From Abbey to Abbey: Burgundy

No matter how hard it tried the rain just couldn’t take a damper off the beauty of the Abbaye de Fontenay. Nor did it take the edge of Joseph’s determination to sketch (you might just make him out at the end of this cathedral ceiling’ed stretch – the results to be seen down the line).
The Abbey is just one gloriously orchestrated masterpiece of arches and curves.


DSC_3091b DSC_3077b
I’m not sure why but these cornices below remind of court jester’s hats. They’re just glorious in their exquisitely crafted, pretty detail – as so many hundreds of abbey details.

The first time I visited the Abbaye de Fontenay, while on commission for the DK Travel Guides, I arrived late – at the end of a long Burgundy wonder packed day – and had to haul myself hurriedly up a wall – by climbing up into the forest just behind the abbey – in order to get the vital picture just before sunset.

The monastery is swathed in forest and ivy. (That drive infected me with a burning passion for the backroads of Burgundy which are soaked to the skin in historical wonders in the form of abbeys, villages, chateaux and Romans vs. Gaul’s battlefields and ancient settlements).


Quelle puissance – j’adore cette image. 1656 – it’s so ancient for us Australians – just a youngen for the French. In fact that’s probably just the age of this cloister. The abbey goes way back before then – founded by Saint Bernard in 1118.

The presence of water everywhere (licked by and licking heavenly coloured leaves) is hardly surprising – the name comes from the Latin, Fontanetum – ‘that which swims upon the springs’ (what a delightful way of saying that which wallows in water). There are pools, fountains, wells and trickling streams in the grounds and forest behind.


The importance of being urn-est

The Cistercian monks led a spartan and self-sufficient life – in an absolute hierarchy arrangement across their 200 strong ranks – which collapsed in the 16th century when the Kings instead decided who would rule the roost (the abbots) instead of being a matter of internal voting (and no doubt much bickering and monastic head-butting).

By the French Revolution, the monks had dwindled in number to a mere dozen. The abbey was sold off by the state and bought by a descendant of the famous Mongolfier hot air balloon family in the early 1800s.

From metal and wine making estate in the monks time, to private paper mill. The Aynard family have owned it since 1906 when banker Eduoard Aynard set out to ‘extract Fontenay from its industrial slime’ by demolishing the eyesore factory buildings and peeling the monastery back to its glorious beginnings.

We saw the Aynard family owners wandering about – walking dogs and going for a morning stroll in their modest gardens – whilst visiting the UNESCO monument. The big question hanging over the monastery’s head is who will take over its upkeep and ownership once this couple pass on to the other (another) heavenly realm … (Given they have had no bequeathing litter).


Bonjour Monsieur Aynard et chien je suppose

Abbeys & Vines … From Fontenay to la Bussière

Water and music run through la Bussière-sur-Ouche too. Both its name and undulating surrounds.

The first time I visited this area, I came up and over a bonnet of a hill in the dark from the Cote d’Or vineyards (nothing to do with chocolate, but wine and nothing but the vine)  on the other side, past a lovely little church, its steeple glowing in the moonlight and helping shine the way in the pitch black emptiness.

My target was the Abbaye de la Bussière – another Cistercian abbey this time converted not into a paper mill but a luxury Relais & Chateaux stay.

The line up of cars out front of the monastery had me thinking for a minute I may have turned up at the film set of Downtown Abbey and not an historic French monument. Vintage MGs, Jaguars – there were British racing greens and glistening curves everywhere.

It was a bit embarrassing for I was in a really clapped out car – almost as clapped out as the old ‘rust bucket from Tasmania’ (as my aged, and ailing Mazda 323 was christened by ABC colleagues in Melbourne in the 90s)DSC_3512


This is just the phone snapshot to show Cupcake in her velvety-bedded splendour.

Julie (2)

This is more the pro shot – or attempt at

The Abbey is such a special one off place (in the way that the most memorable hotel landings in the world are)  –  and I will be posting a separate write up about it on my Home Sweet Hotel page very soon, as the long Burgundy blogging ballade continues.

For now we’re off for a meal in its Michelin starred medieval dining room – and hope to be released from the dungeon before midnight to give Cupcake her late night feast.

Oh and voila – the artist’s oeuvre of the Fontenay Abbey.  You can see more of his works – nudes, travel sketches and caricatures – on his webpage. Super non?!




5 thoughts on “From Abbey to Abbey: Burgundy

    • Hi Penelope – sorry I’m so late to respond! You are lucky living there indeed many thanks. The Burgundy blogs continue – and will do for some time – about to post Flavigny in the next day. Stay tuned please!


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