On October 29th 1118, 13 monks from Clairvaux led by St. Bernard himself, founded Fontenay Abbey. It was not until 12 years later that they settled on the site where the Abbey now stands. Their order was Cistercian and their goal was to found a monastery that would be totally self-sufficient and autonomous from other Cistercian monasteries. Much of Fontenay owes its existence to English money ironically, brought first by Ebrand of Arundel and later by a grant from King Edward III of England. Religious life continued here for 672 years. In 1792, the Directoire of Semur, took possession and a paper mill was created on the property.
Luckily for Fontenay, it came into the possession of Marc Seguin a 19th century engineer. He kept Fontenay from being destroyed by being a sympathetic landlord. He used the property without destroying its original beauty. He leased it to his son-in-law, one of the Montgolfier brothers. It finally ended up in the possession of Raymond Montgolfier's son in law Edward Aynard. It was he who began the restoration of Fontenay to its former splendor. Its restoration has now involved 5 generations of the Aynard family.
You enter through the gift shop which isn't such a bad idea. This was the only place we went where they wanted us to pay in Francs if we had them. We did. We picked up our guide books first to help us as well walked through the site.
We walked around the courtyard in the cloister much as the monks must have once walked and visited the warming room, the Chapter House, the Scriptorium and the Calefactory. All of it beautifully restored.
You must also take the time to visit the Forge which has been restored. From there you can visit the pool which has some very large fish and also the beautiful fountain and the flue.
In warmer weather there are also gardens that may be visited.
We finished up back in the gift shop where I got myself a silver medal with Our Lady Of Fontenay on it and we visited their small cafeteria which is really just a few machines. It was a rainy, cold day and the hot chocolate was very welcome.