We wandered the grounds in search of a proper picnic place and then ducked inside to find the most palatial setting for our lunch.
Not bad huh? It was after all the abbey's one-time refectory. I'm pretty sure that we weren't supposed to be doing that but the one uniformed staff member who peeked in the room while we were there -- muddy boots, thermoses of coffee, sandwiches, and all -- didn't say boo.
More recently, I went back for a proper guided visit and learned more systematically about the abbey's history. Built in the 13th century by King Louis IX (better known now as St. Louis), the monastery operated continuously until the French Revolution when, like so many other religious properties in France, it was sold and repurposed. The new owner decided that the stones that made up the church looked just right for building a cotton factory. So he cut the pillars at the base, assuming that the structure would then collapse. No luck. Next, he got 100 head of cattle, roped them to the pillars, and had them pull in opposite directions. That did the trick. Today very little remains of the church although happily in addition to the refectory, the sacristy and cloister remain intact.
The property is now owned by the Gouin family who have not only done important renovations but have also transformed the abbey into a center for music and dance, offering both professional residencies and workshops, and a concert season that runs on weekends in September and October.
Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm