St Martin du Canigou - France's most stunning abbey

 

The Abbey of St Martin du Canigou was founded in 1009 and built on a rocky spur at the edge of a precipice. To reach this Romanesque edifice of great tranquillity, take the 20 minute drive from Campôme, past Vernet-les-Bains, to the small village of Casteil, where you park the car. From here, you walk up a rather steep path for 40 minutes, zig zagging through a forest of green oak trees.

 

The walk is arduous but worth it. As you arrive at the top of the hill, the impressive 11th century entrance looms. Benedictine monks occupied the abbey for over 700 years, finally leaving in 1783, when it fell into disrepair until, in 1902, the Bishop of Elne and Perpignan decided to renovate it.

 

The layout and basic architecture of the abbey are wonderful. The cloister encloses a small garden, built to represent Eden. The carved marble columns and the stone tableaux on the inner wall of the cloister are stunning.

The abbey is currently the home of nuns, one of whom will take you on a one hour tour (in French).

 

If you continue up the hill past the abbey you can view it from above. Here you can see the layout and the sheer cliffs that plummet down from the cloisters. The view is breath-taking.

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