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Bon Repos Abbey (Brittany, France)

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Sightseeing Type: Churches / Temples

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      05.06.2006 08:45
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      A pause in your holiday and time to relax.

      Walking down a leafy lane, slate walls on either side of you which are small enough not to obscure the views, you look towards an Archway that takes the visitor back in time to the Abbey of Bon Repos, which means "Good Rest".

      The abbey was built in 1184, and has been demolished and rebuilt many times following wars since that time. It's Gothic facade isn't the prettiest or most welcoming from an Architectural point of view, although has more than 12,000 visitors per year, based in a region of “Outstanding Beauty” on the edge of the Quelecan Forest in Morbihan, Central Brittany. Approached either by car or coach excursion, the roads that lead to Bon Repos are of good quality and there certainly is ample parking space both shaded and in full sunlight that is free of charge.

      Set in a beautiful setting alongside the Nantes Brest Canal, the friends of Bon Repos have been gradually rebuilding the abbey and visitors can take part just by partaking in the events, or by the purchase of a slate to be laid on the roof of the abbey. I have seen the work of restoration in progress, and visitors can go beyond those forbidding walls and enter into the arcade like corridors and be taken back in time, imagining the passage of monks in a calm and tranquil setting. The stonework on the restored area is amazing and what they have not done is try and cut corners and rush the restoration. Inside the walls of the Abbey can be found a permanent all the year round exhibition of the progress of the work and those interested in the architectural and historic side of the abbey can be taken on a guided tour, at a fee of 3 Euros for adults, 1.50 Euros for children, and a group discount fee for parties of 2.50 Euros. The tour is really not that interesting for children who would probably rather be treated to an ice cream, and certainly those who are unable to walk unaided would find the tour difficult. Here I would mention that there are not inner rooms of the Abbey, as the building was a shell for many years, and although work is progressing, it will be a few years before people can see progress on the inside of the building.

      The hours of opening vary throughout the year as follows :

      15 June – 15 September – 11 in the morning til 7 at night.
      16 September - 31st October – 2 in the afternoon til 6 at night.
      The rest of the year is by appointment only and can be reserved by telephone.

      One of the most popular events at the Abbey is the Son et Lumiere or sound and light show. All of the participants in the pageant that is so wonderfully performed after darkness falls, in the first weekends of August, are volunteers who want to help keep the history of the Abbey alive, and the show is spectacular. Seating is outdoors, and when darkness falls, the whole scene across the canal and in front of the Abbey is lit up into an outdoor theatre, panaramic in nature and spreading as far as the eye can see, and the history of the abbey is told to a display of costume, light, music and commentary.

      The event happens for two weekends in August, and the spectacle is amazing, with horses, and peasants, lords and ladies, and all the historic characters that made the history of the abbey a somewhat checkered one, though one that is shared with the audience in such a way as to leave an amazing sense of having belonged to an event for the three to four hour duration. It is costly, although when you see what you are offered at a price of 15 Euros, it really is well worth it, and even children are welcomed and are entranced enough by the event to lose that restlessness that parents are all too familiar with, most taking sandwiches and picnic items to make a wonderful night out and one to remember.

      Other events at the abbey include an exhibition of Vintage cars which is held annually, and a fair where you can watch wood and stone carvers busy with their crafts. All of these events take place in the Summer months, whilst in the Winter, the calm that returns to the Abbey is an almost welcome one giving the visitor perhaps that little step towards tranquility, enjoyed in all seasons equally because of the ever present changes in nature.

      What I like about Bon Repos, which is on the border between Cote D'Amor and Morbihan between Gouarec and Mur de Bretagne, is that it is a site that can be enjoyed by anyone. The picnic areas next to the canal offer both sun lit areas, and shady ones with tables that are there all year round. Fishing is permitted with a license easily available from tobacco shops in neighbouring towns, and the tranquility that this little enchanted piece of French soil offers is astounding by todays rush and hustle and bustle. One thing that I always love about this area is that you don't necessarily need to take the tour for the day out to be enjoyable. The ambiance of the place is always welcoming and you can pass time watching the lock keepers let the boats through the lock gates, take up an easel and paint, or lie on the grass and simply enjoy the “being there” feeling of calm.

      The Nantes Brest Canal passes in front of the Abbey, and has walkways that lead for miles towards the Forest and in the other direction towards Gouarec, and these are maintained to a high standard, easy to walk even with old people who want to take the walk slowly. I do this walk frequently with my mother in law, and there is sufficient room for pedestrians and cyclists alike without having to worry about safety. There are also ample stopping points with benches for weary walkers, where you can stop and watch the wildlife on the canal or on wet days shelter beneath the branches of the trees for protection. Even on wet days, the paths are not slippery underfoot and even though it rained one day when I walked the path next to the Canal, I didn't actually get wet because the trees protected me.

      Every Sunday morning during the Summer time, there is an Artisinal market at the abbey, where local craftsmen can sell their wares, and you can mingle amongst the locals, buy the local sweetbread for a snack and savour the sounds and aromas that make a french market a unique experience. There are many events that are not programmed, like puppet shows, and musical entertainment, and always a surprise of some kind waiting for the visitor.

      The abbey itself has a Brocante (antiques shop), a restaurant which is a little on the pricey side, an outside terraced cafe that caters at reasonable prices for visitors, a hotel overlooking the water with a quaint and haunted past, and a shop that sells minerals and stones from all over the world. The Hotel charges 35 euros a night for a double room which offers convenience for local attractions more than all mod cons. The rooms are basic, although clean and welcoming and face out onto the courtyard towards the Canal. Bikes can be hired from the abbey as a modest rate and there is a tow path alongside the river that takes the visitor for miles. Near to the market, there is a cafe with inside and outside sitting areas and here, you can soak up the ambiance and treat the kids to an ice-cream. Toilets are available although basic and hard to access for those not steady on their feet, although the cafe staff are always more than willing to help those people that have problems.

      Evening Entertainment is provided here in a pub near the abbey that offers concerts and these do start rather late, but will give younger travellers the chance to enjoy local musicians and an atmosphere that becomes electric, although placed far enough away from the Abbey not to hinder the night time quiet.

      If you are coming to Brittany for a holiday, this spot is one that has something to offer for everyone, not just those who like history. Travel by car, bike or motorcycle is necessary as public transport in this area is non existent, although to my mind, that is probably one of the reasons that the abbey retains its calm, and has so much to offer. I suppose that you could describe the experience as stepping back in time to childhood, when the enjoyment of discovery, safety and caring was the order of the day and didn't have to set you back a fortune. This is one of the least commercialised areas within the forest, and a suitable stopping off point for walkers as well as those in cars.


      Would I recommend a visit here ?

      Yes, I certainly would.

      Rachel

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