One of the most pleasant places I know is the Abbaye de Valmagne, which happens to be conveniently located about 10 minutes from our town. This beautiful old abbey was founded in 1138 by Raymond Trencavel, Vicomte de Béziers, and was originally a Benedictine and then later a Cistercian monastery, but was in danger of being destroyed following the French Revolution. (As a result of the Revolution, all churches and other religious properties were confiscated and either decimated or sold to private individuals, by the state.) Fortunately, this fabulous place was saved by Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse in 1791, who purchased the abbey and surrounding land, with the idea of turning it into his personal home and vineyard winery. He installed his huge wine-ageing casks in the bays along the church nave. The entire property was later purchased by the Count of Turenne and is still owned, lived in and managed by his descendants.
It is astonishing to walk into the gothic church for the first time, and see all of the side chapels filled with huge wine casks! The entire church was turned into a wine cellar by the new owner. What an unusual way to save the church from destruction!
Our son, Drake, standing in front of one of the casks
Some of the vines in early Spring – about to leaf out
The property is still family-owned, and produces organic wines that can be tasted and purchased onsite. In many ways, the vines and gardens are still the same as when they were tended by the monks who lived here centuries ago. There is a sense of age and calm here that I find so personally and deeply satisfying.
My favorite part of the Abbey, though, is not the church and its winemaking operation, but the attached cloister and surrounding gardens. The cloister is beautiful and the lavabo with its gentle fountain, where the monks washed their hands and faces before prayer and meals, is a truly serene spot.
The lavabo is enclosed within a charming stone gazebo, topped by grapevines. With the constant trickle of running water, the shade and the stone benches surrounding this simple fountain, along with views of the gorgeous gardens inside the cloister, I cannot imagine a more peaceful place to sit and needlepoint or read a book, at my leisure. I promise myself that I will spend a few hours doing just that, one of these days.
After visiting the cloister, it is just so lovely to stroll through the pergolas trained with grapevines, each marked with the name of a different variety of grape. We love coming here in Autumn, when all of the grapes are in full fruit, to see the differences in the leaf shapes and colors, as well as the riotous rainbow of grapes – from green to peachy pink to red to purple to blue.
There is also a huge organic vegetable garden and an organic herb garden, both of which contribute to a farm-to-table restaurant on the grounds.
The herb garden is well labeled and contains both medicinal and edible herbs and flowers, just as it did when the monks lived here and tended their gardens for both health and sustenance.
The farm-to-table restaurant
The restaurant is open weekends for lunch during the Winter, and daily, beginning Easter week, and running through the Fall. The menu changes daily, according to what is ripe in their garden and available from local cheesemakers, farmers, etc. Everything is sourced locally, and much of it organic. Truly, I can’t imagine anything better!
…except maybe to live here! This is the owners’ residence, attached to the church and facing the grapevines. Yup – pretty much my idea of a dream house!!!
Residence of the lucky family who own the Abbaye de Valmagne
No matter what language you speak, I suggest watching this short video. While the narration is in French, the visuals give a good idea of the family and daily workings of this fabulous winery and abbey.