France

Abbaye de Fontenay

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The first time I visited the Abbaye de Fontenay the old walls were dripping with blood-red creeper. Afternoon sun warmed the cloisters, and yellow roses bloomed outside the old dormitory. The chapel was silent but for the footsteps of a few other visitors, and faintly green from the light coming in through the high windows.

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The second time, months later, we awoke in Burgundy to the first flurries of morning snow, and drove for hours as these drifts gathered into a full storm. At last we arrived in the little valley where Fontenay is hidden away, stepping through the doors a mere fifteen minutes before it closed for three hours over lunch.

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The place was empty but for the woman at the ticket desk, and we plunged into it like giddy children, excited by the snow and solitude. A medieval Christmas chant played in the chapel, lit by softest candlelight. Melting snow dripped from the cloister roofs, and the gardens were slippery with frost. Smoke wound out of a chimney and the only sounds were our own footsteps over the gravel paths as we ran from room to room to see it all, and our breathing as we paused to take it in.

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