On Saturday, we finally took a break from our nightmare remodel and went to visit the Abbaye du Thoronet. Last spring we had happened upon it, but it was towards the end of the day so we were too late to take the tour and told ourselves we would come back in the fall to see it.
Since the weather is still absolutely glorious here, we decided to take advantage and skip out on the job. The abbaye is located in the Var and in the Forêt de la Darboussière. There is ample parking just across the road to the entrance and it’s free (I like that). The general fee for entering the abbaye is 7€ for adults. They also offer group prices, school tour prices and some people even get free admission. Check their website for more details and hours as those do change according to the season and day. There is a self-guided tour, but you can also take advantage of a guided tour if you so choose. We chose to make the rounds ourselves. I would recommend allowing yourself about 2 hours to see everything. There’s a good deal of information on the guide and just as much photo opps as you can imagine.
When you pay for your ticket you will also receive a rather large pamphlet (and I mean by size cuz this is the biggest, laminated tour guide I’ve ever seen) to tell you the different areas of the abbaye and describe what they were used for. It was originally built in the 1100. Over the years it had fallen into serious disrepair and for the past 150 years the government has been working on restoring it. The buildings are gorgeous and the state has taken care to preserve it very nicely. The one area I would have liked to see the government fix up is a beautiful plot of land surrounded by a stone wall that used to be the monk’s vineyards. There are no longer any vineyards there and the land is overgrown with weeds. I hope in the future this is on the books to do since it would be a very nice place to take a stroll or rest after taking the tour.
Most of the buildings are intact and just beautiful. There are a few ruins towards the Lodge and some parts that look like they are in ruins, but I was not sure if that were true or if the monks simply ran out of money and didn’t finish. Unfortunately this was not explained in the rather large pamphlet and this area was also inaccessible to the public. All rooms are empty with the exception of a building that houses a replica of the abbaye, a large press, an area to show original tile work and photos and explanations of the abbaye and the restoration that has gone on over the last 150 years. The main chapel has two statues and houses four alters. Concerts have taken place in the chapel (I assume it’s because the acoustics must be marvelous) so lightening and movable chairs are also in there. Other than that, it seems to be just like it was when it was occupied over the centuries by the monks. The most interesting fact to me was that there was only one, very small area in this entire abbaye where the monks were allowed to speak to each other. It was here that they would converse about who was to do what tasks for the day. I found that amazing! Every day they would live with their fellow monks and never a word to each other except for this tiny area. It must have been quite lonely for them.
There whole life was wrapped up in the work of God and providing food and money for themselves. They whole idea for them was a life of solitude, servitude and no material possessions. They made honey, wine and olive oil and I suppose they sold these for money to keep the abbaye going. In the end, before it was abandoned, but already had fallen into disrepair, there were only seven monks left. There was no explanation on what happened to these seven monks. Once they were gone, the abbaye was left to ruin until the state started to make repairs.
It’s a lovely and peaceful place to visit and I do highly recommend it. It’s great to see the government of France take hold of places like this and restore them so the public can enjoy seeing and learning about the history. This is definitely on my list of “return to” places when our family and friends come to visit.
If you want to see more photos of the Abbaye du Thoronet they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.