Take a deep breath and open your senses to the magical world of French monasteries—which will take you on a memorable journey to the history and evolution of architecture and religious advancement. France was one of the major centers during the rise and expansion of Christianity from as early as the fifth century. Art and architecture bloomed in this period, which is easily visible from the paintings and structures at these abbeys. Various wars—especially the French Revolution and World War II—brought a lot of damage to the beauty and authenticity of these monuments, but most of them still stand in all their glory and majestic hues. Find out what to see and experience in these amazing monasteries to visit in France.
1. Abbaye of Saint-Roman
Abbaye of Saint-Roman is located in the communes of Beaucaire and Comps, a short walk away from Beaucaire town center. A cave monastery dug by the early hermits and monks, this structure surrounded by thick Mediterranean forest surely makes it to the list of best places to visit in France. This historic commune is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is at the top of a hill overlooking Rhône River Valley. Take a walk up the lush foliage to see the monks’ cells, the chapel, and the enormous chamber that leads to the terrace. As you make your way through the extraordinary necropolis, take a deep breath and marvel at the beautiful view of Alpilles and Provence.
Abbaye of Saint-Roman
Address: Chemin de l Abbaye de Saint-Roman, 30300 Beaucaire
Website: Abbaye of Saint-Roman
Opening hours: Varies
Price: 5 - 6.20 USD
2. Abbaye De Lérins
The island of Saint-Horonat hosts the presence of this awe-inspiring Cistercian monastery that has an active monastic community. This fortress became the hood for monastic life in the 14th century and has witnessed the rise and fall of many abbots over time. A major attraction here is the winery operated by the monks themselves. They have been using their unmatched skills and adoration for winemaking since medieval times. Do not shy away from saying yes to an excursion to the amazing vineyards for a chance to taste authentic Saint Pierre and Saint-Honorat wines. If you want to get away from noisy city life and stay here for some time for peaceful self-reflection and meditation, the monks are happy to welcome you. From here, you can also spoil yourself with a ferry ride from Cannes to Lerin Island and explore the secluded coves for sunbathing and swimming.
Abbaye De Lérins
Address: Île Saint-Honorat, 06400 Cannes
Website: Abbaye De Lérins
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
3. Our Lady of the Snows
Abbey of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges is a remarkable Trappist monastery built in the year 1850 and belongs to the Ardèche department of south-central France, half a mile east of the village of La Bastide-Puylaurent. The Trappistines is of Roman Catholic order (the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) and was formed in France in 1098. Abbey of Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was burned down in 1912 and was reconstructed in a different site later. This monastery is famous for its mention in the book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson, who visited Our Lady of the Snows in 1878 while on a hiking trip. Take a walk through the quiet chambers of the monastery and have a silent conversation with the light within.
Our Lady of the Snows
Address: 07590 Saint-Laurent-les-Bains
Opening hours: 9am - 5pm (daily)
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4. Valmagne Sainte-Maria's Abbey
Being one of the most beautiful monastery monuments of Languedoc, Valmagne Sainte-Maria’s Abbey has a special place in the hearts of the French. It is a former Benedictine monastery located near Villeveyrac, Hérault, in south-central France and was later attached to the Cistercian Order. Valmagne was lucky to escape the demolition and confiscation during the French Revolution and still stands as a piece of architectural marvel. The monastery is famous for its wine caves and produces amazing wines throughout the year. Take a stroll through the church, cloister, chapter house, refectory, fountain, and vineyards of Abbey Valmagne to witness its remarkable Gothic beauty.
Valmagne Sainte-Maria's Abbey
Address: 34560 Villeveyrac
Website: Valmagne Sainte-Maria’s Abbey
Opening hours: Varies
5. Ligugé Abbey
Abbey of St. Martin of Ligugé—casually called Ligugé Abbey—was founded in the year 361 by Hilary’s protegé Martin of Tours. This French Benedictine monastery in the commune of Ligugé is located in the department of Vienne. The historic monastery of Ligugé is on River Clain, 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of Poitiers. The church is famous for its extraordinary slow, rhythmic Gregorian chants that rejuvenate believers during mass times. It is exciting to walk around through the giant pillars of the monastery, knowing that this was one of the oldest monastic foundations in France. After the war, an enameling station was set up here, and if you are lucky, you could see the exhibition of enamels created by the monks. The bookstore offers hard-to-find pieces, and it would be a good idea to pick something up from there instead of regretting it later!
Address: Place du Révérend Père Lambert, 86240 Ligugé
6. Abbaye d'Hautecombe
Hautecombe Abbey is one of the most visited monasteries in France. This was the burial ground for House of Savoy for years and used to be of the Cistercian Order. Now it is a Benedictine monastery located in Aix-les-Bains in Savoie. The crypts of Savoyard kings and queens of ancient Italy rest solemnly in the monastery, gently surrounded by beautiful sculptures and frescoes. The neo-Gothic architecture of the building is looked upon with great admiration among art enthusiasts. Audio tours are available for this ultimate historical expedition that will guide you through the chapel and necropolis to the beautiful view of the lake that surrounds it.
Address: 73310 Saint-Pierre-de-Curtille
Opening hours: Wed - Mon: 10am - 11:45am, 2:30pm - 5:30pm (closed on Tue)
7. Molesme Abbey
Founded by Robert of Molesme in 1075, Abbey of Molesme is located in Laignes, Côte-d'Or, Burgundy. This stunning monastery is of Benedictine order and is one of the most famous monasteries in the world. It was affected greatly by the war between France and Burgundy in 1472 and World War II. You can still see the ruins of the last war when you stroll through the abbey’s quiet corners. Molesme has a rich and wealthy history, and it is reflected in the architecture and sculptures. Plan to spend some time here to go through the chapel and surroundings for a unique experience.
Address: 21330 Molesme
Opening hours: Varies
Price: 8.38 USD
8. Abbaye Notre Dame de Belloc
This Benedictine monastery located in Urt, in the Pays Basque region of Aquitaine, was founded in 1878. Beyond the ravishing architecture of the monastery and picturesque corners of the abbaye, the most exciting reason to visit this place is the exotic varieties of cheese! The cheese-making tradition here dates back 3,000 years and started with sheep’s milk. Abbaye de Belloc is a very rich cheese that has a tinge of a burnt-caramel aftertaste. Do not forget to bag some varieties of cheese on your visit!
Abbaye Notre Dame de Belloc
Address: Route Abbaye de Belloc, 64240 Urt
Website: Abbaye Notre Dame de Belloc
9. Holy Cross Abbey
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
Abbey of Holy Cross was formed in the year 552 by Radegund, the Frankish queen, and is located in La Cossonnière. The breathtaking view of the monastery and beautiful architecture are very appealing to tourists. The abbaye has been maintained by nuns since the sixth century and has gone through a lot of destruction and renovations over time. During the French Revolution, most of the buildings in the abbey were turned to ruins, including the monastic cells of the Frankish queen and her chapel. The chapel is called Chapel of God’s Footprint, which has a stone that is, as legend says, imprinted by God’s feet. This can be found in Church of Radegund even today.
Holy Cross Abbey
Address: La Cossonnière, Abbaye Sainte-Croix Lieu dit, 86280 Saint-Benoît
Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 10am - 12pm, 2:30pm - 5pm; Sun: 2:30pm - 5pm
10. Abbaye de Bonneval
Bonneval Abbaye was found in 1147 by Cistercian monks and is currently occupied by Trappist nuns. It is located in the department of Aveyron, in the south of France. The specialty of this abbey is not wine or cheese but the luscious chocolates made by the nuns themselves. It is said that these chocolates are made with very high-quality cocoa butter and get sold out as soon as they hit the market.
Abbaye de Bonneval
Address: Route de l'Abbaye de Bonneval, 12500 Le Cayrol
Website: Abbaye de Bonneval
Opening hours: 4:30am - 8pm (daily)
To know more about a country and its culture, exploring its art scene is the best technique. When it comes to France, all you need to see are these amazing monuments teeming with historical gems. Do remember to respect the regulations at each place as some of the active monasteries prefer and follow a very quiet and simple lifestyle. Enjoy the Mediterranean flora and ancient burial grounds of monks, hermits, kings, and queens and then slide into the dreamy seasides for a dip in the water. If you feel a little tired, indulge in some exotic wines, chocolates, and cheese made by the nuns and monks of these monasteries. Think no further—pack your bags and head out to France for a peaceful and relaxing vacay in the land of love!
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