TO DO | MUSEUM
Driving to the Fontfroide Abbey brings you in the middle of Cathar country. The Cistercian abbey, founded in the 11th century, is one of the largest and best-preserved abbeys in Languedoc and even France. Since then, the abbey has been beautifully renovated. Gustave and Madeleine Fayet, who bought the abbey in 1908, initiated an enormous renovation and restyling of the abbey. Nowadays, descendants of this passionate couple are still owners of the abbey. Concerts, festivals, late night visits, exhibitions keep the abbey alive and bustling.
L’abbaye de Fontfroide is only 15 km south from Narbonne and has been there for a long time. In 1093, some Benedictine monks were given pieces of land by the Viscount of Narbonne. On this land, they founded the Fontfroide Abbey, named after the nearby source “Fons Frigidus” (Cold Fountain). The abbey really began to flourish when they joined the Cistercian Order in 1145. After the monks had received enough funds and donations, the construction of the actual abbey started around 1170 – 1180.
After the last monks left the abbey in 1908, Gustave and Madeleine Fayet were able to buy it at an auction. In fact, they saved the abbey from being stripped down and shipped to the US by making the highest bid (49,925 francs). Gustave Fayet was a painter himself, but he also collected paintings. Works from for example Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. He was one of the first to start collection paintings of Paul Gauguin, ending up with nearly a hundred works. Because of Gustave’s connections in the art world, he invited many artists to help him and his wife with the restoration of the abbey. One of the masterpieces is the stained-glass windows of the abbey church, designed by the artist Richard Burghstal.
The Fontfroide abbey is also known for its beautiful rose gardens, being one of the largest of the South of France. Many years of hard work created a garden with nearly 2,500 rose bushes with many old and new varieties of roses. Even a rose was created especially for the abbey. Good to know that since 2008, all chemical treatments for the flowers have been stopped. To this date, only products respecting the environment and human health are used. The Abbaye de Fontfroide organises many events each year. From concerts and exhibitions to nocturnal visits and festivals. I visited the abbey during the yearly plant festival in may, which attracted many visitors. But you can also come to taste the abbey’s wine and dine in their lovely restaurant. Plenty of options!