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L’HÔTEL – FONTEVRAUD-L’ABBAYE, FRANCE

By the time we came to the end of the second day of our Loire à Vélo cycling trip, it’s safe to say that I could have easily curled up in the corner of a field somewhere, ants nests be damned and happily had a 12 hour sleep. However thankfully for me, my nap was set to be far more glamorous (and far less ‘bitey’) as we were to be spending a night in the hotel of L’Abbaye de Fontevraud.

Located in the Pays de la Loire region of France, around two miles away from the banks of the river we’d been cycling, the Abbey of Fontevraud is actually considered to be one of the greatest monastic sites in Europe, both for its size and its originality. Part of it has now been converted into what I can safely say is one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

During our journey that day we were pleased and intrigued to hear about how tech-savvy the Abbey is, after having difficulties finding working internet for most of my time in France. Upon finally arriving, we were greeted by friendly staff, who handed us complimentary iPads to use during our stay, and enough wifi codes to keep even the most hardcore bloggers hooked up at all times. I usually like to be off the grid whilst travelling, but sometimes a girl’s just got to Instagram, you know?

By this point, I was desperate to get upstairs and into my room, so up I trotted to the third floor, pausing briefly to admire the corridor (it was a cool corridor, OK?) before throwing myself and my cycle bags into the hallway and set about taking some photos before I collapsed onto the bed. Each room is kitted out with what you’d imagine a hotel to have, with farmhouse-rustic wooden furnishings to compliment the setting. However some of the normal amenities you’d expect from a 4* hotel were missing, most likely because of the minimalistic design; no hairdrier, room phone, air con or complimentary water, the latter of which were desperately needed from 8 hours of cycling.

As the hotel is a refurbishment of one of the old Abbey buildings, the rooms are quite small, but as I was the only one staying there the space was perfect for me. My favourite part of the main room however was the gorgeous, original window. With their lumpy vintage glass, white wood shutters, iron fastenings and a gorgeous view to boot, waking up the next was made slightly more enjoyable than usual. This was thanks in part to the family of swallows outside who were tweeting up a storm, whose nest was somewhere nearby; Cinderella, eat your heart out.

The bathroom was nothing too fancy, but the addition of a rainfall shower was greatly appreciated to relieve the aches and pains from 75km of bumpy cycle paths. My favourite aspect though was the inclusion of a Martin de Candre soap, made from honey produced within the Abbey. If you fancy knowing a little more about the brand, you can check out my post about them here.

After brisk chill-out and internet catch-up session, Gariné and Pedro and I headed down to the hotel restaurant for some dinner. The food turned out to be so good that I’ve decided to share the review in a separate post because of how many photos I ended up taking, so if you’d like to check that out in full, click here. But for those of you that don’t, I shall give you a spoiler: it was incredible. A combination of the company, the wine and the food made for a truly memorable (and ridiculously lengthy) evening that turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.

The following morning, we woke up bright an early for a guided tour of the Abbey itself, but not before dropping by the restaurant again for some breakfast. While small and unvaried, the buffet was home to the best mini pain aux raisins I have ever had the pleasure of eating, and set me up for the walk ahead.

Our tour guide for the morning was a girl called Cécile, who walked us around various parts of the Abbey, and explained to us the history of the area, which proved to be quite interesting. Originally founded in 1100, it because a double monastery where both nuns and monks lived and learned, albeit separate from one another; the hotel in fact is located in what used to be the nunnery. It was declared that the leader of the Abbey should always be a woman, and over time it became a place for women in distress from all walks of life to seek sanctuary. Other buildings on site were also used to house a hospital for lepers and a home elderly members of the religious community.

The Abbey was eventually dissolved during the French Revolution and was transformed into a prison by Napoleon in 1804, which continued to serve the area for 160 years, holding up to 2,000 prisoners at a time. After extensive restorations and a period of inactivity, the Abbey is now a cultural centre that is open to the public, including those that aren’t stopping at the hotel. Whilst there are no longer any religious movements or prisoners walking the corridors, people now come from all over the world to see the concerts, symposiums and exhibitions that the staff of the Abbey host throughout the year.

Overall I had a great stay at Fontevraud, and it was great to be able to immerse myself in the history and the atmosphere of somewhere so special. Rooms at the Abbey don’t come cheap starting at €185 for a twin or double room, but for the location, the history and the service, this would be the perfect place for a romantic weekend away. Guided and self-guided walks are a great way to learn about the Abbey and start from €14 and €9 respectively for adults, and can be organised through the hotel. For more information about the hotel, the Abbey or the restaurant.

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