Category Archives: Uncategorized

SILENT SUNDAY

The bells were ringing when I took this photo in Stresa in Italy, a few years ago, so it was a Sunday. In the garden it was silent but outside it was a typical Italian Sunday, the animated passeggiata, the queues at the gelateria, and the family groups, grandparents to babes in arms, all out to enjoy Sunday.

Stresa, Italy

NARVIK – City in the Arctic Circle

National Museum of Narvik

I didn’t know what to expect of this Norwegian town that saw so much horror during the Second World War, a horror made worse I suspect, by it being inflicted on a neutral country. I found that the war had left a deep scar on Narvik, at its most evident in the Museum devoted to the conflict and in the many statues dotted around the town.

Lying just 137 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and like Andalsnes encircled by mountains, Narvik is one of the world’s most northerly towns, but warm North Atlantic Currents and the mountains that shelter the town ensure relatively stable and high water temperatures even in winter. Unlike the Arctic Sea, the Norwegian Sea is ice-free throughout the year which means that Narvik’s naturally large port is always negotiable; this allows boats of virtually any size to anchor.

This was The Old Post Office, originally a farm workshed in Narvik.  Built in the late 19th century after the coming of the Ofenten railway it was used as a Post Office for about ten years from around 1888.  This grass-roofed building is all that remains of the old farm which was pulled down in the mid-50s to make way for offices.   The old Post Office, owned by the Ofenten Museum, was restored in 1991-92 by the Narvik Adult Education Centre.

Although known to be inhabited since the bronze age little was known about the inhabitants of Narvik until the port was developed to receive the ore from Sweden’s Kiruna and Gallivare iron mines in 1883.

Today this town, grown rich on its iron-ore industry, is a quiet place, but it was the iron-ore plus the advantages of its deep sea port that were the cause of its being invaded and subjected to a blitzkrieg that flattened the city in 1940.

Torvfontene by Finn Eriksen and is dated 1940-1945. Known as Mother and Child it is another peace sysbol

A brief history of Narvik’s role in the war.

Poorly armed, neutral Norway became the first victim of the war in western Europe in April 1940. Neither the Allies nor Germany respected Norwegian neutrality and both sides wanted to get their hands on the iron ore mined in northern Sweden and transported to Narvik. Both Britain and Germany were a also aware of the importance of the town’s deep port and both had been pressuring Norway’s strict neutrality since early 1940 when they realized how important this ore was to the war effort. By April, both sides were hastily preparing forces to land in Norway (Britain had earlier sought to interrupt the flow of iron ore by mining the sea lanes) but Germany got there first.

A full scale invasion was launched on 9 April 1940 and in a series of attacks, the Germans seized Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. Despite initial gains and losses on both sides, the poorly equipped Norwegian and Allied troops were outnumbered and outgunned and by 2nd May most had been withdrawn. Fighting continued at Narvik until Germany invaded France and Belgium, after which the remaining 24,000 Allied troops were evacuated for use elsewhere. Before they left, the troops destroyed the port and the railway and blanket bombing by Germany followed. The town was re-built after the war, which accounts for its somewhat bland appearance today, notwithstanding one or two outstanding buildings.

The above image is Narvik’s National Freedom Monument, a mirrored triangle by Espen Gangvik, a gift from the Norwegian government  to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1945. The inscription reads “For peace and freedom. Thanks to our allies 1940-45. Thanks to those who fought.” Made of high polished steel it is 59 feet tall and is located in the town center near the War Museum. Two more views of the Monument are below.

Narvik would appear not to have a lot of English-speaking tourists – although all the people in the town with whom I had contact, spoke the language perfectly – because there was little information in English about the statues and monuments, and the inscriptions on the statues were only in Norwegian. In fact, the tourist office assistant apologised charmingly about this fact, saying with a smile, “We have a long way to go yet, but we are trying”!

In 2005, the mayor of Hiroshima, Tadatoshi Akiba, took initiative for the worldwide organisation ‘Mayors For Peace’, and Narvik was one of the municipalities that joined. Akiba donated a stone from the zero-point field Hiroshima as a gift to Narvik. The stone from Hiroshima was unveiled on august 6th 2006 in conjunction with the new monument “Peace is a Promise of the Future”. Both monuments are placed in the town square of Narvik.
This is the monument ‘Peace is a Promise of the Future’,
a sculpture by Håkon Anton Fagerås.

I bought an guide book in English from the Tourist Office, and as it was raining outside I put it straight into my bag. Not until much later did I find that it wasn’t in English, but in Norwegian! So, I got most of my information by stopping young people in the street and asking them: they were fine with the translations but not so good with the history!

This is Lille Petter by Jozef Marek. I couldn’t find any information about this sculpture, but his face is haunting and I’d love to know the story.

And here are a couple of very modern pieces, make of them what you will. The white one really has me puzzled.

I wouldn’t like you to think that Narvik is only about past war history, there is a lot more to do there if one has time. The great disadvantage of a cruise is the lack of time allowed to explore the places one stops in, en route. Narvik is teeming with things to do and places to go – apart from the War Museum where you can spend half a day at least.

Bandstand in centre of town

What To Do in Narvik

There are City Bike Rides on electric bikes with a guide, city walks with or without a guide, climbing and trekking in the mountains which surround the town, and of course, the world’s most northernmost animal park, the famous Polar Park, opened in 1994. Home to Norway’s large predators such as bears, wolves, and lynx, as well as deer, moose, reindeer and muskox, all in their natural surroundings, you can easily spend a whole day there seeing and interacting with the animals in their near-natural habitat. Add to this, dog-sledding, husky wagonning, snowmobiling in the winter light and you can see that Narvik offers the visitor a tremendous amount of things to do.

View over the harbour and snow-capped mountain.

The very brave may fancy some ice-fishing, and best of all perhaps, the fantastic cable-car ride to the Narvikfjellet Restaurant at 656 m, which is the perfect starting point for hiking, skiing, northern lights hunting, snowshoeing and tobogganing. From the upper cable car station you get a panoramic view of the deep fjords, the historic iron ore harbour and Narvik city, which makes the cable car ride an experience in itself, much like the one I did in Andalsnes.

Sjømannskirka, a Catholic church by the harbour

But I didn’t get to do any of these! I spent too long in the fascinating Museum of the War and then got so engrossed in chasing up the names of the artists who did the carvings that I missed my chance to visit the Polar Park. The weather turned nasty, it began to rain so the cable-car was out as the mountain top was covered in black clouds, so there was nothing for it but to adjourn to a warm coffee house and find some inner sustenance in the form of venison sausage and mash served with a local beer.

The Fall colours are magnificent

So, I’ll go back to Narvik one day, maybe in summer time, to do that cable-car ride, to get up close and friendly with a wolf, cuddle a husky and come face to face with a growling brown bear. And to get some better photographs on a day on which the sky won’t be black!

Windswept and cold, I may look lost but I don’t think I’ll have much bother finding my way home from here.

All photographs by Mari apart from the header one with the white deer, which is courtesy of Narvik Tourism.

ÅNDALSNES – Land of the Trolls

I should have blogged ages ago about my June trip to Portugal but eye problems meant that computer work was frustrating.   Then a couple of weeks ago I went on a Fjord cruise with a friend, despite not being a lover of cruising, mainly because it left from my local port of Southampton.  The cruise was similar to a summer one I’d done a few years ago, but this autumn/winter one promised different views of Norway’s fjords.

The tranquillity of the fjords

To mark my return to blogging, I thought I’d start, not with Portugal, but with Norway, and not with the cruise, but with my time on land and one of the delightful towns we visited.

Andalsnes Harbour with Mountaineering Centre in foreground
Small marina in Andalsnes

First up was the beautiful Romsdalsfjord and the town of Åndalsnes, located beneath towering snow-topped mountains at the mouth of the Rauma River.  Its privileged position has made this Norway’s mountaineering capital, a centre for hiking, trekking and all season climbing in the impressive mountains that surround it, Romsdalshornet, Trolltinden and Vengetindan.

Early morning entry into Andslesnes

Entering the town in the early morning I was struck by its small size, it looked more like a village than a town, neat little white houses clustered around a small harbour (but a deep one that can accommodate large cruise ships which bring tourists all year round) hemmed in by snow-capped mountains. 

Looming up from the middle of the town was a building of such modernity that one immediately knew that this was no ordinary town: anywhere that had such an outstanding piece of architecture just had to have a lot going for it.

As the sky gradually lightened, I became aware of movement above the town and noticed gondolas travelling to a nearby mountain from a dark garage-like building beside the modern one.  Things were looking better and better.

Gondola House (Black building)
Mountaineering Centre

The very modern building turned out to be the Museum and Mountaineering Centre, something of which the town is very proud, understandably so, as not only is it a design of total modernity but it has Norway’s tallest indoor climbing wall, it offers various activities, and the full mountaineering history of the region is on display .  If you want to get fit, or just to ensure you are adequately prepared for the hike ahead, you could try the 210-metre challenge, or any one of a number of the challenging climbs that are available there.  People come from all over Scandinavia come here just to use this climbing wall. 

But if you’re not into climbing, or like me, not into that type of physical activity, there’s the Romsdalen Gondola right next door which will take you all the way up to the top of Nesaksla’s summit where you can walk around the top and look with delight at the magnificent scenery all around you: or climb further up to gaze on even more fantastic views of rivers, lakes, snowy mountains and tiny figures climbing up the mountain below.  On the summit, the Eggon restaurant awaits with great coffee and freshly cooked Norwegian food sourced locally.

I choose the latter and spent a wonderful day just pottering on top of the mountain and watching the hikers struggle up and down the rocky face of the ridge opposite.  Below were lakes, rivers and the town of Andalsnes itself, and what seemed little pockets of cultivated ground.  The weather changed hourly it seemed, and went from dark and stormy to incredibly bright and sunny – but it was always cold.  

That’s where the wonderful mountaintop restaurant came into its own with nourishing food, great coffee and a selection of cakes to die for.  I’m talking saucer-sized pancakes with hot sour cherries topped with whipped cream and chocolaty things that I just had to refuse or I wouldn’t have made it down the mountain again.

I could have headed for the Romsdakstraooa steps and climbed all the way to the top of Mount Nesaksla, 708 metres above Romsdalsfjord, for the same scenic views but although I love snowy mountain tops and awesome views, I gave this one a miss as I’m well past my mountain-climbing days! 

 Andalsnes is buzzing both summer and winter.  It’s a perfect base camp for anything from mountain hiking to summit hikes, long treks with stunning vistas of the Romsdalsfjlla mountain ridge, or leisurely car, coach or train journeys through some of the most wonderful scenery you will ever see. 

Trollstigen by ©Ivans Utinsns, Photographer (Visit Norway)

The town is a transport hub, being the final stop on the Rauma Railway which offers a scenic two-hour journey considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful train journeys (Lonely Planet, 2022).  It follows the course of the Rauma River as it descends into Lake Lesjaskog along which it forms many magnificent waterfalls, travels through lush valleys and mountains and crossing over the famous, natural stone Kylling Bridge with a dramatic view of the foaming river below.

Rauma Train Station (with Gondola) ©Leif Johnny Olestad, Photographer (Visit Norway)

That’s enough to tempt me back: that and the sour cherries on pancakes with cream!

All photographs used in this blog are mine, apart from the two which I have credited to the respective photographers, and Visit Norway which gave me permission to use these images.

Next stop NARVIK, occupied by the Germans during WWll where there is a Museum devoted entirely to its place in that war.

Pull Up a Seat – September 2022

I don’t know if the challenge is still going and I can’t seem to find a recent post from XingfuMama, but I thought I’d post this one anyway.

I’ve posted today on Southend-on-Sea but I didn’t include this picture in the piece as I thought it would be nicer as a stand alone picture. The seat in the picture is one on Southend-on-Sea Pier, the longest pleasure pier in the world at 1.34 miles.

The wrought iron detail is fascinating, covering as it does the Victorian/Edwardian era clothes, boating, building sandcastles, and the donkeys which were used to give rides on the sands. Not too comfortable on which to spend a long time, but pleasant enough for a short stop on the way to the end of the pier.

Southend-on-Sea

XingfuMama posts every Friday morning.

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A Day on the Pier at Southend-on-Sea

Once a place where Kiss-me-Quick hats were almost as obligatory as a fistful of ice-cream from the famous Rossi’s, Southend-on-Sea is now a City and looking to become a proper grown-up resort.

Sunday excursions to Southend-on-Sea by train were our big break from the workplace when I lived and worked in London way, way back , so when the opportunity came to experience a day out in that fondly remembered place, my one desire was to once again walk the 1.4 mile Pier.

Southend-0n-Sea Pier
Amusement Park by Southend Pier

There wasn’t time to do much more because we had to fight our way to the end of the pier in a gale blowing off the North Sea, a bad-weather day that kept most people off the Pier apart from a few fishermen and a few intrepid walkers. The train still runs down the pier and we caught it back to the town (I can’t get used to calling it a city when there is a beach and an amusement park in front of me) when the clouds really turned black.

From the town there is a lift to the esplanade (photo above) but for those who don’t mind a climb and some extra leg-work, the walk down the slope past cafes, shops and ice-cream parlours is quite pleasant or there is a way down incorporating steps and platforms.

The kiosks and entertainment spots I remembered on the Pier are no longer there, just a vast expanse of boardwalk leading you to the end. So, here are just a few photographs of the Pier at Southend-on-Sea on a rainy, windy, day, when some flashes of blue lit up the sky to make us think the weather was on the change but it wasn’t, it was just nature teasing us.

Looking Across to the Kent coast from the end of the Pier

And when you’ve taken it all in, the views to Southend, the views across to Grain Island and the Kent Coast and the grey waters of the North Sea, then head for the modern tea-rooms, or sit on the steps as many do to enjoy the last rays of the sun, on the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world.

Tearooms on Southend Pier

Some people say that the Blue Plaque to Laurel & Hardy, on the pier, says all you need to know about the place, but it’s got more, a lot more, going for it, not least great restaurants and lovely people.

We caught the train when we saw these clouds approaching!

Recommendation: I was lucky enough to be taken to a decades-run family restaurant noted for its seafood, and if you need a recommendation I can say without hesitation that I had one of my best meals, ever (middle skate with brown butter if you’re asking) at

Tomassi’s, 9 High Street, Southend-on-Sea SS1 1JE. Open daily until 7 pm. Phone 01702 435000

Friendly Friday: Favourite Photo Challenge

Linked to the Sandy Chronicles

Chef Eddie does his thing

This picture is one I love because it captures, for me, a moment of total relaxation during a cargo ship cruise we took about 30 years ago. The ship was ‘The Author’, one of what I learned to call “the big whites”, boats of the South African Safmarine line.

Sunday was a big day for the crew when they had the brai, or barbeque, a tradition that was almost a religion for the South African crew on board. It was dress-down day when even the captain sported shorts and tee shirt, hair-cutting took place in quiet corners on the decks, and the crew relaxed in their ‘civvies’.

I was surprised that a barbeque was allowed on the deck, but I was assured all was perfectly safe. Eddie, the chef, had everyone’s favourite food ready, from salads to heavy carbs, fruits to exotic vegetables, and a fine selection of meats, fish and shellfish. As passenger we numbered only 7 but we had become friends with the crew over the course of our trip from Tilbury via northern Europe to South America. In fact we were their ‘shoppers’ as well, as some of the countries we stopped at would not allow the S.A. crew to disembark (political not racist) so we were given shopping lists when we disembarked – usually tee shirts for themselves and a gift for a Mum or a son or daughter.

I know this isn’t a good photograph, it’s blurry and lacks definition but it’s one of my all-time favourites because that holiday was one of the best ever and that evening sums it up so well. I must add here that I don’t go on cruises as floating hotels are not my cup of tea but a trip on a cargo-ship is a world apart.

On “The Author” we mixed with the crew as they went about their work during the day, and in the evening we socialised with them over drinks and dinner, played games in either their lounge or ours and swapped books and DVDs. Some evenings we lay on our backs on the deck and were taken through the star system by one of the crew, seen to its best away from the lights on land.

Thirty years after and I’m still in contact with one of the captains and two of the crew. It was an unforgettable holiday and I remember every minute of my time aboard “The Author”, Eddie’s great food, and the treats left in our cabin daily, from warm biscuits to gooey cake, the ever-changing menus due to the fresh produce he picked up at the different ports, and the tears and the hugs when we all said good-bye to some of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Lens Artists Challenge: Picking Favourites

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

It is with great trepidation that I sit down once more to enter one of the photographic challenges on the site, but I’ve been looking at various entries in different categories and especially Sarah’s today so here I am. I haven’t posted for a few months now but I have managed to dip in and out of the site and kept up with what’s been happening.

I said “with great trepidation” and I meant it, because after seeing some of the entries in today’s challenge and some of those from former weeks, I realize how far short of “artistic” my work falls. Being more interested in the words than the pictures I’ve never looked really closely at my images, or taken enough time to get them right.

Apologies over. Here are a few of my favourites, and I stress the word favourites as I can’t claim they are great!

  1. This is one of the monuments to World War ll spotted along the coast of Normandy. I do like this picture mainly because of the sky, the clouds were wonderful on that day and seemed to change shape every few seconds so I was lucky to get them just when they looked especially good.

I didn’t get to know the Normandy coast well until a few years ago when, with a friend, I spent 10 days touring the area. I loved the horses trotting along the beach, their passengers snugly wrapped up in carriages behind them, the serious tourists with their maps and photographs of relatives who landed on these beaches during WWll, and the fact that the food in Normandy was as good as I remembered from many years back. And I loved the fact that the museums and monuments, cemeteries and commemorative parks are still there to tell the story of what happened in France between 1939-1945.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus, Turkey

This is Ephesus in Turkey. It’s a print taken probably about 30 years ago and yes, it did win a prize.

I don’t think it’s a great image but I think it does show the magnificence of that place and when I look at it I can still remember my awe as we walked in and faced this extraordinary facade.

Ephesus was an ancient port city lying just 80 km from Izmir, and whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey.  Once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean region, it survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times.

Today it is one of Turkey’s most significant ancient cities and it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015.

Ephesus came to prominence under the ancient Greeks and became a city under the Romans in 133 BC and the capital of Asia Minor in 27 BC, seen as its historical turning point as it then became second in importance only to Rome.

Ephesus is also important from the point of view of Christian history in that St. Paul wrote his “First letter to the Corinthians” from here, St. John wrote his gospel here, and it is believed to be the final resting place of the Virgin Mary.

The facade of the library of Celsus which looms over the city and which you see above has been very carefully reconstructed from original pieces. It was originally built in 125 AD and Celsus is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it.

Apart from the facade of the library, there are many impressive ruins to see in Ephesus. Allow at least 4 hours to see it all, the amphitheatre (largest in the ancient world), the Odeon with its Corinthian-style pillars made of red granite, the 2nd century Temple of Hadrian, the aqueducts and the Agoras.

Sadly, Ephesus died, by reason of silt building up in the harbour to the point where no ships could reach the city. Without ships, trade died, and without trade the city died and was abandoned.

Torii Gate at Miyajima, Japan

I have so many Torii Gates in my files that the problem was picking out the one I like best but then the problem was, do I want one with a boat, with a beach, or set in a forest? In the end I decided on this misty morning scene.

I think everyone has seen images of Torii gates, the most famous of which is probably the above gate near Hiroshima, but there are many dotted around the seas, all calling out for a photograph.

A Torii gates represents the boundary between a sacred shrine and the human world. Once you pass through the torii gate you have entered the sacred, special space. 

Originally Torii gates were white, but now they are mostly painted red because the colour symbolises vitality in Japan and it is believed red gives protection against evil. (It is also said that as red paint contains mercury, the gates are preserved for longer – practical as well as spiritual).

White was the original color of torii gates which were more common than red ones until the arrival of Buddhism in Japan. After the separation of Shinto and Buddhism was officially implemented in the mid-to-late 19th century, some shrines started to paint over their red torii gates with white again, but they are fewer in number than the red.

Although the most photographed appear to be those that are located in the waters, torii gates appear in many inland spots such as the base of famous mountains, or along forest routes. These gates are said to embody the deity which is believed to exist in nature, sacred mountains and the ocean.

If you do come across a torii gate on your travels in Japan, as a mark of respect and if you wish not to offend your hosts, it is a good idea to bow before entering through the gate.

Linked to Toonsarah who is hosting this week’s Lens Artists Challenge

Leonardslee Gardens, Horsham, Sussex

I was promised a picture-perfect display of glorious colour, a sensual overload and a vibrant experience in one of the loveliest gardens in Sussex. And that is just what I had.

From March to June, the 100-year-old majestic rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and towering magnolias with which Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens are planted, offer a late spring experience like no other.

Jewel-coloured rhododendrons light up the woodland against a backdrop of red and green acers whose leaves re just beginning to take on their summer colouring. Many more are reflected in the waters of the 7 lakes that dot the woodland, doubling the colour and the display. I hadn’t realized how highly perfumed rhododendrons were, until my walk through the landscape of Leonardslee. One path that was lined with blowsy, yellow rhodos was a sheer delight and the scent almost overwhelmed.

You have to stop and smell the flowers when you walk through an avenue of yellow rhododendrons

It’s not only about flowers and trees though, hidden among the 240 acre woodland gardens is an exquisite Rock Garden with mini waterfall, ferns and the makings of a fairy-glen. And just off the main walkway is the enclosure for the resident wallabies whose interest in their visitors, charms everyone Not all the wallabies are in enclosures, only those needing protection – some of the younger joeys and the pregnant ones – so you may have a close-up encounter with a friendly wallaby as you amble round the park.

The sculptures, strategically placed to attract your attention, seem to be an organic part of the whole so easily do they sit among the flowers and trees. All of them demand time to look and ponder – and wonder at the quotations that accompany them. The current exhibition, The Walk of Life, is by South African Anton Smit and is a wonderful complement to the display of colour, the calmness of the lakes, and the birdlife.

Some of the plants at Leonardslee are extremely rare and the gardens are a living example of successful biodiversity. Nearly 200 rare and endangered plants are grown here by a dedicated team of gardeners.

The colour and vibrancy of the blossom is echoed in the birdsong that is a constant as you walk along the pathways or sit by the lakes and you’ll spot a vast variety of birds and animals even without trying, from green woodpeckers to electric blue kingfishers, yellow wagtails, peacocks, blue tits, Canada Geese and herons who congregate at the shallow lakeside where carp feed on the surface. You may also meet some of the shy fallow deer, a cheeky squirrel or two, and, of course, the wallabies, brown and white.

The Grade l listed gardens are at their vibrant best at the moment, and with plenty of seating dotted around the lakes and on the lawns, it is a perfect time to indulge in a day out.

A carpet of purple blossoms under a large rhododendron tree

Go earlier in the year for the daffodils and the bluebells and to walk through the camellia grove with its hundreds of varieties of camellias,or early April to see the magnificent magnolias bloom. Whatever time of the year you visit, you’ll find something to please and a restful area to commune with nature.

Water Irises on an island of flowers in the lake

And when it’s time for tea, you’ll find Leonardslee Tea Shop all you could hope for, with seasonal delights, home made biscuits, locally sourced food, cream teas with warm home-made scones. What more could you wish for.

Except maybe to spend the night in the fabulous Leonardslee House Hotel.




A Break from Blogging

Apologies to the many people on whose blogs I regularly comment but unfortunately, I have to take a break from looking at the screen for at least a week. I’ve had a major eye problem for some time now and yesterday, the new consultant I saw recommended a break from all screens – including TV – for a week to see if that helped the problem. I also have to have some more calcium deposits lasered off my eyes, but I’ve had this done before so I know what happens. It’s just a hassle because they don’t do it in my area and I have to travel to the mainland for the procedure.

I know that easing off the screen time will help, as I found this to be the case when I was trying to be my own doctor!

I’ve been logging on and reading a few blogs but unable to comment because the ‘comment’ screen comes up white whereas I can view your blogs on my normal screen which I have set to black to make it easier for me to look at.

So, I hope to be back again soon but meantime, if you don’t see my comments, it’s not that I’m not bothering, it’s just that I can’t read them at the moment.

Mari

A FAVOURITE ABBEY IN FRANCE

It was while staying in the village of Bize in southern France, that I came across the Abbaye Sainte-Marie de Fontfroide, a former Cistercian monastery that sits in the foothills of the Corbières, 15 kilometres south-west of Narbonne.  There are many abbeys in France, but the Abbaye de Fontfroide at Bize is special, located as it is in the heart of the unspoiled Fontfroide Massif and nestled in the heart of a typically Mediterranean landscape.

The exterior view of the Abbaye

This sumptuous 12th and 13th century Cistercian complex consists of large terraced gardens, a rose garden, a good restaurant and rooms to let. It also holds an annual orchid festival, and produces its own wine.  What’s not to like about that?

The monks would use the cloisters as a passageway to read and to meditate. The original cloisters had a wooden roof but through the centuries it was expanded and marble pillars were added

Founded in 1093 by a few Benedictine monks, Fontfroide was linked in 1145 to the Cistercian order and quickly became one of the most powerful abbeys in Christianity, growing in status and power, due in no small part to having been gifted land by the Viscountess Ermengard of Narbonne.   During the Crusade against the Albigensians, it asserted itself as a bastion of Catholic orthodoxy in the face of Catharism.

It seems it had a rocky history from then on under the ownership of three different families in the 14th and 15th centuries, with further depredations taking place in the 15th and 16th centuries when the commendatory abbots (ecclesiastics/laymen) took more and more of the income from the abbey to the point where it became increasingly poor. By the time of the French Revolution, it had to be abandoned.

Things seemed to be looking up when, in 1858, the monks from the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque in Gordes formed a new community at Fontfroide, but sadly, they were sent into exile in Spain in 1901 due to legal changes, and the monastery was once again abandoned.

But in 1908, fate stepped in again when French painter Gustave Fayet and his wife Madeleine Fayet purchased the abbey and began its restoration which is an on-going project. It is still privately owned and throughout each year there are festivals and artistic presentations, including the orchid festival already mentioned. The Abbey produces AOC Corbières wines and one can have lunch at their “La Table de Fonfroide” restaurant or café where the wines can be sampled and bought.

Truly, a place worth visiting.

  • Address: Route Départementale 613, 11100 Narbonne (in the Aude department)
  • Open: daily from mid-May to the end of December