On maybe the rainiest day this year, which I happened to have off from work, we decided to head out and explore unknown regions of my new home Burgundy, France. Before all the clouds rolled in we packed a delicious picnic* complete with a whole baguette and the oh-so-stinky-but-oh-so-good St.Felician cheese, a small salad, and strawberries and dates for dessert, and headed out with Monsieur TomTomGPS** to explore the backroads of France.
We went up and down mountains, past endless yellow fields of canola plants, and into the darkest, heaviest clouds I’ve seen since I’ve been here until we finally made it to the tranquil grounds of the Abbey of Fontenay. We had the picnic in the car watching the rushing stream next to the parking lot, and as we finished the last strawberry, the rain finally let up.
The Abbey of Fontenay, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was founded by St.Bernard in 1118, and is one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. Surrounded by forests, the well-tended, elegant gardens are testament to the serene and privileged lifestyle of the monastery in the past. We basked in the quiet green and breathed the fresh spring air. The Abbey is made up of only a few buildings, you can visit the old church, the monks’ living quarters, the cloisters, and the old forge built in the 12th century, one of the oldest metallurgical factories in Europe, whose legacy remains even today the in the surrounding town of Montbard which is still home to the metallurgic industry in France.
On the way out, we perused the gardening books and organic essential oils and herbs still grown on the grounds, and made plans to hike the trails in the forest on our next, hopefully sunny, visit to the Abbey.
*If you’re heading to Fontenay be sure to pack a lunch or stop at a restaurant in a surrounding town. The Abbey offers only a vending machine cafe, and any other place to eat is at least 10 minutes away by car.
**We were surprised to find that the Abbey of Fontenay didn’t appear on the GPS and had no address.
To get there by car head to Montbard, and follow the little green and white signs that will point you in the right direction. Or take the train to Montbard and hire a taxi.