5 abbeys to visit and keep cool this summer in Provence

Within the sun-bathed walls of Provence, churches and shady cloisters hide behind secular abbeys, and medieval imagery abounds. These purified, inspiring places still shelter monastic communities or have been transformed into exhibitions. Here are our favorite abbeys to revitalize ourselves in Provence this summer.

Sénanque and its lavender field

The star of Provençal abbeys, probably because it's awash in a lavandin (a type of lavender) field that provides it with an irresistible photogenic power. Located near Gordes, in the Luberon, this Cistercian abbey belongs to the priory of Lérins Abbey, and it is home to a community of monks from the island off the coast of Cannes. They grow the most famous aromatic plant of Provence, manufacture honey, and welcome anyone who wishes to share their life of prayer and meditation for seasonal retreats.

Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey (External link)

Le Thoronet: a setting for contemporary art

Hidden in the heart of the Mediterranean forest, between Brignoles and Draguignan, Le Thoronet Abbey displays a refined architecture. The simplicity of the structure and the absence of ornamentation in this Cistercian building strike the visitor as they once struck Le Corbusier during his visit in 1953. It is a dream setting to exhibit artists' work. From May 24 to September 22, 2019, "...Et l’obscur," a series of contemporary creations, will settle inside Le Thoronet Abbey under the auspices of the Palais de Tokyo.
Le Thoronet Abbey (External link)

Silvacane, the most reserved of the "three Provençal sisters"

With Sénanque and Le Thoronet, this is the third Cistercian abbey built in Provence. At La Roque d'Anthéron, along the Durance and facing the Luberon Massif, Silvacane Abbey cultivates the spirit of sobriety and reflects the successful combination of Romanesque and Gothic art. One curiosity is the 38-meter-long (125 feet) basin that stretches out before its façade as an old fish pond. Exhibitions, concerts and festivals punctuate a dense cultural year. The most famous event is the International Piano Festival of La Roque d’Anthéron, which delivers some of its finest performances in the abbey each summer.

Silvacane Abbey (External link)

Montmajour, cultural hotspot

Founded in 948 by Benedictine monks, this abbey near Arles hosts readings and photography exhibitions as part of the Rencontres d’Arles, and even works of art designed for it, such as "Ascension," created for the choir by artist Alain Kirili. It is a legacy of a time when cultured monks from Montmajour read Molière, Cervantes or the encyclopedia of Diderot and Alembert. Not to be missed: the Romanesque bestiary of the cloister, which intrigues viewers with its sculptures of real and monstrous animals.

Montmajour Abbey (External link)

Ganagobie, over the Durance valley

A vibrant testimony of mosaic art in France, the church of Ganagobie displays a sumptuous selection of polychrome medieval mosaics where knights fight ferocious monsters. However, there is no risk of keeping your eyes on the ground in this abbey overlooking the breathtaking valley of the Durance, between Manosque and Sisteron. Benedictine monks from the Sainte-Madeleine community have lived in the abbey since 1992. They welcome the public for mass, hold spiritual retreats and run a monastic craft shop.
Notre-Dame de Ganagobie Abbey (External link)

Getting to Provence