BURGUNDY, FRANCE, December 3, 2017 – Abbaye de la Bussiere is a gorgeously restored 12th-century Cistercian monastery on seventeen acres set in one of the most glorious corners of the Burgundy region of France.
This extraordinary Relais & Chateaux masterwork is one of the most astonishing luxury hotel properties imaginable.
It captures the mind and calms the soul from the very moment of arrival through the gates. Entering past the sprawling lake and along the enormous front lawn dotted with sculpture, the Abbaye comes into view with a jaw-dropping sense of intensity.
It is a wonder to behold, the glories of 9 centuries of ancient knowledge, architecture, and art in an immaculately restored series of buildings.
Guests are usually welcomed by Michael, the property ombudsman and close friend of the owner, Clive Cummings. Michael’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Abbaye and grounds is only exceeded by his vivid exhortations on the glories of each and every appellation of the vineyards of Burgundy.
Abbaye de la Bussiere – The Interiors
The lobby in the main building or refectory is an ethereal dream, 40-foot ceilings of gleaming stone under a series of vaulted arches, transporting the mind back in time.
Cantilevered stairs lead to the balconies overlooking the lobby, allowing passage throughout the building with an eavesdropper’s view of the sumptuous rooms below and the amazing vaulted ceilings throughout.
Enormous windows of stained glass are everywhere, an ancient gothic church brought back to life, light streaming through like an otherworldly dream.
At the top of the staircase is a sitting area in front of the largest of the refectory’s stained glass windows. A circular piece of glass art 12 feet in diameter with intricately stained patterns sets the room ablaze in fiery patterns of light.
Just off the main sitting area is a lounge underneath a slightly smaller but still intensely huge stained-glass window, with comfortable couches and chairs.
It has the relaxed air of a hideaway, tucked away in the corner anteroom, next to a staircase leading to a series of rooms on the third floor.
On the other side of the main sitting area is the informal bar area and library, apparently the chapel in ancient times. Twenty-foot ceilings and enormous arched wooden beams frame the majestic chamber. Burgundy couches are aligned along the side, with yet another intricate stained glass window adorning the west end of the room.
The bar at one end is fully stocked for guests, and it is easy to imagine a large group whiling away the hours in celebration of any major event. At the end of the day the sunset sends bright colors of light to fill the room with a magical incandescence.
In the evening a roaring fire illuminates one corner of the room next to a backgammon board ready for the next group of players.
There are ancient sculptures and modern art throughout the building and across the property, lending a lovely contrast between the sacred and the profound.
This seamless intertwining expresses the counterpoint of a lovingly restored symbol of ancient times brought to life with beautiful artifacts of the modern era.
Along the hallway from the upstairs bar and sitting area are two smaller lounges. A masculine themed sitting area has dark tones filled with antlers, a boar’s head, and various examples of ancient weaponry.
The adjoining ladies lounge room in a rose hue is filled with art and several settees and comfortable couches.
The balcony then winds its way on the second level over the spectacular dining room, in the center of the refectory.
An enormously tall central stone support column stretches forty feet above the floor to a series of gleaming cream covered arches.
This mythic atmosphere of ancient glory hovers over the exquisitely styled Michelin starred restaurant, Le 1131, in the dining area below.
Every corner of the Abbaye de la Bussiere is a wonderland of detail and amazement, as the passageway to our room extends over the breakfast room and onto a Bridgeway leading to the Park house.
Abbaye de la Bussiere – The Room and Grounds
The corner room of the Park House, the Fontenay Room, is a mystical visage of brilliant spectacle and colorful delight.
The room is adorned in pink and rose-colored furnishings with toile curtains, and a sumptuous king size bed with canopy.
With an imposing antique armoire, a gorgeous rose-colored love seat, and a bottle of pink champagne, the room is a chamber of romance as comfortably welcoming as the views are glorious.
An unbelievable vision of the massive front lawn and gleaming lake beyond spread out across the grounds from one set of French doors opening onto a balcony. From the other is an exceptional view of the Abbaye itself and the outdoor patio area.
Walking the grounds is an exercise of complete serenity, and one that could take hours of time as every corner of the 17 acres offers up one surprise after another.
The great lawn stretches out for acres of sterling emerald greenery, adorned at the front with a fabulous sculpture of a young girl.
This is one of many by the artist Paul Day that adorns the property and seems to greet each visitor with an artistic curtsy.
A massive trio of sculptures of a bull, a cow, and a calf relaxing in the field is another of Paul Day’s famous works, as is a bronze statue of two lovers kissing that stands at the top of the lobby staircase.
Indeed, the entire property and grounds is a work of art in progress, as each element of the landscape design seems to blend seamlessly into the next. A series of lawn couches are situated in the center of the great lawn, an outdoor lounge in the midst of impossible greenery.
An afternoon of wine tasting or an outdoor lunch in this area make for an enchanting way to pass the time.
The lake at the front of the property just beyond the great lawn is right out of a painting by Renoir.
A weeping willow adorns one corner next to a waiting romantic rowboat. A small waterfall cascades from a creek into the lake, as it has done for centuries.
In the middle of the lake is a small island. Benches and hammocks are placed at strategic points along the way. Beaver and geese glide by, while giant heron fill the trees surrounding the reflecting waters.
Dating from the 16th century, the old mill house is now housing for hotel employees.
Abbaye de la Bussiere – The History
The Abbaye was once the center of the12 century La Bussiere village, where the Cistercian monks first built the buildings with stone from across the hill.
The Romans were the first to plant wine in Burgundy. When the Roman empire fell the vineyards were destroyed. The Cistercian order of monks revived the practice of wine growing in Burgundy. They established the Abbaye de la Bussiere in the 12th century just over the hill from the vineyards, where the order grew rich under the protection of the Dukes of Burgundy.
With the coming of the French revolution and the destruction of the religious orders heralding the beginning of the Napoleonic era of the 1790’s the Abbaye fell into ruin and disorder.
In 2005 Clive Cummings acquired the Abbaye and the grounds, putting millions of dollars into its restoration. The process, took the better part of two years, opening in 2007 with just 10 rooms. Cummings has brought his ever-evolving vision of Abbaye de la Bussiere to life with a Herculean passion. His private home is also on the estate.
Now with 20 rooms spread across 4 parts of the grounds, and with plans for ever more auspicious expansion, the Abbaye continues to grow as Clive acquires more property from the village and continues the restoration.
Along with the main Abbaye in the refectory and the Park building, the property has several suites in a building attached to the village church, which remains a part of the village, and a luxury Villa that sleeps up to 8 people in 4 bedrooms.
The gardens on one side of the Abbaye are a tribute to French design, and lead to the large stone building that serves as the patisserie and auxiliary kitchen.
The second half of the cavernous building, still under restoration, where a future wine club and vino-cultural learning center will be established is where the Cistercian monks used to store their own wine.
Abbaye de la Bussiere – Dinner at Le 1131
Dinner at Le 1131, named for the year the Abbaye was founded, is a seamless evening of culinary treasures in a spectacular setting that is as unique as it is enthralling.
Michelin starred Chef Guillaume Royer delivers an extraordinary evening of Haute Cuisine that delights and enthralls.
Roasted Roques-Hautes green asparagus with “Morvan” bacon, Abbaye herbs, and a mustard sabayon is a fantastic starter, the seasonal asparagus crisp and firm in a luscious sauce.
Mousseron of mushrooms is a fabulous intermezzo, a sumptuously and surprisingly hearty course showing off the bounty of the countryside.
Wells Catfish, hand caught in the river Saone and roasted in frothy butter with a corn mouse, is fantastic. The chef combines subtle layers of flavors the fish that is firm and crisp on the outside and rich and flaky on the inside.
Traditional grilled beef in a red wine and onion sauce is a tour de force, a perfectly cooked filet of local aged beef, succulent and tender, prepared in a classic French style.
Throughout the evening the sommelier has paired each course with an excellent selection of very selective red and white wines of significant distinction from the surrounding Burgundy region.
Fromage du jour is always a highlight for any truly refined French meal and the cheese cart here is exceptionally impressive, with a large selection of goat, sheep, cow, and blue cheeses.
Desert is capped off with a wildly delicious creamy sorbet made with organic honey from the Abbaye’s own grounds.
The domed vaulted ceilings rise above the dining room as if the glories of heaven have opened up. The evening at Le 1131 is a joyous combination of spectacular views and exquisite cuisine.
Three hours glide by in a fever dream exhorting the virtues of food, wine, and glorious architectural restoration. Flawless service combines with wonderful food into a truly memorable fine dining experience.
Breakfast is just as spectacular, a repast of wonder to start each day in a fairy tale existence.
A casual restaurant, Bistro des Moines, is open on Mondays and Tuesdays. The restaurant is set in a spectacularly unique and intimate chamber.
With burgundy colored ceilings soaring above support arches, its views look out through an ancient window onto the flowing front lawn.
Two days fly by in the rush of joyous abandon and it is truly saddening to have to leave such an amazing property as Abbaye de la Bussiere.
Uniqueness, serenity, and passion are treasures of the travel experience. There are few places on the planet that are blessed to even come close.
It will be a joy to follow the progress of restoration in the coming years as Clive Cummings continues his passionate dream of completing this classically stunning destination hideaway.
Abbaye de la Bussiere is the pinnacle of what a Relais & Chateaux luxury resort should be: memorable, amazing, achingly beautiful, and forever emblazoned in the mind’s eye.
Standard Rooms start at around $300 per night, Superior rooms are about $350, while Deluxe rooms begin at around $500 a night. Junior Suites start at about $600 per night, while Duplex Suites are around $700.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles @JoelBerliner
All photos by Alison Reynolds @BigAlPeoplesPal