Abbaye de Fontevraud Hotel and Restaurant, located in the heart of the Loire valley between Touraine and Anjou in France, is a hotel steeped in history. Once the burial site for the Lion Heart, aka the English King Richard I, this ancient abbey built in 1101 AD, in now both a UNESCO World Heritage site, understandably, and a contemporary hotel. With reconstruction beginning in 2012 and overseen by the Head architect for Historic Monuments, Jouin Manku, the hotels current contemporary architectural design blends all of the nuances of old with the new and tradition with modernity.
The lobby area sets the tone for the hotels aesthetic with its decorative, liturgical inspired natural oak panelling complementing the timber clad, leather upholstered benches. The over scaled glass and metal framed entrance door borrows its geometric motifs from the stained glass windows of cathedral buildings. And with light filtering through the decorative metal grillwork leading towards the chapel, its hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of religious atmosphere here.
In order to accommodate the 52 bedrooms in a space that was not originally built to house a hotel, architect Jouin Manku had to design each room individually according to its own internal architecture within the building. This resulted in each room bearing its own unique character and all furniture designed specifically for the project. From the wastepaper basket to the desk and the stool that doubles as storage, there’s an emphasis on detail that sets Fontevraud apart in both style and structure. Even the angle of the bed heads have been designed for ultimate reading comfort with the soundproof rooms ensuring complete serenity.
Even the dining experience was meticulously planned using hand made ceramics by local ceramist Charles Hair to convey a sense of theatre to the meals eaten here. Hidden in the hollow of a bowl, topped with an upturned plate, rests an amuse bouche of sorts and once the chef’s treat has been consumed from within, the accompanying lid is to be turned over to becomes the side plate for bread.
In this beautiful reconstruction, modernity meets the long monastic history of the building. Allusions to the historically rich past can be found in the almost sterile like quality of the bedrooms, which “invite one to consider life’s essentials”. A restricted selection of mostly monochromatic tones and the restrained use of materials further emphasise the sheer simplicity yet awe inspiring regality of the Abbey. Despite the perceived lack of material adornments, a sense of luxury pervades signalling, for us, the ultimate kind of luxury. Quality materials used with thought and consideration, and with careful restraint rather than over playing a particular theme or style. Here everything is designed for relaxation – and most importantly contemplation. It is as it was originally intended.
PHOTOGRAPHY; Nicolas Mathéus