Founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard, Abbaye de Fontenay is the oldest and one of the most beautifully preserved Cistercian abbeys in Europe.
Occupying over 1,200 hectares of land in a wooded valley, it enjoyed a peaceful existence for most of its first seven hundred years—interrupted only by English looting in 1359 during the Hundred Years War.
The abbey was confiscated in 1789, during the French Revolution, and the last remaining monks left the following year.
In 1791, the new owner transformed the buildings into a paper mill. Thirty years later, the site was bought by Elie de Montgolfier, a descendent of the inventor of the hot air balloon, and developed into a paper factory.
Montgolfier’s son-in-law later acquired Fontenay and, in 1906, dismantled the industrial buildings and began restoration works to bring the site back to its original state.
A small museum near the entrance displays photos of the buildings and grounds prior to the restoration, highlighting the incredible work that has been done.
Fontenay was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and is still preserved and maintained by the Montgolfier family today.
Several movies have been filmed here at the abbey—the best known perhaps being the 1990 version of Cyrano de Bergerac with Gérard Depardieu.
The abbey is open to the public every day but closes for lunch during the winter months.
Each September, mass is held here to commemorate the consecration of the church on 21 September, 1147.
From mid-April until mid-November, guided tours are held throughout the day. However, if you prefer to explore on your own, a guided map (available in many languages) provides insight into the history of each of the buildings including the refectory, the monks’ room, the chapel, the cloister and the forge.
Let’s take a look around…
Which long-distance walk visits Abbaye de Fontenay?
The Burgundy Canal from Migennes to Pouilly-en-Auxois
Where is it? Find it on Google maps
NOTE: If you are walking along the Burgundy Canal, Abbaye de Fontenay can be reached using the shuttle bus from Montbard which runs three times each day in summer. At other times of the year, you can make the six kilometre (3.8 mile) journey from Montbard by taxi.