​When you think about France, what comes to your mind? Delicious gastronomy, aromatic wines, the best champagne in the world, the sweetest macarons you have ever tasted, even their brilliant football teams maybe? All these things make France stand out as being one of the most visited countries in the world. Another surprising thing about France is that it has some of the most enchanting Abbeys ever built. They all have their secrets, stories and breath-taking architecture and we are going to explore them. Do you fancy a different type of holiday this year? If yes, then let's take a stress-free journey to France on a Renfe-SNCF in Cooperation train​ stress-free. 


Notre-Dame de Senanque Abbey

The abbey surrounded by the blooming lavender fields

The first thing that will impress you when you arrive is the sea of purple that greets you. The fields of lavender are not only beautiful, but also their aroma will relax you before entering into this Romanesque piece of art. This Cistercian abbey near the Avignon train station was founded in 1148 and is one of the few still actually working nowadays. If you are lucky enough, you will hear them praying or even singing. They have an online album of their Lauds and Vespers that will send you into a peaceful trance. There are three things that they do daily: prayer, work and spiritual reading. This place is a treat to visit and it is so refreshing to see that old traditions have not died.

Fontfroide Abbey

Located 15 km south of Narbonne, it is a former Cistercian monastery built in 1903. Its impressive rose garden is home to 2,500 rose bushes. Throughout the years, a few well-known monks lived there, among them Jacques Fournier, better known as Pope Benedict XII. As you quietly walk there, the architecture of the place will leave you speechless, especially the Louis XIV courtyard, the passages, the cloister, the church, the cells, the Romanesque door and a chapel dedicated to foreigners, among others. As you silently walk from one part to another, you will not be able to put away your camera: every corner is worth a photo.


Part of Saint James’s Path, this small medieval village hides one of the most beautiful abbeys in southern France. Also called the Gellone abbey, it seems to be dating from the year 810 and its architecture features several styles of different historic times, with a Romanesque predominance. The second floor was lost and the remaining ruins were sold in 1905 to The Cloisters of New York museum. Something that may call your attention is undoubtedly the Saint William’s altar, built in the 12th century with black and white marble – another must-see on your route.


Images of the exterior of Lagrasse and the surrounding landscape

Founded in the 7th century by the abbot of Narbonne, it is one of the oldest abbeys in Europe. However, the legend says that it was founded by Charlemagne as a miracle happened there. It gained its abbey status in 779. It also mixes various styles, among them the Romanesque, Neoclassical and Gothic ones. There is also an unfinished fortified tower, built in the 15th century. From its 40-metre-high bell tower, you can enjoy a stunning view of the Orbieu river valley.


Last, but definitely not the least spectacular,​ this Romanesque gem located between the Perpignan and Figueras train stations is an abbey with a big difference. Built on a rock in the 11th century, it is only accessible by a 40-minute climb from the village of Casteil. It is architecturally breath-taking and some would say it looks like two churches, one on top of each other. Set in the thick Pyrenees Mountains, it is worth a visit just to see the incredible sights. Nowadays, the abbey is home to nuns and they are the ones who give you a highly informative tour when you arrive.


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