Activities and Culture: Abbaye de Fontfroide
Hidden away in the middle of the Corbières lies one of the most spectacular abbeys I have ever seen. Located west of Narbonne near the town of Bizanet, the Abbaye de Fontfroide is truly a monument worth visiting. The sheer size of the edifice is breathtaking and wonderfully restored, definitely worth a detour.
I was lucky enough to visit the site on a wonderful sunny day. The thick walls and cool interiors were a pleasant reprieve from the scorching sun outside. The enormous parking lot led us to believe that the site must be filled with tourists at the height of the season but lucky for us that was not the case on this Sunday morning. As we walked up to the entrance we started to wonder whether the abbey was still inhabited by monks...
We learnt that this former Cistercian monastery was founded in 1093 by Aimery I, Viscount of Narbonne. Over the centuries the abbey grew and secured great wealth and status by the lands it owned. The abbey had an important role in fighting the Cathars with Pope Innocent III until it was dissolved in 1791 due to the French Revolution.
It was refounded in 1858 by the monks of Sénanque Abbey, but due to legal changes the community was driven out less than 50 years later. In 1908, the artist Gustave Fayet d'Andoque and his wife Madeleine, bought the property in order to protect it from falling into the hands of an American sculpture collector.
Since then, they have undertaken many restoration projects and use it as a center for artistic projects.
Entrance to the abbey is 11,50€, on the steeper side than most other activities of this type but the site, architecture and views make it well worth it. Guided tours are offered as well as tablets and headphones to teach you all you would want to know about the monument. I have a personal preference for discovering places on my own and I prefer not to listen to audioguides as I believe that they spoil the experience but if that's your thing it's nice to know that that option is available.
Another wonderful addition to the experience was the classical music being played in one of the rooms of the abbey. Even though we couldn't access this room, the echoes could be heard all around the complex, really bringing the buildings to life.
In addition there's a bookshop, restaurant and wine tasting cellar where you can discover wines of the AOC Corbières appellation which are made on site.
Have you ever been to the abbey? Share your experience in the comments down below.