Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
Photo by Els Slots.

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay is an early Cistercian monastery based on the ideal of self-sufficiency.

The Abbey of Fontenay was founded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in 1118 and it achieved great prosperity in the 12th and 13th centuries. The church of the Abbey was built in the prevalent Romanesque style, and marked by the austerity typical of Cistercian architecture. The Abbey retains almost all of its original buildings, all in Romanesque style.

Community Perspective: This might not be one of the most famous French WHS, but it is really worth a detour as it is so well-preserved. The Abbey Church and the early iron works are the highlights. Nan has provided tips on how to reach it by public transport.

Map of Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay

Load map

Community Reviews

Write a review


Germany - 06-Mar-24 -

I visited the Fontenay abbey on the 27th of february 2024. I took a train early in the morning to travel from Dijon to Montbard.I had reserved a bicycle with the local tourist office( just outside the railway station in Montbard) beforehand. Since I arrived around 9.45 I had to wait some minutes before they opened the tourist office.Within a few minutes I got a bike and was on my way to the abbey. I took me around 25 min to reach the abbey which is open-daily-from 10.00-12.00 and from 14.00-17.00 in the  winter months from novembre till march. From the end of march on the abbey is open from 10.00 till 18.00.

The old Abbey of Fontenay (12th century) was one of the first monuments to be inscribed on the Unesco world heritage list.It consists of a church, a cloister, a refectory, a dormitory, a bakery and a forge.It also has a small but beautiful garden. To my surprise the abbey even had a small prison as it exercised lower legal jurisdiction in its realm.The abbey was founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard and is today the example par excellence of a cistercian abbey.

The cistercian order was created in France during the 12th century and its spiritual movement founded on the simplicity and humbleness of monastic life spread throughout Europe.

All buildings are still in good shape and intact.However,there are almost no furnishings inside the accessible buildings.1-2h are enough to see everything in detail inside the abbey. The entrance fee is 12€. For visitors who dont have much time 45min - 1 h are also ok. I guess during the high season the abbey will be quite overcrowded with visitors which makes the visit far less enjoyable than a visit during the winter months. I for example had to share the abbey with only 2 other visitors.There is a self-service cafe just outside the entrance.

I truly enjoyed my visit there.Around 12.30 I was back to Montbard where I visited the small old town and the park Bouffon.I then rode the bike along the canal du Bourgogne as I had time till 14.20 when my train left for Dijon. 

PS: it is better to reserve a bike via email beforehand as in high season the demand can be huge.


Germany - 28-Jun-20 -

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay by Nan

Fontenay is probably the best preserved Cistercian abbey I have visited. As is customary for Cistercian abbeys, it's located along a river valley and you will recognize the usual structures with refractory, chapel and fish ponds. What is missing, are any interior decorations. The abbey was closed during the French revolution and turned into a paper factory for a century thereafter. At the beginning of the 20th century, a rich French banker bought the estate and began the restoration of the site. The family to this day owns the property.

The most similar site I have visited is Maulbronn. The main difference is that Maulbronn is more lively as it has more interiors and decorations left and a small town grew around it.

Getting There

Fontenay is near the town of Montbard. Montbard proudly advertizes the fact that they are a TGV stop. Which is kind of true as the TGV between Djion and Paris stops there a few times a day. Alternatively, there also (slower) regional trains that connect you to both Dijon and Paris. Note: The TGV requires a reservation and is frequently fully booked; I ended up having to take the regional train back to Paris. The train schedules in general (as is the case for most of France) are infrequent and cumbersome.

From the train station, I had to walk as there was no bus connection. It's roughly 6km. Problem is that the best footpath is not on google maps or signposted, so I had to walk along a busy road for a while. On my way back, I followed the dedicated trail and came out a bit outside Montbard at D980. The last bit of the walk, when you follow the river into the valley, is really nice

While You Are There

Repeating myself re French public transport: It's terrible. Looking at the map, you would think that you could easily combine a visit to Fontenay with a visit to Vezelay (45km apart). But you can't. Vezelay does not even have a bus connection or anything. Meanwhile, if you are by car, this is easily feasible. Seeing you will need to take a cab to Vezelay anyhow, it may be worthwhile to simply catch on in Montbard.

Ingemar Eriksson

Sweden - 12-Aug-15 -

The best maintained/upkept site I have seen but perhaps this is because the site is only opened to paying tourists. It´s history regarding iron handling was interesting as it seems to be a pattern for later iron handling. But we must realized it is all restored and not so much original as many other sites.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 27-May-15 -

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay by Els Slots

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay is a 12th-century former monastery in Burgundy. The Cistercian godfather Saint Bernard of Clairvaux found a sufficiently remote location to create a new community of monks, one of many at that time. The Cistercians broke away from the mainstream Benedictines because they felt that the Benedictine monks had become too worldly and devoted too little time to manual labor. The Cistercians made up for that in self-sufficient communities like this.

The Abbey owes its place on the List to its excellent state of preservation. I visited it by car from Reims on a combined day trip with the WHS of Vézelay. In the year 2015, this still is an off-the-beaten-track location, though the Abbey receives over 100,000 visitors a year. I drove on minor roads for over an hour, passing this region’s typical ramshackle villages that look deserted. Only at the site’s car park I was back among living creatures again. I arrived around 10.30, at the same time as two buses with German tourists. Also I counted some 40 cars with individual visitors.

Access to the site is run professionally. As the Abbey is now in private hands, they rely on the income from tourists to cover the costs of conservation. There’s a 10 EUR entrance fee if you go in by yourself, or 12.5 EUR if you join a guided tour. They hand out brochures in several languages, I received one in Dutch which was informative enough to get to know the monastery complex. I was keen to take a tour though. Before that started, I walked around by myself to take photos. The grounds are kept immaculate. There’s a large garden at the back, and water features both there and to the side.

The 11 a.m. tour attracted some 35 people. Explanations are given only in French, so when that's not your first language you have to listen very closely. Honestly, I missed about half of the stories that were told. They do come in great detail. The tour covers no other areas than you can visit individually, but it is worth joining for some extra detail. One of the nicest spots is inside the Abbey Church, where a floor covered with enamelled tiles, the old altarpiece and sarcophagi of a Burgundian knight and his wife fight for attention.

The interior of the buildings is very austere. The Chapterhouse for example is nothing like the fully painted one of the Dominicans in Florence that I visited a few weeks ago. The absence of paintings and colours was done on purpose, to comply with the order's simplicity and not distract the monks during their contemplative prayer.

This might not be one of the most famous French WHS, but it is really worth a detour. I especially liked the variety of buildings, such as the dovecote, the dog kennel, the monks' sleeping quarters, and the bakery. The tour ends at the forge, where the monks produced tools. They extracted iron ore from a hill that overlooks the monastery. By diverting the river of Fontenay, water wheels were able to power the hydraulic hammers that would beat the iron. The forge was created around 1220 and became the first metallurgical factory in Europe.


Malta - 17-Jul-13 -

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay by Clyde

I visited this WHS in July 2013. It is really well kept and quite different from the Maulbronn Abbey in Germany I visited earlier this year. The guide is very informative and explains the site in detail. After the tour I explored the site on my own since all the other tourists headed towards the car park, which meant I had the site all for myself. The cloister and austere chapel are in great condition considering that they are over 1000 years old! Well worth the detour from nearby Vezelay!

John booth

New Zealand - 08-May-10 -

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay by John Booth

The restoration of this ensemble of buildings has been so carefully carried out that it is hard to believe that they are nearly 1000 years old. The grounds too are kept in pristine condition.

To reach this site I had no alternative but to take a taxi from Montbard station. In between showers of rain I moved from abbey church to cloiser to dormitories to kitchen and workshop, all of which lacked decoration and seemed most austere.

David Berlanda

Italy / Czech Republic - 06-Mar-06 -

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay by David Berlanda

In our trip to France we have visited the Cistercian abbey of Fontenay, founded by St. Bernard in 1119 and built in the small valley of the Engrevies. The church was constructed from 1139 to 1147 by the abbot Guillaume, financed by the bishop of Norwich Ebrard, that is buried here, and consecrated by the Pope Eugene III, a Cistercian and former pupil of St. Bernard. The abbey, restored in 1906, is a Romanesque masterpiece and it’s entirely preserved in this style, apart from the refectory and despite the transformations of the 13th, 15th and 18th centuries and the ruins of the 18th and 19th century. It has a plan in the form of latin cross, a blind nave and a towerless transept and contains only an altar and a statue of Our Lady; near that are the cloister and the chapter house. The architecture is simply and modest and places ashlars side by side with crude rough-cut rubble. There are also many communal buildings within the enclosing wall: the monks’ room, the monks’ dormitory, the council room, the heating room, the abbot’s lodging, the refectory, the infirmary, the guest quarters, the bakery, the hostel, the chapel, the garden, the gate, the dovecote and the forge (12th century), that is one of the oldest industrial buildings in France.

I liked very much this abbey because of its particular and simply architecture. It's worth to be visited if you are in Burgundy but I don't think it justifies the inscription because it isn't the Cistercian abbey neither most complete, nor best known, nor that with the most perfect architecture.

Photo: Fontenay - Cloister of the abbey

Site Info

Full Name
Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay
Unesco ID
Religious structure - Christian

Site History

1981 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay


The site has

Art and Architecture
Human Activity
Religion and Belief
WHS Hotspots
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


Community Members have visited.

A. Mehmet Haksever Aalberty Adrian Lakomy Aidan Coohill Aitia Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alessandro Votta Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Alicemears Allison Vies Altacyr Ammon Watkins AniaCh Anna Wludarska Antonio J. Argo Aspasia Atila Ege Bauchat Bazikoln Bin Bob Parda Brendan Carroll Brigitte Huber Caminographer Carlos Garrido Carstenhansen Caspar Dechmann Cgrannem Christer Sundberg Christian Wagner Christoph Claire Bradshaw ClaireWhiteley Clyde Coppi Craig Harder Cristina Erba Ctravel CugelVance Dani Cyr Daniel C-Hazard Daniela Hohmann David Berlanda Dennis Nicklaus Dibro Dimitar Krastev Dimitrios Polychronopoulos Dirk-pieter Dorejd Duesi73 Dutchbirder Dwight Zehuan Xiao ERIC ZHOU Echwel Elaine McArdle Els Slots Emilia Eric Lorentz Erik Jelinek Errol Neo Esther Westerveld FGKJR1492X Fabi-ddorf Fabian Teusch Fan Yibo Femke Roos Filip Murlak Fmannucci Frederik Dawson Garyrjtaylor GeorgeIng61 GerhardM Gernot Gianmarco Gilles Glubu Gonçalo Elias Handballrama Harry Mitsidis Hasco Hubert Iain Jackson Ingemar Eriksson Isabellemarais Ivan Ivan Rucek Jagnes Jan-Willem Janis Janklak Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jasam Jean Lecaillon Jeanne OGrady Jens Jezza Joel on the Road John booth Jonas Kremer Jonathanfr Jos Schmitz Jose Antonio Collar Joyce van Soest Jsalda Judit Dalla Judith Tanner Julianna Lees Jun Zhou KarenBMoore Kasper Kbecq Kelly Henry Knut Lantian Lara Adler Leontine Helleman Lidiane Lloyd Cross Lorenzo Mejino Lorenzo2022 Lucas Del Puppo Luis Filipe Gaspar Luisfreire MAURO PODDA MH Marie Morlon Martina Rúčková Matthewsharris MaxHeAnouBen Mibive Michal Marciniak Michiel Dekker Mikko Monika and Rini Nan Nasebaer Nihal Ege Nikolay Marinov Olivier MONGIN Olli-Pekka Turunen Pascal Cauliez Patphilly Patrik Patty Verhoeven Paul Schofield Peter Lööv PeterH Petteri Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Pontobaggins Q Randi Thomsen Richardleesa Roberto Diaz Robin Frank Roger Ourset Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Sazanami Scubarrie Sergio Arjona Shandos Cleaver SirLoydd Solivagant Stijn Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tamara Ratz Tammy Gouldstone Tevity Thibault Magnien Thomas Buechler Thomas Harold Watson Thomas van der Walt Tsunami Van Hung Vanessa Buechler Vlad Lesnikov WILLIAM RICH WalGra Walter Walter H. Wang Qin Waxwing Werner Huber Westwards Willem van Altena Wojciech Fedoruk Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl Wtrentfox Xiong Wei YaroMir Zhenjun Liu Zoë Sheng