On our last full day in the Loire we visited a local monument much closer to Huismes. Fontevraud Abbey is a former religious building with an illustrious history and which has acted as a cultural centre since 1975, namely the Centre Culturel de l’Ouest, near Chinon. The abbey was founded in 1100 and became a double monastery, with both monks and nuns on the same site. In the early years the Plantagenets were great benefactors of the abbey and while Isabella d’Anjou was abbess, Henry II’s widow Eleanor of Aquitaine became a nun there. The tomb of this formidably powerful woman lies in the vaulted nave of the abbey, next to that of Henry II. As you move down the nave there is a further pair of tombs, those of Richard I of England and Isabella of Angouleme.
We were able to see the Cloister but not the Chapter House because there was a conference of cartoon animators taking place. How shocked Brigitte and I were to see them all smoking in the Cloister during their breaks. It seemed very sacrilegious. Now the abbey functions as an establishment which boasts a restaurant, an hotel, a venue for congresses and conferences and theatrical events.
There is a curious building tacked onto the main structure at one corner. Various theories as to its purpose have prevailed in the past, until it was proposed as a fish smoking house, for which purpose the building seems structurally eminently appropriate and the fish scale effect of the roof exterior seems to lend credence to this idea. We strolled around the grounds, enjoying dense carpets of cyclamen and flower beds which had been sown with wild flower seed. Many plants have made their seed-heads but the multi-coloured dazzle of the remaining flowers is gorgeous.
Leaving Fontevraud-l’Abbaye we drove to Saumur where we found somewhere to have a lunch before driving into the heart of Bourgeuil country to seek out wine-growers who Georgy had flagged up as a sources of favourably priced, well-rated Bourgeuil wines. We found one of them, and enjoyed a brief tour of the site including the cave, finding that our timing was very propitious. We watched the red grapes being tipped into the juice-extracting hopper, and went inside to taste the juice from one of the vats. The Lights and the Roux each bought a modest amount of wine, as a souvenir of our wonderful 4 days in the Loire.