Driving to the Fontfroide Abbey brings you into the middle of Cathar country. The Cistercian abbey, founded in the 11th century, is one of the largest and best-preserved monasteries in Occitanie and even all of 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. And descendants of this passionate couple are still owners of the abbey keeping the abbey alive and bustling.
L’Abbaye de Fontfroide is only 15 kilometres south of Narbonne and has been there for a very long time. In 1093, some Benedictine monks were gifted 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 monastery started around 1170 through to 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 cloister from being stripped down and shipped to the US by placing the winning bid of 49,925 francs. Gustave Fayet was a painter himself, but he also collected paintings including works by celebrated artists like Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. He was one of the first to start collecting paintings by 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. Indeed, one of the abbey’s 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, which are some of the largest in the South of France. Many years of hard work have created a garden with nearly 2,500 rose bushes with many old and new varieties of roses. There is even a rose that was specially created for the abbey. It’s also good to know that since 2008 they have stopped using any chemical treatments on the flowers. To this date, the gardeners only use products that respect the environment and human health. The Abbaye de Fontfroide organises many events each year, from concerts and exhibitions to nocturnal visits and festivals. You can also come and taste the abbey’s wine and dine in their lovely restaurant. Plenty of options!