After a morning in Saumur, the Abbaye de Fonetevraud near Chiron is within easy driving or cycling distance.
Many, if not all, of the châteaux in this region, need more than one visit to appreciate their sheer scale, no more so than Fonetevraud. You could easily spend the entire day exploring it as in its heyday the Abbaye was virtually a mini-town in its own right, spreading over 14 hectares and containing no fewer than four monasteries with their own quarters, cloisters and churches. Of the original 12 century buildings, few survived the 1792 Revolution and in 1804 Napoleon used the site for a prison, a function that continued until as recently as 1963.
Today it has been beautifully restored to give the visitors a sense of monastic life in medieval times. The vast kitchens housed in an octagonal building have a network of chimneys that are still covered in fish scales, as this was the monks’ staple diet for those with an interest in English history fifteen members of the Plantagenêts Dynasty were buried at Fontevraud.
The Romanesque Church within the Abbaye contains the tombs of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Henry II and King John’s wife Isabelle de Angoulême. If you have the time, it is well worth remaining until the evening as the site is now an official Cultural Encounter Centre and hosts many concerts and exhibitions. But of course just seeing the Abbaye de Fonetevraud against the background of a Loire Valley sunset is worth the modest price of admission.