In which we visit Rievaulx Abbey and Hay-on-Wye, UK, without leaving France

Slightly iffy weather on Saturday made us decide to take the car out (petrol’s back!) to explore with our guests the Montagne Noir area, north of Carcassonne.  We’d decided to visit Villelongue, a Cistercian abbey there.

Back in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Cistercians spread wide over Europe.  Following the simple life of hard work and austerity promoted by the Rule of Saint Benedict, their architecture was also simple and distinctive, avoiding superfluous ornamentation.  We’ve got two Cistercian abbeys in Yorkshire, Fountains and Rievaulx, and what they have in common with Villelongue is their ruined condition. But the Yorkshire abbeys are National Treasures, and beautifully managed.  Villelongue’s in private ownership, and more quirkily run.  It has, for instance, an important collection of pumpkins, though we’d missed their big day of celebration last month.  After enjoying the peaceful cloisters, the remnants of the abbey, we spent our time inspecting the slightly zany management of the monastic gardens, all ancient bicycles, parakeets, and blue chairs with pumpkins perched on them.

Then we went to Montolieu.  That’s France’s answer to Hay-on-Wye.  Both towns are in their own versions of the Black Mountains, and both have made their mark by appealing to book lovers.  Books old and new, collections of magazines and dog-eared collectable posters appear in traditional shop fronts, down narrow side streets where bookshops have been made from tiny front rooms, and ancient staircases lead you to low-beamed attics stuffed with more books and papers.  We had fun poking around, but didn’t buy.

We’ll be back to explore again, but half the party was nursing the first colds of the season, and anyway, there are only so many pumpkins and second-hand books you can take in one day.

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3 thoughts on “In which we visit Rievaulx Abbey and Hay-on-Wye, UK, without leaving France”

  1. Also in that area and well worth a visit is the
    Grotte de Cabrespine. I can’t do justice to it but do a search and look at the photos. It is so huge…and beautiful. Each station has a set up so you punch the button for information in whatever language you want (well, the basics, really). It’s all beauty, no history, no cathars or prehistoric dwellers. France seems to have a richness of such caves but this one is so accessible. We were staying in Caunes Minervois that year and it was raining so we found something inside to amuse us…the cave. We also went to Montolieu and enjoyed walking around but not buying anything either…which is what made me think of the grotto…

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    1. Oh, thank you for that. I’d seen signs to it on occasions, but not thought to follow it up. In fact we DID go to a cave on Monday – Labouiche, near Foix. The boat trip in the caves is always worth a go, but better in summer, when you get the whole trip. We got less than half the tour, since so much was flooded. But nicely untouristy, and the countryside on the way was gorgeous, with all the autumn colours at their best.

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  2. We’ve visited the Black Mountains in good weather, windy weather and cold, bleak and drizzly weather and whatever the conditions I always find the area slightly creepy and unwelcoming, which is odd as I usually like any part of France in which I find myself. I can’t really decide why I have this problem as we’ve enjoyed individual attractions but I’m glad you had a good day! I hope your visitors are able to get back.

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