. The château gained fame after the publication of La Dame de Montsoreau, a novel by Alexandre Dumas. The heroine, Françoise de Maridor, was forced by her jealous husband the Count of Montsoreau to visit her lover, Louis de Clermont d’Amboise, in the Château de la Coutancière so he could have him assassinated. After this tragic event, the Dame de Montsoreau happily resumed living with her husband until the end of her life.
The old fortress of Montsoreau was erected during the 11th century at the confluence of the Vienne and Loire rivers. It was rebuilt in 1450 by Charles Chambes, an adviser to King Charles VII. The heavy Military style building was restored during the French Renaissance.
The end of our visit of on the two roof terraces enabled us to discover a unique panorama-looking across the Loire and Vienne rivers at the surrounding countryside, and over the historic village Montsoreau.