I absolutely love staying where we’re staying. Patrick and Eric are wonderful and very, very welcoming. They also ‘do’ dinner for guests who book in specially. Which we did for tonight, along with the other guests in the house. There was a Japanese couple from Tokyo and a British couple from Kent.
Apart from the relief at not having to find somewhere open (this is becoming a real problem this holiday) the food was fantastic. Starting with an amuse bouche of beetroot sorbet, moving on to an entree of smoked salmon on artichoke and poached egg and fish roe, main course of pork medallions in a Dijon mustard sauce with the most divine rosti I think I’ve ever tasted and, following some delightfully pungent cheese, tiramasu for dessert. These delights were washed down with some perfectly selected wines (white then red) all from the region.
All I can say (apart from ‘thank you, Mirinda for suggesting we stay here’) is it was a repast fit for the gourmand. A truly exceptional way to finish off an exceptional day.
And it was truly exceptional because today we visited Fontenay Abbey, not only a World Heritage Listed place but also one of the loveliest tourist places I’ve ever visited.
Interestingly, although it WAS truly amazing, it doesn’t have a cafe. I think this is crazy. I mean there wasn’t a lot of people there today but in the summer, I’m reliably informed, it gets very crowded. They’d make a killing with a simple set up. Just coffee and cakes.
Now, when I say they don’t have a cafe, they DO have a cafeteria. Though this isn’t a cafeteria as I know one. It is a small room with three machines in it. One has snack food (sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, etc), one has cold drinks and the third one serves all manner of hot drinks. And that’s it…apart from a couple of odd raised platforms, the use of which remained concealed.
To be fair, the coffee was reasonable and Mirinda claimed the sandwich she had was edible but, really, it can’t compete with a human…but that is such a minor quibble and it is quickly forgotten once you enter the grounds of the Abbey.
[WARNING, BOB! BELOW THERE BE ABBEY FACTS…]
Started in 1118 and having gone through quite a lot of turbulent history, it’s only thanks to the fact that, firstly, it was used as a paper factory and, secondly, bought by an art loving banker, we have the amazing remains we have today.
Obviously, there are lots of amazing things about Fontenay and I’d be lying if I said I was going to write about them all. In fact I’m not going to write about many of them. Though I would like to mention the Bishop of Norwich who gave all his money to the monastery when it was struggling. He will always be remembered because he was buried at Fontenay and his gravestone is still there.
The other incredible thing I’d like to mention is the iron foundry founded there. From the massive hammer to the water wheel outside, from the massive fireplace to the huge open area, this foundry is immense. It was (supposedly) the biggest in the whole world at the time it was fully operational.
Back when I was studying at Surrey Uni, I remember writing an essay on the Wealden Iron Industry, and I recall reading (and noting) how the French sent tradesmen over to England to teach the skills of working with the new technology and, seeing this today, I can now understand why.
We spent a lot of time at Fontenay, the day being so utterly perfect and the site, a dream. We didn’t rush things and had plenty of rest stops. Particularly in the cloister, out of the sun and in the cool draft created by the vaults and long corridors.
It was definitely different from our morning walk along the river where we encountered not only a myriad of wildflower types but also marauding mobs of white butterflies.
This started our day of perfectly…well, after the wonderful breakfast. We ran into (not literally) the Japanese couple who are staying at the B&B. They don’t have a car and walk everywhere. They are obviously mad. He works fro an office equipment company in Tokyo and wishes he didn’t but, like the majority of Japanese, he’s tuck with the job he went into a long time ago.
This is in complete contrast to us (obviously) and the other couple at the B&B with us. Alexandra is a surgeon and Paul a patent attorney. I was ready to say I was an architect if anyone asked…but, strangely, no-one did. I get in trouble when I say I don’t do anything. Mirinda will kick me under the table with great abandon.
Anyway, it was a perfect day and a lovely evening eating delicious food with absolute strangers.