Located in France’s Loire Valley, Fontevraud Abbey is quite a spot, with a significant history. The Abbey’s origins stretch back to 1101 CE,when the priest Robert of Arbrissel established a new monastic order, the Order of Fontevrault with the Abbey. Its more “permanent” residents include Henry II of England, his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine and their most famous of sons, Richard the Lionheart, all of whom are interred in the Abbey. The community is quite close to Chinon and Saumur, with easy access by car to Angers, Blois, Tours and Orleans, with many quite beautiful towns to explore throughout the immediate area.
All in all, the Abbey is a spectacle, with typical high ceilings a beautiful garden courtyard and quite a number of areas to explore. They include an interesting red-lit room that looks like something that should be in the Museum of Modern Art as an experiential piece. In one corner of the complex is a small yet very interesting museum showcasing a great deal of the Abbey’s history and many pieces from the original buildings.
The main church hosting the crypts of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II and Richard the Lionheart is worth a moment of contemplation for its history of well over a thousand years. Strolling through the Abbey it is also hard to image that in the 19th century it was turned into one of France’s toughest prisons.
The Abbey has gone through and continues to go through restoration works. A walk around the gardens provides a serene experience and a respite from the midday tourist bus crowds that seem to descend on the Abbey between 10am and 3pm.
There is also a small food outlet where you can enjoy some good but basic French snacks and beverages, including some pretty good wine.
Nights stayed - Two
Our guest room was located in a building between the main reception/restaurant building and the Abbey itself. Extremely well renovated with a very modern and clean ambiance, the room had a two-storey loft configuration, albeit a compact one. The lower area was designed as a lounge area (although ours was set to accommodate our son), with a fairly narrow staircase up to the main bedroom area. There were toilets on both floors, and the bathroom was located on the top floor.
The rooms did enjoy good views onto the courtyard garden and behind, looking toward the Abbey and the small produce farm for the restaurant. Opening the windows at either end afforded a wonderful breeze.
The rooms were modern and extremely clean, however there was no in-room fridge, and with the limited food and beverage options, this is one minor area of concern if you were to stay more than a night or two.
Le Restaurant and F&B
Le Restaurant, headed by Chef Thibaut Ruggeri is an experience to be had if staying in the Abbey or anywhere nearby. The Michelin star chef focuses on local produce based on the time of the year and provides a wonderful dining experience where “the superfluous and the pageantry have no place”. There is a standard four-course experience (70 €) and it can be added to with specials of the day. This is a meal for which you take your time, enjoy the contemporary environment and don’t hesitate to ask the wonderful staff for their suggestions on wine or menu choices.
Breakfast was a relatively simple continental buffet style, with a few egg options cooked to order. The highlight was the fruit, all local in nature and included wonderful apricots, berries and apples. The cured meats, cheeses and breads were of high quality, as would be expected. There is also a limited in-room dining menu.
The wine bar in a corner of the Abbey complex which opens later in the afternoon is basic in nature but offers a great variety of local and a little less than local wines, plus a selection of other beverages. If you are early enough you can enjoy one of the few garden seats just outside.
The options just outside of the Abbey are limited to only two or three restaurants, and the adjoining town is quite small. If you are happy to drive, there are of course numerous options in the nearby towns, and as always, we advise being cautious when driving and drinking.
There is an endless list of things to do and places to see within an easy drive. Some of the more prominent would be Château de Saumur, Château de Chinon, and the towns of Tours and Blois, with Orleans at the other end of the region. You also have the countless vineyards of the Loire to explore, such as Langlois-Chateau or Bouvet Ladubay in Saumur and Pierre et Bertrand Couly and Domaine de Noire in Chinon. The history within the area would occupy the deepest interest, whether it’s related to Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years’ War, the Crusades, the Templars or the countless wars from the Middle Ages to WWII, with museums in just about every town.
Tips & Tricks
- Book well ahead, particularly if you want to eat in the restaurant.
- Manage your luggage—if driving, the car park is a fair way from reception. Out best suggestion would be to pack a small bag specifically for your stay and leave other luggage in the car if secure.
- Bring snacks that do not require refrigeration. There is no bar fridge in the room, a limited café-style outlet in the grounds, and there are no easily accessible stores or markets.
- The Abbey can get busy during the day, with tour buses and the like, so take advantage of the early morning or late afternoon to take a relaxed walk through the Abbey itself.
The Abbey is an exceptional place to stay for a night or two. However, due to its location and limited food and beverage options, any longer will become a slight struggle. That said, it is well worth it and a good spot to explore parts of the Loire for a few days.